Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
Many people don’t understand what has been the nature of Israel’s relations with the Palestinian leadership in recent years. There has been a relationship, but it’s a relationship that has not gone anywhere.
The Fate of the 2014 Kerry Plan
Let me just remind you of the last diplomatic effort in the year 2014 when Secretary of State Kerry at the time came up with a peace plan and it was based on some unique qualities. Prime Minister Netanyahu was leading Israel, and the idea of this peace plan was the Americans would put down 15-20 points and each side could say, “I’ll go along with this peace plan, but I have problems with points 7, 10, and 11.” I’m taking those as examples. And you could express reservations about parts of the plan. The idea was that if you could accept the plan, and yet have certain reservations, it would allow the plan to succeed, because not everybody would say “This is something I can’t work with from beginning to end.”
So Secretary Kerry came to Prime Minister Netanyahu and said, “Can we work with this plan? You know you have the reservations as a way of moving forward if you have certain problems.” Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Yes, let’s work on it.”
Then Secretary Kerry brought that message to President Obama in Washington and at that time Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) came to Washington with his entourage and went to visit President Obama in the Oval Office. The critical moment came when President Obama turned to Mahmoud Abbas and said, “Do you accept the plan?” And what did Abbas say? He said, “I’ll get back to you.” I’ll get back to you? Who are you talking to? He’s talking to the President of the United States. Well, he said that, and that left a lingering sense that the Palestinian leadership wasn’t ready for peace. Even when the Israeli prime minister went out of his way and accepted a plan that wasn’t something that Israel was thrilled with, Israel was ready to try.
How the Trump Plan Differs from the Kerry Plan
I give you that background because we have to understand where we’re coming from as we approach the current initiatives that are being tried by the Trump administration. These initiatives are important because they are trying to liberate us from all the failed peace plans of the past.
To give you an example, most of the architects of peace in the past envisioned a mass removal of Israelis from Judea and Samaria – from the West Bank – and that is simply not going to happen. We pulled out 8,000-9,000 Israelis from the Gaza Strip and we created a scar in the memory of many Israelis from having done that, because we were willing to try to set the foundations of some kind of peace. And what we got was a dramatic escalation of rocket fire shot at Israel.
So having tried that in the past, it would have made no sense to develop a peace plan predicated upon the mass removal of Israelis. Frankly, if you’re going to come up with a peace plan, you shouldn’t try to forcibly remove Israeli residents in the West Bank and you shouldn’t try and forcibly remove Palestinians either. A peace plan – to be just and to be fair – has to be based on these populations staying in their homes, which is what the Trump peace plan tries to do. Hats off to the Trump team for doing it that way.
Another fundamental principle that all the other piece plans suggested is that – “It’s going to be annoying if there are Israeli soldiers staying behind in places like the Jordan Valley. That’s a strategic area but it’s not going to work. We’ll get international peacekeepers to monitor the borders and to monitor the Jordan Valley.” This is what was always suggested to Israelis, even though our experience is that international peacekeepers pack their bags and run the moment there’s trouble. At the beginning of the Six-Day War we had peacekeeping forces along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, for example, and those peacekeepers simply got up and left.
So we have a horrible experience with how architects of peacemaking have worked and have tried, and therefore, in this case, what you have is an effort to create a territorial compromise where Israel remains in areas that are of strategic importance to the future defense of Israel. That’s something we can probably work with. We might have a slightly different definition of what are the strategic areas in the West Bank – in Judea and Samaria – and in the Gaza Strip, but we’re willing to give it a try. We’ll have a dialogue. We’ve had a dialogue in the past and we’ll have a dialogue in the future – which is why we’re anxious to work with President Trump and his team to make this work.
Israel Is Not Looking to “Annex” the West Bank
Now, what about this notion of Israel retaining parts of the West Bank, which is sometimes incorrectly called “annexation”? I say “incorrectly” because you “annex” territories that aren’t yours. You “annex” territory that belongs to somebody else, that belongs to another country. Do any of you who studied Middle East history remember what happened at the end of the 1948 war with the territory of what we call the West Bank? What happened was that that territory had been part of the British Palestine Mandate and it was annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – called Transjordan at the time – and as a result, that territory was not recognized by the world as Jordanian territory. It was seen to be territory that didn’t belong to them.
So if Israel decided at the end of this process to retain a portion of the West Bank, I don’t know if you can call that a real annexation. We have other terminology for this: extending Israeli law to parts of the territory.
Remember, Israel isn’t going to take the whole West Bank. What the Trump plan talks about is the Israeli side obtaining 30% of the West Bank and the Palestinian side obtaining 70% of the West Bank. This isn’t some kind of unilateral move that leads to Israel taking the whole thing. So the situation is more complex and less clear than a lot of the people commenting on this refer to, and we have to explain our position.
But, essentially, our position is one that has a firm basis legally, a firm basis morally, and a firm basis for setting the stage for a peace process that can work. I’m not saying I embrace the idea of annexation. I don’t. But I think that we have to give this larger peace plan a chance, as we have in the past, and right now there’s nothing else on the table that has any chance of working.