Can “the Deal of the Century” work if Palestinian Arabs hate Israel more than they love peace?
For decades the “peace process,” the attempt to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict, has tempted American presidents into trying to achieve international diplomacy’s biggest prize. Apart from the cold “peace” Jimmy Carter brokered between Israel and Egypt ––a success predicated on the U.S. giving Egypt $1.5 billion a year in foreign aid––all the other attempts have foundered on Arab Palestinian intransigence, corruption, and fanatical devotion to the destruction of Israel.
Some commentators, however, now believe that given changing geopolitical circumstance and Trump’s rejection of the old anti-Israel paradigm, this string of failure has a good chance of ending with Trump’s “deal of the century.” But odds are it will add just one more exercise in futility, since the Palestinian Arabs simply do not want to make a deal, and are more committed to the dysfunctional (and, for its leaders, lucrative) status quo than they are to creating a viable economy and a normal nation living “side-by-side in peace” with Israel.
Trump’s deal endorses a Palestinian state on 70% of Judea and Samaria, an area twice the size of the land the Palestinian Authority currently controls, with a transportation corridor between the so-called “occupied West Bank” and Gaza; designates East Jerusalem as its capital; and promises $50 billion in multinational development aid. But it puts the burden of concessions on the PA rather than Israel: Disarming terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, ending “pay to slay” money to the families of terrorists who die during an attack, and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian Arabs will also have to abandon its demand of a “right to return” for an ever-metastasizing number of “refugees” from the 1948 war, accept Israeli control over an undivided Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, and stop its school curricula and state propaganda that incite hatred of Israel and legitimizes terrorist violence against it.
Hope for success lies in this radical departure from past peace-plans, which legitimized the Palestinian Arab demands for a Judenfrei Palestinian state on all territory between the 1967 armistice line and the Jordan River, a divided Jerusalem, the dismantling of Jewish “settlements,” and the “right of return” for some 4.3 million people. These concessions would have left Israel even more vulnerable to terror attacks, and demographically swamped the Jewish state out of existence. The value of Trump’s plan is that it recognizes facts on the ground, some of which his administration has created: settlements in Judea and Samaria, the historical heartland of Israel, are legitimate and permanent; an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; and no deal can be made without the Palestinian Arabs’ abandonment of terrorist violence and support for the jihadist gangs that foment it.
Moreover, changing geopolitical circumstances suggest that the Palestinian Arabs no longer have the support of neighboring Arab nations. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman sent representatives to the unveiling of the plan last week, which they have cautiously endorsed, and for now are advising the Palestinian Arabs to accept the deal. The Sunni Arab nations, having become tired of pumping money into a corrupt and intransigent regime, have bigger fish to fry: an expansionary Iran that has established military bases in Syria, and foments aggression against Saudi Arab through terrorist proxies in Yemen. They have finally understood that a militarily powerful, affluent, technologically advanced Israel, serially threatened with annihilation from a common foe, makes a better ally than enemy. And Israelis, even on the left, have resisted suicidal “land for peace” concessions after the increased terrorist violence that followed the 1993 Oslo accords and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.
Circumstances have also changed in the West, particularly in the U.S. with the election of Donald Trump, the best friend Israel has had since Harry Truman. Europe’s reflexive, if not anti-Semitic, hatred of Israel has begun to be tempered. Terrorist attacks across the continent perpetrated by Muslim immigrants have given Europeans a taste of what Israel has had to live with for over 70 years, as well as helping to encourage populist-nationalist parties more friendly to Israel. Here at home, hydraulic fracturing has made the U.S. the world’s leading exporter of natural gas, and has brought us to the brink of energy self-reliance. Israel’s natural gas discoveries have turned it into an exporter of natural gas, as well as making it self-reliant as well. Energy exports and energy independence have neutralized the oil-extortion Arab states had used in the past to browbeat Western nations that support Israel. Instead, old Arab enemies like Egypt and Jordan are now making deals with Israel, freeing them from dependence on enemies like Iran.
