Donald Trump likes saying that, back when he was in the business world, a difficult deal would always be compared to reconciling Israel and the Palestinians. With this week's Mideast plan, he claimed he nailed it.
In fact, IMO, this one always seemed the most easily resoluble major global conflict. The solution has been clear for decades: two states with international security guarantees. Jerusalem shared. Return of some Palestinian refugees; compensation for others. Land swaps. There was solid support for this among both peoples.
The real mystery is why it never got done. That's partly due to lack of commitment by Israel's leaders, whoever they happened to be, and partly to inept Palestinian leadership.
The Trump peace plan laid out by son-in-law Jared Kushner is the worst answer ever to this highly solvable puzzle. The mess began with Kushner and Trump's Israel ambassador David Friedman -- hard right supporters of Israel's government and its illegal (by international law and the UN) settlements. No voice from the Palestinian side. It's as if England tried settling the American Revolution with a "plan" drawn up in George III's court. There, that was easy.
Basically it gives everything to Israel and, er, that's the plan. The U.S. recognizes annexation of settlements whether Palestinians sign on or not. In return -- a patch of desert somewhere. Total, continuing military control. Not Jerusalem for Palestine's capital but a sleepy village. Eventually, maybe, a "state" with no army, ports or airport. Apartheid's Bantustans were more viable. And, possibly, $50 billion in aid, implying that Palestinians have no sense of dignity.
It makes the failed Oslo accords of 1993, signed on the White House lawn, look good, as they seemed to then. Only the late Edward Said and a few others, pointed out their flaws, which were fatal: no bottom lines, no serious timelines.
Said sadly wrote that not "a single Palestinian watching the White House ceremony did not also feel that a century of sacrifice, dispossession and heroic struggle had finally come to naught." He was merciless about Palestinian leader Arafat "thanking everyone for the suspension of most of his people's rights."
By 2000, when it all stalled, the U.S. brought them back to Camp David where, it was widely said, Arafat turned down the best offer Israel would ever make.
That seemed obviously false. I once asked another insightful Palestinian, Mustafa Barghouti, why Arafat had failed to expose that myth about Israel's "most generous offer." "Sheer incompetence?" he suggested. It floored me, and I'd thought I was deeply cynical about politicians.
Yet, back then there was at least a façade of respect and bargaining. What the new plan proves is: No matter how awful things are, they can get worse.
Enough moaning. What should be done now? My friend, Chris Giannou, a somewhat legendary battlefield surgeon with much Mideast experience, has long said the Palestinians should hand their essentially sham authority back to Israel -- on taxes, health, education -- to expose who holds real power there. Then begin a grassroots campaign for justice and equity in whatever form seems apt.
Others go farther: abandon "two states." Realities like the settlements have made it impossible. Campaign for a single secular state, with equal rights and votes. That's appealing. It acknowledges reality. Yet it seems to me even less "realistic" than two states, given the nature of Israeli political culture today. I wish there were a clear answer about which way to go. I'm afraid I don't see it.
One sign of things getting worse is the decline in Arab support for the Palestinians. It was always unreliable, but existed. The Arab Spring offered hope, but it faded. Palestinians are starting to seem in ways more like the Kurds: a stateless, placeless entity that carries heroically and implacably on.
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
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