“Lo Yitkayem.” “It will never be.” When I jumped in my taxi this morning to drive to work for a week of meetings, I asked my Yerushalmi taxi driver, Yigal, if he thinks the “Deal of the Century” will work. Yigal proceeded to give me a litany of reasons why it will not work. I told him I was more optimistic than him. He told me that that’s because I am an American and “always dreaming.” I did not know if I should take that as an insult or compliment (probably insult), but it left me with many important questions:
- Is the Deal of the Century going to work?
- Will the settler leaders in Israel feel comfortable with eventually allowing a Palestinian state and allowing parts of Jerusalem to fall under Palestinian dominion?
- Will Palestinian leaders budge here and does this fit into the construct of “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”? Is that sentence fair in the first place?
Yesterday, in dramatic fashion, U.S. President Donald Trump presented his long-awaited “Deal of the Century”, his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Trump presented the plan to the public alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The President described the plan as the “most detailed proposal ever” and a “big step towards peace”, but what does the plan include? The detailed plan lays out the vision for a 2 state solution with the following key points:
- Israel will maintain Jerusalem as its undivided capital
- Israel will exercise sovereignty and annex all Jewish West Bank settlements including the Jordan Valley in order to have a clear eastern border
- Israel will maintain security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea
- Israel will be officially recognized by the Palestinians as the Jewish state and the Palestinians will cease all funding of terrorism
For the Palestinians:
- The Palestinians’ capital will be in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem outside of Israel’s security barrier
- There will be a contiguous Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank including land swaps in the Negev as well as the use and management of facilities at the Haifa and Ashdod ports
- The Palestinians will receive a $50 billion investment into the Palestinian economy
- A limited number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants will be allowed into the new Palestinian state, but none to Israel
You can read the actual plan in its entirety here. Naturally, there were many responses to the plan on all sides of the debate. Let’s see how all the different players reacted:
How do Israelis feel about it?
Before the plan was announced publicly, both Prime Minister Netanyahu ands Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz had approved the plan as a basis for direct negotiations. Netanyahu announced that he would begin work to annex areas approved through the plan as soon as next week. Gantz’s party announced that the proposal “is entirely consistent with the principles of state and security espoused by Blue and White.” Nonetheless, a party official said that the party would not support the implementation of any aspect of the plan before the March 2 election.
Israeli Defense Minister and chairman of the right-wing Yamina party Naftali Bennett called on the government to immediately move forward with annexation of areas of the West Bank approved in the deal. However, Bennett also warned that “to be clear, we will not allow the Israeli government to recognize a Palestinian state under any circumstances. We will not allow Israel to deliver an inch of land to the Arabs. That’s what we’re here for, guarding the Land of Israel.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, Amir Peretz, the leader of the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz party declared that Israel’s future should only be determined through direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority rather than through unilateral moves. Peretz noted that the timing of the plan, only a month before national elections, makes it clear that “there is no legitimacy for the government to carry out diplomatic moves, despite American backing, and must be dealt with after the election.”
How do Palestinians feel about it?
In an emotional televised address, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the plan with “a thousand no’s”, calling the plan a conspiracy and declaring that Jerusalem and the rights of the Palestinian people are “not for sale”. Abbas added that the Palestinians remain committed to ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
How does the Muslim world feel about it?
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE all issued statements in support of Trump’s plan. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the kingdom reiterates its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause”.The UAE, Bahrain and Oman all sent their ambassadors to the announcement of the deal despite the fact that these countries do not officially recognize the Jewish state. On the other side of the fence, the Iranian foreign ministry referred to the plan as “treason of the century” and doomed to fail.
How did the Jewish world respond to the plan?
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) responded to the Trump plan over Twitter saying it “appreciates the efforts of President Trump and his administration to work in consultation with the leaders of the two major Israeli political parties to set forth ideas to resolve the conflict in a way that recognizes our ally’s critical security needs.” AIPAC encouraged the “Palestinians to rejoin Israelis at the negotiating table.”
J Street fervently opposed the plan, describing it as “the logical culmination of repeated bad-faith steps this administration has taken to validate the agenda of the Israeli right, prevent the achievement of a viable, negotiated, two-state solution and ensure that Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank becomes permanent.”
The Israel Policy Forum, an American Jewish organization that works toward a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, responded to the plan by saying that “no agreement can be imposed upon the two sides and that the only way to achieve a sustainable resolution is through direct negotiations between the parties. We hope that Israelis and Palestinians, with the help of the U.S., can take steps toward creating a more favorable political environment to enable those negotiations to take place one day.”
Framing the Conversation
- Use the following videos and educational resources to better understand the situation by delving deeper into the following subjects:
- Assess the following statement by Abba Eban: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” This statement is often referenced when referring to the many times that the Palestinian/Arab leadership has rejected offers for a Palestinian state or peace with Israel in the last century. Do you agree with this pithy assertion, or do you see some factors that may have made it very challenging for the Arabs and Palestinians to make concessions? Does this quote relate to today’s news? Why or why not?
- Are you optimistic about this plan succeeding? Why or why not?
- The legendary Jewish scholar Rambam (Maimonides) states that in conflict, the different parties should strive for compromise as that is always the ideal legal solution to a dispute. Rambam also writes that both sides’ narratives are essential to understanding a conflict. In fact, he says that each side venting their feelings and sharing their narrative can sometimes be just as important as the verdict, if not more so. What can we learn from Rambam about conflict resolution? Do these lessons relate to the Deal of the Century? If so, how?
- The status quo in the region for the past decade or so has been to manage the conflict, rather than attempt to solve it. What are the upsides of managing the conflict, and what are the advantages of making changes?
- Let’s flex our empathy muscles. Put your students into two groups to read through the main points of the Trump plan. One group should read the plan from an Israeli perspective and the other group should read through the plan from a Palestinian perspective. After both groups are finished reading, they should each present what they liked and what they disliked of the plan from their perspective.