Palestinians Shouldn’t Just Say No to Trump Peace Plan

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Palestinians have every reason to expect that they’ll hate the “peace plan” that’s hurtling in their direction like a missile fired from a White House launching pad. Their instinct will be to summarily reject it. Which is exactly what they shouldn’t do.

To respond to the plan’s almost inevitable outrages and humiliations by refusing to participate in a new round of negotiations would be to fall into a trap set by Israel and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. That would be self-defeating.

Palestinians certainly shouldn’t tolerate any aspect of a proposal that attempts to undo decades-old understandings on the framework for peace. But instead of simply saying no, the Palestinian side should say “Yes, but …” And it should act quickly and adroitly to reinforce long-established agreements setting the conditions needed to establish peace.

It won’t be easy. Evidence is mounting that there’s a soon-to-be-released proposal from Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that would blow up the land-for-peace logic that anticipates the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and impose new and unacceptable terms for future peace talks.

All previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been based on the 1993 Declaration of Principles, the agreement reached in Oslo that set up a Palestinian governing authority and a framework for a more far-reaching agreement. Crucially, it set aside key subjects, notably Jerusalem, as “final status issues” to be resolved only by mutual agreement.

The Trump administration has already abrogated these understandings by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and declaring the issue “off the table” for future negotiations.

Administration officials refuse to confirm that the U.S. still endorses a two-state outcome and Washington news reports suggest that the Trump plan will not propose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Kushner’s use of phrases like “realism” and “improving Palestinian lives” implies that limited autonomy with economic benefits are what Palestinians should expect instead. The State Department has dropped any reference to “occupation” in referring to the Israeli military presence in the Palestinian West Bank.

So Palestinians will probably face a new U.S. blueprint that tries to dispense with the agreed-upon 1993 framework and substitute a new one allowing Israel to annex conquered lands, removing Jerusalem as a key issue, and replacing a two-state solution with token Palestinian autonomy inside an expanded Greater Israel.

Palestinians can’t allow the Declaration of Principles to be bypassed or jettisoned. But that’s no reason to refuse to talk, especially since that’s probably exactly what Trump, Kushner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are counting on.

Palestinian leaders should instead welcome the opportunity to sit down with Israel and the U.S., but insist they are doing so to ensure that the agreed-upon terms are maintained and to discuss how to realize them.

Ideally, they should counter with their own peace proposal based on existing agreements with Israel and international law, presenting maps of new borders with land swaps and explaining how to deal with issues such as refugees. But that’s not absolutely necessary right away.

Legal teams should be preparing briefs explaining the continued applicability of existing understandings, and why both Israel and the U.S. are still bound by them.

Palestinians should also insist that any new arrangements are consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and subsequent resolutions, especially 1397 (2002) and others that explicitly call for the creation of a Palestinian state — emphasizing that these were all voted for, and often drafted by, the U.S.

Palestinian leaders should explain their strategy to the Palestinian, Arab and global publics without delay.

To their own people, they need to describe the twin perils they are encountering. To other Arabs, they should emphasize that their position upholds the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which was introduced by Saudi Arabia and unanimously endorsed several times by the Arab League and then by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

And Palestinians should be lobbying Europeans, Russia, China and the American people, stressing that they are defending pillars of the UN Charter and international system, including the prohibition of the acquisition of territory by war, the binding nature of treaty obligations and the authority of Security Council resolutions, all of which the U.S. plan appears set to abrogate.

Otherwise, they’ll be trapped into simply saying “no.” But if they simply say “yes,” they’ll be capitulating to outrageous new terms. Neither is tolerable. So the way out is to show up to any new talks with the existing agreements open to the signature page, where Israel and the U.S. formally committed to those terms, and insist that those solemn obligations are still the keys to peace.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

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