Sunday, April 5, 2020 -
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One-sided peace plan. Really? Polarization takes its toll on peace, too.

Start with this single pairing. 

2010: Vice President Joe Biden is livid, and so is his boss, as Israel announces new West Bank settlement construction just when Biden is in Israel. This was a key moment in the deterioration of US-Israeli relations.

2020: President Trump announces a peace plan, and Israel accepts a plan, which halts settlement construction for four years.

Our point is not that Trump achieved what others could not, or that Trump’s plan is necessarily a good one. Our point is: polarization. It has gotten so bad that simple facts cannot be seen for what they are.

Partisans, commentators and editorialists say: Trump’s plan is one-sided. Really? With Israel commit- ting to a settlement moratorium four times as long as it once agreed to under Obama? Again, our point is not to contrast Obama and Trump on Middle East peace, but to point to the blindness born of polarization. Our point is not to comment on Trump’s moratorium per se. Our point is simply to point out that polarization prevents partisans from seeing facts. It is a fact that a four-year settlement moratorium to which Israel agrees is a significant departure in the context of Middle East peace plans. Yet, it is simply not seen. It is “one-sided.”

That’s very different from saying: It’s not enough; it doesn’t counterbalance other elements in the plan. So much of Trump’s plan is simply not read, not absorbed, its pieces not stacked up against each other; but, rather, broad-brushed. “One-sided.”

Another springboard of “one-sided”: The Palestinians dismissed the plan even before it was published. In reality, the Palestinians would reject any plan that required them to back away from endangering Israel. Palestinian leaders say in response to Trump’s plan that they will only accept a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank. That is, they insist on squeezing Israel back to its pre-Six Day War “Auschwitz borders,” leaving Israel only nine miles wide at its narrowest point and without control of  the Jordan River Valley. Arab control of this valley and of West Bank’s  strategic heights facilitated massive Arab army attacks against the Jewish state. The Palestinian definition of “one-sided” is not credible unless one opposes Israel’s existence. 

To the Palestinian leadership, the Trump plan is also one-sided because it does not have the backing of the “international community”; that is, because the US is not an even-handed broker. And the US is not even-handed because it recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The US did what any Israeli or Arab leader knows to be part of any ultimate peace agreement. Israel is not renouncing its nation’s capital. Israel is not turning over its security to Syria and Iran-by-proxy in the north. To state reality is not one-sided. 

As to the Trump administation’s even-handedness, look again at the plan’s four-year moratorium on Israeli settlement construction. Look at the Trump plan’s call for Israel to give up territory even within its pre-Six Day War (pre-June 5, 1967) borders. Look at the Trump plan’s call for a Palestinian state to surround Israeli communities on the West Bank. This makes the US a one-sided broker?

The “international community” is deemed by the Palestinian leadership to be not one-sided because: It will never happen. For the Palestinians to say that a peace deal can be done only under international auspices is really saying: We will never compromise on anything. Resort to a mythical international solution is really saying: We are not serious about peace. “One-sided” becomes a smokescreen for do nothing. That is, for holding on to the goal of destroying Israel in stages, the first being a Palestinian state on all the land on the other side of Israel’s pre-Six Day War borders. 

Is our view cynical? Is our perception of an absolutist Palestinian ideology merely an absolutist ideology of our own? There is a way to test this. See whether Palestinians negotiate a final deal under anybody. They refused to do so under the UN, in 1947. They refused to do so in Khartoum. 1967. They refused to do so under Bill Clinton. Democrat. They refused to do so under George W. Bush. Republican. They refused to do so under Barack Obama. Democrat. They refuse to do so under Donald Trump. Republican. They refuse to stop paying handsome rewards to terrorists who kill Israelis. It is not cynical to see the Palestinian goal as the murder of Israel. It is realistic. 

Just like it is realistic to say that Israel makes peace. Egypt’s Anwar Sadat came to the table with Israel. Egypt got peace. 1982. Jordan’s King Hussein came to the table with Israel. Jordan got  peace. 1994. If the Palestinians came to the table, they too would get peace — and territory, just like Egypt got territory.

Another side to the one-sided claim against the Trump plan.  Partisans say it is one-sided because Israel’s claims are awarded immediately, while Palestinians must wait four years for their claims to be awarded. Israel gets to annex its settlements in the near term, while Palestinians need to wait four years for their own state. One-sided!

Consider: The borders of settlements, whether one favors or opposes them, are set. The borders of the proposed Palestinian state require refinement and exact definition. That takes negotiations and that takes time. Consider: Israel is a thriving state. It has taken 72 years to reach this point. The Palestinian Authority is a dysfunctional government with a limited economy, and Hamas in Gaza is a terrorist entity, which needs to be dismantled (a preference of the Palestinian Authority itself). It takes time to change all this, and it needs to be changed for a Palestinian state to succeed. If a Palestinian state were to be declared in the near term, the Palestinian state would fail.

But why award Israel its West Bank settlements at all? Isn’t this  one-sided? These settlements, originally situated in areas essential to protect Israel against attack, and subsequently built on empty land that was no less a part of the ancient patrimony of the Land of Israel than any city within Israel’s pre-June 5, 1967 borders, can be dismantled only at the cost of rendering some one-half million Jews homeless. This is no more realistic than Israel giving up its capital or giving the Golan Heights to Syria. Annexation of existing settlements is a statement: Get real. If you really want peace, let’s break the pattern begun in 1949 when Arabs would not sit in the same room with Israelis and negotiate peace. If you want peace, let’s sit together and negotiate peace, not destruction.

The angry rejection by Mahmoud Abbas of the Trump plan is not surprising. Nothing that Trump or anyone else could have devised would have been received any other way. What is surprising is the partisan rush to call the Trump plan “one-sided.” Take the plan on its merits, or demerits, not on its author. Peace is too critical for political polarization. It should not infect peace efforts. Criticize components of the plan, if you see it that way. But simply to label it “one-sided” means that you’re not even looking at the plan, only at its author, only at the lens by which it can be distorted to fit a political preconception.

It is undeniable that the plan is thoughtful. It is 181 pages, the longest and most detailed Israel-Palestinian peace plan ever offered. It is worth careful consideration, even if the Palestinians reject it outright, for the following reasons:

Maybe a new and very different Palestinian leader will one day arise. The reality element of this plan, as well as its some of its proposals, such as a long underground tunnel connecting Gaza and the West Bank, may have staying power, to be embraced at a later time.

Arab countries are no longer unilaterally opposed to Israel. Even if talk of peace does not bring peace between Israel and Palestinians, it may increase good relations between Israel and some other Arab countries. That alone makes careful discussion of this plan worthwhile.

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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