Following Trump’s plan, Palestine has elicited little support, with many major Arab countries ignoring it till now. In short, the Palestinian negotiating position has never been weaker, and it will never get stronger.
United States President Donald Trump’s recently announced peace plan for Israel and Palestine has come in, as expected, for severe criticism. The problem is much of the criticism is not just misdirected, but also legally incorrect.
This current plan has three major features: First, it reduces the size of the West Bank by about 30 per cent with Israel annexing the Jordan River valley that acted as the boundary between the West Bank and Jordan. This cuts off the West Bank’s access to Jordan, turning it into an island within Israel. Second, it significantly expands Gaza by adding two more enclaves, reducing the Israeli border with Egypt. Third, it connects all these disparate entities through a long tunnel.
It is, however, premised on specific conditions that include the Palestinian Authority cracking down on terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad (hard to do given the Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank and Hamas controls Gaza with no connection between the two. Moreover, the Palestinians will have to stop rewarding the families of terrorists.
Presumably this plan has come in for criticism on three issues: First, it does not recognise the Palestinian right of return; second, its apportioning of land is even less than the previous offer under former US President Bill Clinton; and, third, the Palestinian Authority has no way of enforcing the preconditions of cracking down on Hamas given the lack of contiguity.
Much of this is just plain wrong. Population exchanges are an accepted principle in international law and are irreversible. Be it the expulsion of native Germans from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and other parts of Eastern Europe after World War 2, the Greek-Turkish population exchanges after World War 1 and the India-Pakistan Partition. However, there is no such thing as the “right to return”. Given that the idea of a modern nation state is based on people, not territory, it is absurd that any country would let a majority of its population live in another country — especially one seen as an enemy — defeating the very idea of a nation state.
Next is the issue of ever decreasing land. As the once foreign minister of Israel Abba Eban said “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. Consequently, since 1948, the Palestinians have rejected every single offer of land and have seen the land offered to them shrink every single time. What is amazing is the Palestinian leadership feels it can actually get a better deal despite the absolute historical certainty that they can’t.
In fact that is what the Israeli strategy has been based on: ‘accept what’s offered now else the next offer will be worse’. This time around, Palestine, it seems, has elicited no support with even all major Arab countries either supporting the deal or ignoring it. In short, the Palestinian negotiating position has never been weaker, and it will never get stronger.
Third is that the lack of contiguity prevents the Palestinian Authority from dealing with Hamas in the West Bank. This is possibly the only valid criticism of the deal and remains to be seen what solutions Israel offers the Palestinian Authority to enact a regime change and the takeover of Gaza.
The consequences for Palestine are threefold. First, should Trump win re-election (and he is likely to) this plan will be unilaterally implemented, where its consent will be irrelevant. Second, its ability to hide behind international laws — that by virtue of being occupied doesn’t require them to prevent attacks on Israel — will end (though Israel doesn’t take permission to retaliate). Finally their demographic plans of swamping Israel with an Arab majority will also end. This was the Plan B, where both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority encouraged more children so as to then claim Israeli nationality, but as a majority. This plan has had a ruinous effect on both Gaza and the West Bank with chronic overcrowding and now there will be no prize to be reaped.
To sum up the deal may not satisfy some esoteric notion of ‘fair play’, but it is the best under the circumstances. If the Palestinians don’t accept it, the next time what will be on offer will be even less. The issue remains how will this be sold to the Palestinians by their leaders? That’s the real crux given both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have substituted dreams of a non-existent tomorrow for governance failure.
Leadership is about bringing daydreams crashing down to Earth. The problem is the Palestinians have never had real leaders to give them a reality check; just demagogues who parasitically and cruelly exploit them and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, except the Palestinians themselves.Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a defence economist and senior fellow at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. Twitter: @iyervval. Views are personal.