11 November '16..
Nothing about Donald Trump’s campaign leads one to believe that he pays much attention to his advisors, and his stunning electoral victory–achieved largely by ignoring “expert” advice–will doubtless reinforce this tendency. Nevertheless, I hope he’ll end up adopting the policy proposed one of his advisors on Israel four months ago. Like Trump’s campaign, it’s a policy that flies in the face of the “expert” consensus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And for that very reason, it may well work better than this consensus, which has an unbroken track record of failure over the last 20 years.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in July, Trump advisor David Friedman began by stating an obvious but widely ignored fact: West Bank settlements are neither illegal nor the real obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. “The impediment to peace is very clear in both of our minds and that is the failure of the Palestinians to renounce hatred and renounce violence,” Friedman said. “Everything else is barely important.”
Then he started dropping bombshells. First, he said, if Palestinian intransigence continues, Israeli annexation of some of the settlements “is certainly a legitimate possibility.” Second, given that the two-state solution has repeatedly “failed in the past,” there’s no reason to remain wedded to it: “I think it’s reasonable to consider any other alternatives people of good faith may propose.”
Both those proposals go straight to the heart of the reason why the two-state solution has repeatedly failed: Not only have the Palestinians never suffered any consequences for intransigence, but they have actually been rewarded for it. Every time they’ve rejected an Israeli or American peace proposal–in 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2013–they’ve been rewarded by international pressure on Israel to sweeten the deal. Every time they’ve indulged in a new outbreak of violence, they’ve been rewarded by international pressure on Israel to make concessions to “calm the situation” and “bring the Palestinians back to the table.” And as long as saying “no” keeps producing diplomatic gains, why would any sane negotiator ever say “yes”?
Moreover, the international community’s behavior has merely fed the Palestinians’ fantasy that if they keep saying “no” long enough, Israel will eventually disappear. I’ve written before about last year’s Fikra Forum poll, which found that only a quarter of Palestinian respondents expected Israel to “continue to exist as a Jewish state” in 30 to 40 years, while a plurality believed that even their short-term goal should be “reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea.” That option beat out both the two-state and the one-state solutions. In reality, no matter how much pressure the international community puts on it, Israel remains an independent actor that’s unlikely to acquiesce in its own demise. But if you ignore that fact for a moment and look only at the actions of said international community, the Palestinians’ belief in Israel’s eventual disappearance actually isn’t so illogical.
After all, by any standard, two decades of consistently saying “no” interspersed with periodic bouts of violence have produced Palestinian gains. Two decades ago, for instance, almost nobody expected Israel to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines. Today, that demand is accepted by the entire world. Two decades ago, nobody was talking about sanctioning settlement products. Today, that’s the default position in Europe. Two decades ago, Israel enjoyed solid bipartisan support in America. Today, that support is fraying in a non-negligible section of the Democratic Party.
Two decades ago, nobody was talking about boycotting Israel. Today, the BDS movement is gaining popularity on college campuses worldwide–and those college students will be leading their countries in another two decades. So if you look at all that, while ignoring some recent developments in the opposite direction, it’s not unreasonable for Palestinians to conclude that continuing the same tactics for another 30 or 40 years will eventually produce so much international pressure on Israel that it will either collapse or be forced to agree to suicidal concessions. And in that case, why on earth should they agree to a deal now?
What Friedman’s proposal would do, for the first time, is put a real price on Palestinian intransigence. You want to keep saying no? Then the U.S. will support settlement annexation, reducing the amount of territory left to negotiate over. You still want to keep saying no? Then the U.S. will consider withdrawing support for the two-state solution entirely, in favor of some alternative you might like less.
To be clear, that still wouldn’t produce a two-state solution anytime soon. After decades of educating their children to believe that Israelis are thieves who stole their land and have no rights to any part of it, that murdering Israelis is the highest good conceivable, and that death is preferable to compromising on, say, the “right of return” (aka flooding Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees), Palestinians simply aren’t ready for an agreement right now.
But by persuading Palestinians that time actually isn’t on their side, Friedman’s policy might finally force them to do some rethinking about the benefits of accepting half a loaf rather than holding out for the whole thing and risking being left with none. And until that long, painful process of rethinking begins, any talk of a two-state solution will assuredly be a pipe dream.
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