Some things are, indeed, too good to be true.
One of those things is the long-awaited peace plan unveiled last week by President Donald Trump. On first glance it may seem to signal a clear triumph of Israelis over Palestinians. But on closer inspection one fears it could result in making the hostilities between them continue without end.
Watching the president alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House ceremony, both men beaming with pride, it was easy to understand their excitement and self-satisfaction.
In political hot water at home — impeachment proceedings for Trump and an indictment for bribery, breach of trust, and fraud for Netanyahu — they were able to shift the focus, at least temporarily, to their bold and ambitious diplomatic achievement, certain to please their respective right-wing bases.
Appropriately described as a “vision” for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the detailed document is less a roadmap toward peace than the outline of a dream gift for Israeli nationalists and their supporters, starting with the prime minister himself. Facing a third election in the last year on March 2, having been unable to win enough seats until now to form a ruling coalition and seek immunity from criminal proceedings, Netanyahu received a reward from Trump, his friend and ally. It came in the form of a plan that gives the Israeli leader virtually everything he could wish for — except for a realistic way out of controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians.
Rather, in addition to gaining a united Jerusalem, maintaining almost all of its settlements in the West Bank, and with permission to annex the Jordan Valley, Israel will be regulating the movement and daily lives of Palestinian citizens living in their quasi-state, with no end in sight.
Israelis will live in security if Palestinians give up their dream of independence and accept the fact that their own corrupt leaders have wasted numerous opportunities for a meaningful compromise with Israeli governments for decades. The result is a take-it-or-leave-it deal from an American president with little empathy for their cause.
If, however, the Palestinians, feeling they have nothing to lose, vent their anger and frustration, as they have before, by resuming violent attacks on Israeli citizens, the result will be all-too easy to imagine and all-too painful to endure.
My reservations about the Trump-Netanyahu plan are based primarily on a desire that Israelis be able to live in security, long into the future, rather than caring that Palestinians feel left out, though the two are intertwined.
That’s because a key flaw of the new plan is its short-sightedness. Yes, it may be just what is needed to put Netanyahu over the top in the upcoming national elections, setting the scene for a sitting prime minister going through a criminal trial. But in the long term, going forward with a plan imposed by a third party, the U.S., rather than negotiated directly by the Israelis and Palestinians, goes against the long-standing Israeli insistence that any chance for a lasting solution must come from the combatants themselves. And history has shown that only when Israel negotiated directly with Egypt, and later with Jordan, were the results positive and enduring in the form of peace treaties still in place.
Maybe Netanyahu is not so worried about the more distant future because he believes a true peace with the Palestinians is unattainable. Or maybe it’s because the distant future is a long way off.
The Trump-Netanyahu plan may be satisfying emotionally for many of us in that it punishes Israel’s intractable and pugnacious neighbors, in effect saying, “this is what you get for your decades of saying ‘no’ to our more generous offers.” But the current plan seems to ignore the reality that Israelis and Palestinians are fated to share the same piece of cherished land, either cooperatively or separately. And by extending and deepening Israel’s responsibility and control over the lives of millions of hostile Palestinians on a day-to-day basis, the plan appears to make future security for Israeli citizens less rather than more likely.
Compromise has merits because the parties share a stake in an outcome that has benefits as well as sacrifices. A plan that is forced on one party rather than worked out by two is not sustainable in the long term, especially when they share a confined space. Resentment builds. Trouble results. One need only look to the Torah to see how Abraham’s favoring Isaac, the progenitor of the Jewish people, over Ishmael, the forefather of the Arab nations, began a struggle that played out when Isaac, at the end of his life, blessed Jacob more fully than his twin, Esau. Some of our sages insist that the struggle will never end.
We pray that is not so, and that Israelis will live in peace and security, as they richly deserve. But as proposed, the Trump-Netanyahu plan prolongs rather than resolves the conflict by making control over another people permanent, with no way out.
Gary Rosenblatt is editor at large at The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication. He can be reached at Gary@jewishweek.org.