Donald Trump likes deals. He likes the idea of brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and thinks that he can do it. He can’t, and here’s why:
The insurmountable obstacle to a deal is that the essence of the Palestinian movement is the denial of a state belonging to the Jewish people (they don’t even agree that we are a people) in any part of the land between the river and the sea. Questions of borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian unity, and settlements – no matter how difficult – are all secondary to this major problem.
This is why the Palestinian understanding of “two state solution” includes a right of return to Israel for the descendents of Arab refugees, and why it does not include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or a renunciation of their claim to all of the land. This is the Palestinian bottom line.
Israel is willing to make many compromises (including some that are extremely stupid and dangerous to our security) but we are not prepared to agree to disappear. This is the Israeli bottom line.
Neither side can go any lower.
Mahmoud Abbas understands this very well. This is why he correctly considers direct negotiations with Israel a waste of time. This is why he insists that PM Netanyahu does not accept the two state solution, because he understands that he and Netanyahu mean different things by that expression. This is why he favors getting the Europeans and the UN to force Israel to give him what he wants. He knows that deep down (or not so deep down) many of these elements believe there should not be a Jewish state and would be happy to see it disappear.
There is no hope of changing the bottom line of Abbas and the PLO. But couldn’t we appeal to the ordinary Palestinian, the man or (very occasional) woman on the street? Don’t they want to succeed like all of us, to raise their children in peace, to be secure economically and physically?
No. Or maybe they do want these things, but other things are more important.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab citizen of Israel, often writes about the repression of Palestinian Arab journalists by the PLO and Hamas. He has written about the corruption and brutality of the Palestinian Authority and the attitudes of the Palestinian “street.” Unlike “pro-Palestinian” Jewish writers like Gideon Levy, he understands the language and culture of the Palestinian Arabs and has contacts that provide information rather than propaganda.
So when he tells us that PA Arabs favor armed struggle against Israel, despise Mahmoud Abbas as a collaborator with Israel and the US, and reject the idea of a peace agreement, we should pay attention. Last week, he reported on a demonstration against Abbas in Ramallah:
On the eve of US envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Ramallah last week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city, calling on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. The protesters also condemned the ongoing security cooperation between the PA and Israel.
“Listen, listen to us, Abbas; collect your dogs and leave us alone,” the Palestinian protesters chanted during what has been described as the largest anti-Abbas demonstration in Ramallah in recent years. They also called for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords with Israel, and denounced Abbas as a “coward” and an agent of the Americans. …
Yet this was far from a simple a protest against Abbas and his security forces. It was also a rallying cry for pursuing with further vigor the armed struggle against Israel.
“No to peace and no to all the nonsense, we want bullets and rockets,” some of the protesters chanted. Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The protests also reflect Palestinians’ rejection of the so-called peace process with Israel. In addition to the calls on Abbas to step down, the protesters demanded as well that the PA leadership cancel all agreements with Israel, first and foremost the Oslo Accords.
In other words, Palestinians are trying extremely hard to get their message across: Israel is our enemy, not our peace partner.
This has been clear since Arafat’s intifada in the early 2000s. Polls consistently show that a majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that “an armed intifada … would help achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not.”
It’s interesting to note that polls show that a majority of Palestinians also say they favor a “two state solution.” This is because they define it just like Abbas, with a right of return, no recognition, no end of claims. This is why they too consider negotiations fruitless. When they are asked, a majority also say that the two state condition is only a temporary step on the way to the “unification of ‘Palestine’.”
But despite the fact that both the leadership and the population do not want a deal, the Trump administration still thinks one is possible, and this week we have been hearing about it in the context of a “regional solution” involving the Arab league. The theory seems to be that the PLO will make concessions like recognizing a Jewish state or giving up their demand for a right of return if the Arab states tell them to. Abu Toameh believes that this approach is probably even less likely to succeed than direct Israel-Palestinian talks.
First of all, Palestinians don’t trust the Arab regimes, who have always preferred to talk about how badly Israel treats Palestinians to doing anything for them themselves. Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have all oppressed and even killed Palestinians. Palestinians in those places today are second-class inhabitants (in Syria, most are dead or have become refugees). They also provide little or no financial help to the PA. What the PLO wants, Abu Toameh explains, is for the Europeans and the US to force Israel to give in and meet their demands. But this is not going to happen, regardless of whether the Arab League is involved in the negotiations or not.
Secondly, most of the Arab countries don’t see anything good for them in a possible deal. Jordan is afraid that it might end up with the Hashemite regime replaced by a Palestinian one; Lebanon worries about possibly being forced to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees it presently treats like dirt; and Egypt fears being asked to cede part of the Sinai to Gaza Palestinians. The Syrian regime is presently in chaos, hates Palestinians and Jews almost equally, and isn’t likely to be a constructive partner.
Finally, Abu Toameh notes that,
Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a “traitor” who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.
Abbas has been straightforward about rejecting negotiations. But Israeli leaders have acted as though they believed that something positive could come out of them. They have done this either out of naïveté or because they wanted to placate the Americans who were demanding it and threatening to withhold diplomatic or financial support. Israel paid a high price for this: murderers were released who murdered again, and Israel’s honor vis-à-vis her enemies was weakened; Israel froze construction in Judea and Samaria and weakened her claim to be a sovereign nation. But even despite this, the Palestinians didn’t change their bottom line.
Trump should know from his real estate experience that a deal is only possible when both sides think they are getting something that they want. But what the Palestinians want is something that Israel isn’t selling.
It doesn’t matter how persuasive you are. It doesn’t matter what sweeteners one side or the other can throw in. It doesn’t matter how hard you push or what you threaten. Sometimes there just isn’t a deal.
This is what Netanyahu should explain to Trump. There isn’t a deal here.