‘Annexation Now’ is a bad idea. The Trump peace plan is not.


In the battle over Israel’s potential annexation of parts of the West Bank,  any support for boundary adjustments on the West Bank is portrayed as an attempt to block any Palestinian state. The wall-to-wall opposition — Palestinians and their allies, the Israeli center-left, European Union leadership, the American left, some of the largest American Jewish organizations and the Democratic party — is portrayed as trying to save the two-state solution.

This presentation has it all wrong. The land transfer proposed in the Trump/Kushner peace plan is part of the most serious, achievable scenario in three decades for a peace that enables a Palestinian state and a secure Israel. The United States government should speak up to make clear that it supports not annexation now but a land exchange — when such an exchange meets the needs of the Palestinians for self-determination and the Israelis for peace and security, as one.

The confusion stems from the fact that the Palestinians are convinced that the United States is totally biased in favor of Israel, while any initiative by Trump/Kushner is widely distrusted in Europe and on the left. Yet while “the deal of the century” overturned many of the axioms of previous American policies, it actually pursues the main American goal:  self-determination for the Palestinians, side by side with peace and security for Israel.

For three decades now, two states for two peoples has been America’s mantra, meant to ensure that that Israel’s legitimate existence not be a source of nakhba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians. For a century, Zionists dreamed that Jews could build a state with self-determination and guaranteed asylum for Jews worldwide, while the local Arab population would be the beneficiary of a better life. For this reason the Zionist movement accepted a partition of the land of Israel in two states in 1947. When Palestinians nationalism arose after 1967, Israeli governments twice offered them statehood on lines close to the 1967 borders.

However, it is almost 30 years since the Oslo accords, which were supposed to end with Palestinian self-determination. During this period, the Palestinians rejected two generous peace offers. Yasser Arafat actively pursued (and secretly financed) terrorism. He launched the second intifada which for months made life in Israel almost unlivable. The Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, has spoken moderately and coordinated security with Israel. It has also engaged in constant incitement and diplomatic warfare to delegitimate Israel. It flirts with terrorism, honors terrorists as martyrs, gives imprisoned terrorists’ families stipends — with more money allocated the harsher the terror act.

The vast majority of the Israeli public became convinced that the Palestinians were not ready to accept Israel’s right to exist. After Israel evacuated its settlements in Gaza, in the next election the Palestinian majority voted to install Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority — although (because?) the movement is dedicated to destroy the state of Israel. Although the election was aborted, the Israeli public is aware that the P.A. and its Fatah leadership is not democratic. The Israelis understand that any dictatorship is not secure because it is not backed by the will of the people. Therefore, it inevitably must generate an external enemy to become the target of popular discontent. That will be Israel — especially since the West Bank economy has not prospered while corruption has eaten up the bulk of the extraordinary amount of international aid received by the Palestinians.

A bare majority of Israelis is still open to a future democratic, trustworthy Palestinian leadership that would make peace with Israel. A large and growing fraction has given up on the Palestinians or is content to swallow them whole in one state — on the grounds that they can handle a disgruntled minority. That is seen as a lesser risk than setting up an unstable state that could fall into the hands of jihadists and that is located within miles of Jerusalem and which can reach Ben-Gurion Airport with primitive, hand made mortars.

In the meantime, the voters have punished the leading party on the left for bringing in the Palestinians and granting them power and international standing when in fact they were not ready to live in peace with Israel. The Labor party which had 44 seats in the Oslo accord government, has fallen to 3 seats. The average Israeli believes that Israel’s well-intentioned allies, insisting on a two-state solution, are asking Israel to play a game of Russian roulette.

The Genius of the Plan

Here is where the American approach shines. It understands that the Palestinians must convince Israelis, by deeds not words, that they want to live in peace with Israel. That includes accepting permanent demilitarization, becoming a democracy, and creating a prosperous economy and a better quality of life (for which they will get exceptional international help). This may be difficult for the Palestinians to do, but there is no plausible alternative. The Israelis are not going to hand over their fate to an irredentist neighboring people.

The Palestinian future is in their hands. By switching their narrative and national effort from undermining Israel to the way of coexistence and a negotiated peace, they will be rewarded with prosperity and a better life.  The Israelis will be assured that there is a version of the Palestinian state with which they can live in safety.

There will be no uprooting of settlements. Uprooting the settlements in Gaza almost broke Israel apart.The legacy of that withdrawal is a Hamas-controlled terror enclave that makes life in Southern Israel unlivable for months on end. The Israeli consensus is determined not to allow a repetition in a Palestinian state located within a few miles of Jerusalem and the main urban centers of Israel.

It was a mistake to allow the possibility of annexation up front. The Trump plan aimed to make sure that the negotiations will not be an empty exercise in stalling. Under the plan, America promises that if there is no agreement within four years, it will back Israel’s absorbing Jewish settlements across the Green Line/1967 borders. Properly applied, this clause is the genius of the plan. Up to now, Palestinian recalcitrance and unremitting hostility was rewarded with sequential peace offers that were increasingly generous to them. The current plan makes clear that the longer they refuse to make a peace settlement, the greater the likelihood they will get less. The quicker they move to compromise, the more immediate the rewards in a better life and self determination. This is the only remaining realistic scenario for a Palestinian state to which both Israelis and the international community might agree.

The extension of sovereignty that America would support overcomes the greatest Israeli fear: that a Palestinian state will jeopardize Israel’s security. Israel would get control of its own security (such as the Jordan Valley corridor) so Israelis are not dependent on future, uncertain Palestinian  good faith for their safety.

This is a moment that cries out for bipartisanship. Everyone should pivot. The Palestinian allies, the E.U., the American left and Democratic party should press the Palestinians to negotiate now while they still can get an agreement supported by a majority of Israelis. They likely would get a better deal than a 30%/70% split. The Palestinians need a push for sovereignty that is no longer based on dictatorship, the deprivation for their people, and the diplomatic or demographic undermining of Israel. Such a turn would liberate them from the curse of victimhood and the Israelis from the threat of terrorism.

President Trump, Jared Kushner, the Republicans and the right should press Netanyahu to stop pushing for immediate annexation and negotiate with the Palestinians in good faith. Netanyahu’s current approach assumes the “deal of the century” is not a peace plan but a political “goodie” package for him from his friends, President Trump and the evangelicals. The American government would do Israel a favor by making clear that this is a serious attempt to solve an intractable problem. Such a direction would enable Netanyahu and and his coalition partner, Benny Gantz, to strive for a mutually negotiated land and population exchange that would be accepted by the broader Israeli public — and by the world. (This is what Gantz actually wants. American pressure would enable Netanyahu to go along.)

With the right combination of pressure from people on all sides, achieving peace with security and dignity for both peoples would be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg is an American scholar, author and Modern Orthodox rabbi.