Hotels vs. Missiles: The Palestinians Chose … Poorly
The United States has been trying to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians for 50 years. Seven of the last nine Presidents have advanced proposals for doing so, starting with Nixon in 1970. There have been only two exceptions. Ford, who in two years didn’t really get a chance. And Reagan, who was too busy winning the Cold War to bother with sideshows, however important.
America has also doled out a lot of money to both sides — mostly Israel. Since its creation in 1948, the Jewish state has received more than $240 billion from the U.S. (Adding together this information and this.) The Palestinians have been given about $5 billion in U.S. aid, but that’s only since the Oslo Accords of 1994.
Peace to Prosperity
Now the 45th President has weighed in with a detailed peace plan, of some 181 pages. Released last week, Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People has a price tag of only $50 billion. (It is, in effect, a Marshall Plan for the Palestinians.) This makes it a bargain compared to previous American spending on Israelis and Palestinians. It’s also spare change compared to the $750 billion we spent on Iraq, or the $1 trillion (so far) in Afghanistan. Yes, of course, the U.S. should support Israel notwithstanding the Palestinian issue. And it’s not just about money, granted. But with this country over $23 trillion in debt, we can ill afford to fund feuding parties forever.
Aside from U.S. fiscal issues, peace between these two neighbors would be good for the region and the world. The Trump Administration has devised a novel plan to do so, which ignores the 800-plus U.N. resolutions on the matter. It acknowledges the political, security and even religious issues involved. But Trump is a businessman POTUS. So is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, the plan’s author. Thus Peace to Prosperity primarily entices the Palestinians with economic growth and a projected higher standard of living. The plan’s commercial approach borrows heavily from the Japan-sponsored “Valley of Peace” initiative of over a decade ago. As such, religion is set aside. Even the very concept of sovereignty, “an unnecessary stumbling block in past negotiations” (p. 9), is thrown overboard.
This agenda’s stated aim is “a realistic Two-State solution” that “would give the Palestinians all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel” (p. 3). The two sides would freeze the vast majority of territory as it is now, with just a few “land swaps” on the margin. Palestinians would not get (back) all the pre-1967 land. But they would get “territory reasonably comparable in size” (p. 12). The West Bank and Gaza would be tethered by a tunnel. And the Palestinians would be given access to Jordan at two points, as the second map in Appendix 1 of Peace to Prosperity shows. An international fund would be set up to pay for these, as well as for Palestinian infrastructure.
Carrots and Sticks for the Palestinians
All of Jerusalem will remain Israeli, although the Palestinians could place their capital in the eastern side. They could even call it “al-Quds” (the Arabic name for the city). A special “tourism zone” would be set up for the latter in the Jerusalem suburb of Atarot, piggybacking on its current status as an industrial one. A Jerusalem-Al Quds Joint Tourism Development Authority (JDTA) would oversee Christian, Jewish and Muslim tourism. There are other carrots for the Palestinians. A free trade zone with Jordan, access to Israeli ports at Haifa and Ashdod, a resort area near the Dead Sea, new schools and a university, a high tech/manufacturing hub south of Gaza.
But there are sticks, as well. A Palestinian state gets no military. Its security would be Israel’s responsibility. Only domestic counter-terrorism forces could exist. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and similar groups must disarm. The Palestinians must recognize Israel’s right to exist. And they should stop teaching children that Israel is illegitimate. Perhaps most importantly, “there shall be no right of return” (p. 32). Palestinians refugees would have three options. Living in the existing Palestinian territories. Integrating into the Arab countries where they already live. Or resettling in an OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) country. The final path would be for 50,000 refugees, total, over a decade. Some compensation for these refugees would come from a trust fund run by the Palestinians, Israel and the U.S.
Those are the main points of Trump’s Peace to Prosperity. The appendices alone extend for over 100 pages with details. How much money will be allotted to STEM education, 4G and 5G wireless, hotels, converting Gaza power plants to natural gas, libraries — and the list goes on, totaling $50 billion. There are also schedules for implementation and verification.
The plan thrilled some but infuriated others. The Israeli government was on board. In fact, the Prime Minister was standing alongside President Trump as it was released. The Saudis, now Israel’s friends and ours, supported it. But the Palestinian Authority rejected it, saying “we would rather die than accept the deal.” Of course the Iranian government advised jihad, not agreement. The ayatollahs are always willing to die to the last Palestinian. And the closest thing the Islamic world has to an actual caliph, President Erdoğan of Turkey, condemned it.
Presidential Peace Plans of the Past
Every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter — whose Camp David deal between Egypt and Israel was one of his term’s few bright spots — has advanced a peace plan. But few, I suspect, expected success. Bill Clinton, to his credit, did a yeoman’s job with the Oslo deal. But these weren’t really because of Bill’s Southern charm. Rather, they resulted from the Palestinians losing support from the USSR (which collapsed) and the Saudis (who dropped them for backing Saddam). Arafat shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand because the Palestinians were out of money.
After 9/11, the Middle East scene changed dramatically. The U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. Both invasions empowered and emboldened Iran. ISIS emerged as a threat to the existing order. Egypt courted, then rejected, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab Spring became the Islamic fundamentalist summer, winter and fall. Libya collapsed into a failed state. Syria, with massive outside help (Russia, Iran, the U.S.), hung on. Barely. The Kurds are trying to get a do-over on World War I. Throughout the region “the old alliances are dead.”
Thus, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a much lower priority than it ever has been. The Trump Administration could easily have passed on proposing a plan. So kudos to the President.
But let’s be realistic. The Palestinians under Mahmud Abbas are not going to give up certain claims. Their “right of return,” control of at least East Jerusalem and pre-1967 borders. Even in return for a modernized economy. And it’s unlikely the 84-year-old successor to Abbas will change Palestinian hearts and minds. As long as the Europeans, Turks and Iranians provide an economic lifeline to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, they know they can survive, for a while. But long-term, the Palestinian people need more than foreign aid and vindictiveness to get them through. Trump’s plan offers that. But they are too obtuse to take it.
Seven Existential Threats to Israel
What about Israel? In 2009, Michael Oren outlined seven existential threats to Israel. Losing Jerusalem, Palestinian Arab demographic growth, delegitimization, terrorism, loss of sovereignty, nuclear Iran, and corruption. The first five of those would be ameliorated by Peace to Prosperity. But none of those is really a threat to Israel in 2020, or for the foreseeable future. So the Israelis don’t need this plan at all. Meanwhile, corruption is something they can, and should, deal with internally.
Ayatollahs with atomic weapons is really the sole remaining existential threat to Israel, But that’s totally outside the purview of the Palestinian issue, peace plan or not. And it’s one that finds most Arab countries — notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt — siding with Israel. The Palestinian Arabs may very well rue the day they chose Iranian missiles over Trump hotels.
Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth; a history professor; and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS).