Palestinians Won't Like Trump's 'Deal of the Century'

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel will be naming a town on the Golan Heights after Donald Trump. This suggests Netanyahu knows exactly what is in Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” scheduled to be unveiled in June, and that he enthusiastically approves.   

The Palestinian leaders also know what’s in the plan (or what’s not in it). So far, they are in a public state of denial. Last week, in Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyah told Senator Mitt Romney that he will not engage “in any political process that does not meet the minimum of Palestinian rights, which include an independent and sovereign Palestinian state along 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and a just resolution to the refugees issue.” Shtayyah invoked international decisions and signed agreements (meaning United Nations resolutions and the 1993 Oslo Accords) to bolster his position.

These talking points are not new, but these days they are irrelevant. The Trump Deal is not just another diplomatic effort at “peace processing.” It is a recognition that the Hundred Years War between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine is over. The PLO leadership will be presented with a document of surrender, on what amounts to a take-it-or-leave it basis.  

The Palestinian leadership has very little leverage. A refusal to engage, as Shtayyah threatens, will be an invitation to the U.S. and Israel to unilaterally establish a new order in the West Bank. 

Some Palestinian leaders hope to do nothing, outwait Trump and perhaps get a less pro-Israel president in 2020. But this administration has at least two years, and perhaps six, to establish irreversible facts. And that, according to one of its most senior officials, is exactly what it intends to do.

Another option is appealing to international organizations like the United Nations, the International Criminal Court or the European Union.  These appeals will be met with sympathy, resolutions, declarations and diplomatic posturing, but not more. The Palestinian leadership knows this from experience. 

Once, Palestinians could count on Israeli supporters of the Oslo Accords and its two-state solution. But the Second Intifada, the Arab Spring, and the example of the quasi-state of Gaza have discredited Oslo’s solutions and debilitated the Israeli “peace camp.” 

In the recent Knesset elections, political parties favoring a two-state solution got barely 15 percent of the vote.  Netanyahu’s new government will have more than enough support for unilateral, American-backed moves, and very little trouble with its parliamentary opposition.  

The Palestinians can’t expect help from their fellow Arabs. This was recently demonstrated by the faint response of the Arab League (and the Arab street) to the establishment of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem — long supposed to be the third rail of Arab political sensitivity. The two most important Arab countries, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will certainly proclaim their opposition to the Trump Plan. They will even more certainly do nothing weaken their ties to the U.S.  

Palestinian officials often warn that too much pressure will bring about a third, even more violent intifada. Some fantasize that Hezbollah will support it with a ballistic jihad on Israeli civilians. But Sheikh Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, who has spent the last decade living in an underground bunker, is not a man with a death wish. In any case, his Iranian patrons, under increasingly effective U.S. economic sanctions, won’t be willing to finance such an adventure.

If the Palestinians decide to fight, they will fight alone. Israel is now incomparably better prepared for this than it was 20 years ago. It will put down an uprising with efficient force and use it as a rationale for stricter security measures.

From the Palestinian point of view, this is a depressing set of options. But there is another choice. They can accept reality, sit down at the table and bargain for the best possible terms.

Israel's bottom lines are clear. The PLO will have to renounce the "right of return, formally accept Israel as a Jewish State and end its internal incitement and international propaganda warfare. It will also have to agree to the permanence and legitimacy of Israeli settlement within limited areas of the West Bank and reconcile itself to Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem. These demands may be “outrageous" and “unjust” as Palestinian officials insist, but they are the best the Palestinians can do.

A senior French diplomat, Gerard Arnaud, recently put the situation in blunt terms. “Everywhere in the history of mankind, when there is a negotiation between two sides, the more powerful is imposing terms on the weaker party,” he said. “That’s the basis of [the Trump Plan]. It will be a proposal very close to what the Israelis want.”

In a negotiation, the Palestinians can ask for, and expect, demilitarized autonomous rule over most of the West Bank, an internal security force, massive international aid, some Israeli reparations for lost property and control of the Al Aksa Mosque  and other holy places. They could also probably get an East Jerusalem municipality to control, based on the villages and refugee camps within the current city limits, gradually opened borders with Israel and a voice in the disposition of Gaza after Hamas.

Admitting defeat is a bitter thing. But like it or not, the Trump Deal is coming. And neither time nor the balance of power is on the Palestinian side.

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

Zev Chafets is a journalist and author of 14 books. He was a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the founding managing editor of the Jerusalem Report Magazine.

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