The Trump administration is reportedly only a few weeks away from announcing a new plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to the Associated Press, presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, along with U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, have been briefing American allies and involved parties about the contents of a peace plan. In the past, the mere hint of the possibility of an American blueprint would have rocked Jerusalem. But despite the taunts of his political opponents about these reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears unperturbed — and the reason for his calm is no secret.
It’s not just that the anticipated plan isn’t as generous to the Palestinians as past offers put forward by his predecessors and American administrations. A scheme that involves a two-state solution on any terms would be fiercely opposed by the Israeli right and could potentially set off a coalition crisis. But Netanyahu knows that he possesses the same ace up his sleeve that enabled him to weather every past attempt to revive the peace process since he returned as Israel’s leader in 2009: The Palestinians will reliably say “no” to any peace deal.
That Trump’s peace plan will be dead on arrival is a virtual certainty.
Understandably, the timing for a revival of negotiations could not be worse. Both the Fatah Party-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been making it crystal-clear for months that they are more interested in competing with each other to demonstrate hatred for Israel—and the United States—than in negotiating for an independent state.
Trump’s shift from his predecessor’s belief that more “daylight” between America and Israel is the formula for peace has angered the Palestinians. Although Barack Obama oversaw the most pro-Palestinian American administration in recent history, the Palestinians weren’t even interested in meeting him halfway. P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas torpedoed former Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2014 efforts to revive negotiations by making an end run around the United States to the United Nations and prioritizing reconciliation with the Hamas terrorists over peace with Israel.
Now that Trump has demanded that he stop subsidizing terrorists and chose to recognize the reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, Abbas won’t even talk to the Americans. Abbas’s latest anti-Semitic rant made it clear that he would never recognize Israel’s legitimacy or end the ongoing conflict. As for Hamas, its attempt to revive interest in the so-called “right of return” with marches designed to produce Palestinian deaths demonstrated that its opposition to peace is as implacable as ever.
Nevertheless, the Trump plan will likely contain planks that will enrage the Israeli right. Any two-state plan would involve giving up settlements and agreeing to Palestinian sovereignty in much of the West Bank. Israeli acceptance of those terms could split Netanyahu’s supporters.
But Netanyahu knows that even if Abbas wanted peace, Trump’s offer won’t tempt him. The P.A. has educated Palestinians to think of Israel and Jews with hatred, and to regard compromise as unthinkable. The fact that the Palestinian state Trump is reportedly offering Abbas is one that has the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis as its capital, rather than the eastern sector of a re-divided Jerusalem, is a guarantee of a Palestinian rejection.
Since his predecessor Yasser Arafat twice rejected a peace plan that offered the Palestinians a share of Jerusalem—and Abbas himself walked away from an even more generous deal in 2008—the notion that he or a potential successor (the 82-year-old leader, who is currently serving the 14th year of the four-year-term to which he was elected, is in very poor health) would agree to such a pact is pure fantasy. According to diplomatic sources, earlier this year Abbas was told by the Saudis to take what Trump offered him, and the Palestinian reportedly refused to do so.
Netanyahu knows that in the diplomatic game of chicken in which the first party to say “no” to America loses, the Palestinians will always jump first. It is this that allows him to avoid a conflict with the settler movement and its backers.
Under these circumstances, surely even a novice like Kushner knows that his plan is a fool’s errand. Why then are they doing it?
Obama’s lack of understanding of Palestinian nationalism caused him to think that all that was needed to make peace was more pressure on Israel. Similarly, Trump has boasted that his negotiating skills could forge the “ultimate deal.” Perhaps Kushner is also naive enough to think that he can solve this insoluble problem.
But by now, surely even Trump knows that the Palestinians are too invested in their century-old war on Zionism to be able to abandon it even for the sake of an independent state. And if he didn’t already know it, it’s likely that his new foreign-policy advisers—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton—have set him straight.
At this point, the purpose of the Trump plan is not an Obama-style messianic quest for peace. Rather, it’s a diplomatic diversion that can give some cover to Sunni Muslim states like the Saudis, Egypt and Jordan as they join with the United States to pursue their real priority: rolling back the gains Iran made under Obama.
If the Palestinians were capable of making peace, then there would be no way any Israeli government could say no to such a plan, even if it was a dangerous gamble that would risk putting a radical Islamist regime in charge of much of the West Bank. But Netanyahu knows he has nothing to worry about: As long as the Palestinians’ only answer is “no,” he will never be put to the test.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.