Many American presidents have tried to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Only President Trump and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner have grasped how to break the logjam: Turn the peace process into a real estate deal.
Trump and Kushner know how to put the squeeze on their marks. They lined up the leaders of both of Israel’s main political parties to praise the deal just to show that Palestinians can’t hold out for a better deal after Israel’s March election. They lined up the deal’s bankers — Arab states such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — to show that the financing is in place. They made sure to include a detailed prospectus of the projected gains for Palestinians — double your GDP in 10 years! A new high-tech corridor in the Negev desert! — to tempt them to sign on the bottom line. The only thing missing was an artist’s sketch of what downtown Nablus could look like in a decade, with chic young Palestinians sipping espresso at a posh shawarma cafe.
You’ve got to give the two former New York moguls credit. They always said they had experience that no one in Washington’s swamp possessed. Who knew that the only way to unlock more than 70 years of animus was to give Palestinians a stake in Jericho Estates and Mar-a-Gaza.
All those economic bells and whistles are needed, because on the merits the deal is harsh medicine for Palestinians dreaming of statehood. Every Jewish settlement currently in the West Bank will remain. Israel will be permitted to annex those territories into Israel, preventing a future Palestine from ever getting them back. Jerusalem will remain united and under Israeli control. Israel’s security concerns are given paramount import, and it will have the only military in the region, control all access points from Arab countries and even have total control over the new Palestine’s airspace. Such a deal!
This deal is cloaked as something that all Israelis can support, but in fact it is nothing more than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dream on paper. As one Israeli news account noted, the plan’s essence is nearly identical to that outlined by Netanyahu at his Bar-Ilan University speech in 2009. No wonder he looked so happy on Tuesday.
The deal also contains a little sweetener that could ensure Netanyahu is returned to office after the election. Israeli politics have stalemated over the past year because a small party, Yisrael Beiteinu, broke with Netanyahu over the details of his coalition arrangement with two parties that represent Israel’s sizable Haredi and Orthodox communities. The deal, however, includes a clause that permits 10 largely Arab communities bordering the West Bank in a region known as the Triangle to secede from Israel and join Palestinian territories. That idea was first broached in 2004 by Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader, Avigdor Liberman, and its inclusion has the political effect of giving him something valuable if only he signs on. Don’t be surprised if Liberman finds wiggle room to deal with the religious parties now that his cherished dream of removing more than 200,000 Arabs from Israel is possible.
The reactions within Israel are utterly predictable. The Arab Joint List and the main Jewish left-wing parties, now united in a coalition known as the Democratic Union, have loudly objected to the deal. So too has the leader of the main pro-settler, right-wing party, Yamina, although he is eager to annex the settler territories as soon as possible. But those parties represent the fringes of Israeli politics. Netanyahu’s Likud, Liberman’s party and the third large party, the centrist Blue and White party whose leader Benny Gantz offered cautious praise Tuesday, have more than enough political capital to push this through the Knesset if they want.
Most landowners know it’s better to sell when a big developer wants their land. If they try to hold out, the government can seize the land via eminent domain. And — lo! — Netanyahu has already signaled he plans to formally annex the lands ceded to Israel under the plan as soon as he can. Trump and Kushner have thought of everything.
All this means the Palestinians are cornered. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might have shouted “a thousand no’s” Tuesday. But don’t be surprised if he or his successor ultimately sign on the dotted line. Cornered property owners usually do.