Yet despite these changes and new realities, there is one thing that hasn’t changed: The Palestinian Arab inveterate hatred of Israel, an enmity born of creed and resentment. Despite attempts by ignorant Westerners to blame Islamic anti-Semitism on the West, it is attested copiously in traditional Muslim doctrine, as extensively documented in Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism. For traditionalist Muslims, moreover, the spectacle of Islam’s primeval enemy not just surviving, but flourishing in lands once Islamic is intolerable. And having three times lost in their attempts to destroy this interloper by force rubs salt in the wounds. The other Arab states have seemingly moved on, but the Palestinian Arabs, abandoned by their confessional brothers, and trapped in dependency on the U.N. and Western aid, have predicated their identity on this hatred and resentment of a historically persecuted minority that, despite having suffered near-annihilation, still managed to create a powerful, modern, liberal-democratic state culturally, materially, and militarily light-years ahead of every Muslim state in the region.
This brings us to the false assumption that has lain behind every attempt at a negotiated peace since 1948: The Western failure of imagination in thinking that because the West prizes peaceful coexistence, tolerance, sex equality, prosperity, nationalism, equal rights, and political freedom that everybody else must too––the “trap” and “error,” as Robert Conquest wrote, that vitiates diplomatic negotiation. Thus for decades we have shoe-horned the Israeli-Arab crisis into the leftist anti-colonialist paradigm of nationalist aspirations that allegedly have been thwarted by Western imperialist interests and their neocolonialist stooges like Israel.
But the Palestinian Arab hatred of Israel was always based on creed, camouflaged by nationalist aspirations and resistance against those who ignored those aspirations. Yet “nationalist aspirations” were merely a tactic, like terrorism or insincere negotiations, that serve the long-term strategic goal of destroying Israel. Summarizing David Meir-Levy’s work, John C. Wohlstetter explains that tactic’s origins: “Palestinian nationalism is the brainchild of the former Soviet Union’s intelligence services. They hatched the 1960s ‘wars of national liberation’ to energize sub-national groups in their struggles against the West.” Like Saul Alinsky’s precept to use the master’s tools to destroy his house, Western goods like national self-determination and human rights were used to cloak aggression that served creedal objectives. Only when they thought Westerners weren’t listening did leaders like Yasser Arafat command “jihad, jihad, jihad” to be waged until Palestine was liberated from “the river to the sea.”
Western leaders have failed to reconcile the Palestinian Arabs to Israel’s existence through a negotiated settlement because they failed to recognize the Arabs’ true motives. They ignored the enemies of Israel like Hamas, whose charter blatantly states that the destruction of Israel is its purpose. They were taken in by Arafat and other “nationalists” who disagreed not with the aim of Hamas, but with its reliance on terrorist violence alone, rather than combining it with duplicitous negotiations that bought the Arabs time, misdirected the West, and reaped billions in Western “aid.” And they didn’t listen when Arab leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser said in 1956, “The Palestinians are useful to the Arab states as they are. We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean!”
Despite Trump’s rejection of the West’s chronic appeasement of the Palestinian Arabs and its indifference to Israel’s security, the “deal of the century” is still predicated on the failure to understand motives, without which no agreement can achieve a “meeting of the minds” upon which a legitimate agreement must be built. This fundamental error makes the long history of failed attempts to find a negotiated solution the prime exhibit in the indictment of the “rules-based international order.”
Indeed, the first sign of its weakness came right after World War II and involved this very conflict. In 1948 the UN, the international institution that was supposed to be the prime institution of this transnational order, failed to enforce its own resolution calling for the partition of British Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab nations. When UN signatory Arab nations violated the resolution with military force, and Israel was left nearly alone to defend itself, we knew then that UN would be as hypocritical and feckless as the League of Nations, an arena not for the peaceful resolution of conflict, but for sovereign nations to pursue their parochial and zero-sum interests. And in subsequent decades, the UN has been Israel’s enemy, regularly showering it with calumny even as it bestows billions in largesse on those using invasion and terror to “wipe Israel off the map,” as an Iranian president put it.
The vehement rejectionism and calls to violence that have greeted Trump’s plan are not mere negotiating tactics. They are heartfelt and sincere, for the conditions imposed upon the Palestinian Arabs to them are intolerable and dishonor their faith. And even if they agree, past history of such agreements show they will serially violate its terms while pocketing the money. In the end, this latest move in the “peace process” will fail, because for now a critical mass of Palestinian Arabs and their leadership hate Israel more than they love peace.