What “everybody” used to “know” about the parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace has been jolted by the Trump plan.
Should Israel refrain from a partial sovereignty declaration – which will be a near-consensus step in Israel and will be recognized by the US – because the “international community” insists on maximal Palestinian demands for a full-fledged and potent Palestinian state (the “EKP”) and negates “unilateral actions” by Israel? Should Israel wait patiently and endlessly for a negotiation with the Palestinians that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want and repeatedly rejects? Should Israel wait endlessly for miraculous democratic transformations on the Palestinian side, or (more likely) wait for heightened international pressures on Israel to unilaterally withdraw lock-stock-and-barrel from the West Bank? I don’t think so.
The difficulty that much of the world is having in digesting the Trump Middle East peace initiative stems from two things: Its departure from “internationally agreed parameters” for Palestinian statehood, and its acceptance-in-principle of partial Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria if/when the Palestinians refuse to negotiate.
These positions indeed are a shock to the “international community,” which for the past 25 years has become wedded to a formula for an Israeli-Palestinian endgame based on maximal Palestinian demands alongside minimal regard for Israeli security needs and national-historic claims.
The international “expectation” (as articulated in the Clinton parameters, the Kerry outline, the EU Council Conclusions, UNSC resolution 2334, etc.) has been that someday Israel will be forced to accept Palestinian demands, i.e., uproot most settlements, withdraw from almost all of the West Bank, and divide Jerusalem to facilitate the rise of a full-fledged and potent Palestinian state.
This can be referred to as the “EKP” – the “everybody knows paradigm,” a phrase coined by Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security – meaning that everybody in the world presumes Israel will be forced to concede; to genuflect to the EKP. It is, supposedly, the “only template” that can bring Palestinian-Israeli peace; the only paradigm that bears so-called “international legitimacy.”
Thus, any moves away from the EKP are fundamentally “forbidden and dangerous.” That is what the EU foreign policy chief barked this week, along with a threat to punish Israel if it defies the EKP.
The problem is that the EKP was never practical from Israel’s perspective and has become less so with the utter failure of the Oslo peace process – because of Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism – and with the surge of Islamist threats to Israel.
Sadly, the EKP sustains a specific set of unrealistic Palestinian territorial expectations, and it underwrites a dynamic whereby every Palestinian failure in responsible state-building is forgiven; every Palestinian rejection of a reasonable peace offer is explained-away; and every Palestinian assault on Israel in international forums is excused.
Unilateral Palestinian steps against Israel are accepted with equanimity – such as appeals to have their statehood unilaterally recognized by the UN, without negotiation or compromise; appeals to the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice to criminalize and penalize Israel; illegal building of Palestinian settlements in Area C of the West Bank; and of course, ongoing warfare from Palestinian Gaza against Israel.
Israel is expected to do nothing in response to these Palestinian assaults. It must wait patiently and endlessly for a negotiation with the Palestinians that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want and repeatedly rejects. Israel is held hostage to never-ending Palestinian vetoes. Israel is certainly expected to take no unilateral action to secure its baseline national and security assets.
Israel also is expected to hang-on for a peaceful and democratic Palestinian political culture to miraculously emerge. This would involve, alas implausibly, a unified Palestinian government that doesn’t pay people to kill Israelis, that disarms Hamas and other terrorist armies in its midst, that ends the teaching of anti-Semitism and genocidal attitudes towards Israel in its schools and media, that respects human rights, that is prepared to reconcile with Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People and accept (at least some) Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria as legitimate, that accepts total Israeli security control of the two-state envelope, etc.
But since this plainly isn’t in the offing if the EKP dynamic prevails, the Trump administration boldly undertook a wholly fresh look at paradigms for an Israeli-Palestinian deal and for Arab-Israeli regional peace.
The Trump paradigm falls well short of standard (uttermost) Palestinian demands, but it requires significant modification of Israeli positions too. It is a serious and detailed effort to answer basic needs on both sides – Israeli security and rights, Palestinian prosperity and sovereignty – without reverting to massive human dislocation or risking radical Islamist victory.
The Trump Plan’s most important contribution, I think, is the say to Palestinian leaders that time is not on their side. The longer they reject peace with Israel, the less independence they might obtain. The plan for Palestinian statehood has an expiry date and a mechanism for dialing-back its parameters if Palestinian leaders don’t live up to basic obligations. This is critically needed pressure towards concrete engagement in a true peace process.
It is also reflects realism, because the territorial contours and security parameters of the plan make eminent sense to the vast majority of Israelis. Realistically, the Palestinians won’t get a much better deal from Israel, under any blue, white, orange or red government. And thus, those international officials and “experts” who counsel the Palestinians to reject negotiation based on this initiative are doing the cause of peace and the Palestinians no favor.
Which brings us to Israeli annexations sanctioned by the Trump plan, perhaps later this year. The plan accepts as matter of principle that Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria are there by historic and national right, forever. It furthermore determines that Israeli security control of the Jordan Valley and the Jordan River border is categorically necessary for the long-term stability of Israel, Jordan and any future Palestinian state.
Therefore, the plan asserts, extension of Israeli sovereignty to the approximately 30% of Judea and Samaria where Israelis live and the IDF regularly patrols will be a rightful and responsible recognition of reality, and a just rejoinder to 100 years of Arab attempts to delegitimize and destroy Israel.
Importantly and usefully, it also can spur Palestinians to get their own house in order with leaders ready for real compromise with Israel about the disposition of the remaining territories (70%). Unlike the stale EKP, the new situation created after an Israeli declaration of partial sovereignty in Judea and Samaria should provide a baseline for realistic Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Imagine the following scenario: Israel elects a broad and stable government in March ready to engage on the Trump plan. Sunni Arab leaders press the Palestinians to engage too, and reconfirm their commitment to invest tens of billions of dollars in Palestinian national development. But the Palestinians remain recalcitrant, Mahmoud Abbas continues to call Trump “a dog and a son of a dog,” and Hamas escalates its terrorism from Gaza and in the West Bank.
Then what? Israel should refrain from a partial sovereignty declaration – which will be a near-consensus step in Israel and will be recognized by the US – because the “international community” insists on the EKP and negates “unilateral actions” by Israel? Israel should wait endlessly for marvelous democratic transformations on the Palestinian side, or (more likely) wait for heightened international pressures on Israel to unilaterally withdraw lock-stock-and-barrel from the West Bank? I don’t think so.
When Israel gets beyond the current election period, it must embark on a broad diplomatic campaign to generate understanding of its core needs and of the historic opportunities (for all sides of the conflict) presented by the Trump plan. The effort should include outreach to Diaspora Jews who are rattled by the shift in diplomatic paradigm and need to grapple with Israel’s repositioning. Israel also must calm the Jordanian king, Israel’s peace partner, who should yet come to see the benefits of moving beyond a failed paradigm.