Yet, without truly understanding the behavior and motivations of Palestinians, it is impossible to find a solution or even begin to manage the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Palestinians have accepted other offers, such as the Security Council resolution 242 in 1967 and the Oslo Accords, which promised them a meager 22 percent of Palestine — at best. All the proposed solutions involved a loss, so why do they accept some plans and reject others? The answer lies in three things Palestinians care about most: a sense of fairness, the hope of living freely in a sovereign state of their own, and the facts on the ground.
Fairness doesn’t matter much to diplomats; in fact, it irritates them, mainly because it often stands in the way of the easier deal, the one that yields to the powerful. But fairness matters to people. In my university classes, when discussing Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue, I regularly ask my students to choose between Athens’ offer of surrender and enslavement or defying it and facing a certain death. Each term, over 10 years of teaching, the majority of students chose defiance, just like the people of Melos did 2,500 years ago. This is the spirit Palestinians are invoking when they reject proposals they see as false choices rooted in injustice.
There are also practical reasons behind their decisions. Palestinians rejected the U.N. partition plan because they believed that Arab states, who committed their armies to the cause, would be able to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. And in Oslo in 1993, the Palestinians ceded upfront 78 percent of historic Palestine, but they did this in return for the promise of a sovereign state on the rest of it. They valued living freely in their own state more than their attachment to a historical justice; that seems pragmatic to me.
The outcome of the Oslo process, however, denied them the sovereign state they were promised and eroded whatever illusion of fairness they held on to. Moreover, the unprecedented expansion of Israeli settlements inside the West Bank undermined their trust in promises that don’t translate to reality on the ground. That explains their reaction to the proposals in both 2000 and 2008.
Trump’s plan goes beyond all that. It offers Palestinians no sovereign or contiguous state, only perpetual submission to Israel’s control. Not only does it make no attempt to camouflage its unfairness, but it also flaunts it in the face of Palestinians accompanied by threats. One can almost hear the Athenian leader roaring from the podium of the joint news conference: “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”
The problem is, because Palestinians and Israelis actually share the same space, the weak don’t suffer alone.
Once the Palestinians reject Trump’s plan, hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims follow. As a result, even the most willing Arab rulers will find it difficult to support it. This means that Trump’s plan cannot function as basis for peace, but only as a U.S. authorization for Israel’s unilateral annexation of 30 percent of the West Bank and continued control of Palestinians living there, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced.
Trump and Kushner have managed to bury the two-state solution and have thrown us toward a one-state “solution” where Israel is de facto sovereign over the area between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean, with millions of Palestinians living without civil or political rights equal to their Israeli counterparts, unable to travel outside their assigned enclaves, import or export commodities or do much about their lives without a permit from Israeli authorities. This situation has a name, regardless of whom one blames for it: apartheid.
Condemning Trump’s plan and calling for resuscitating the two-state solution is no longer useful; that “solution” has been dead for more than a decade. The nationalist and religious right that didn’t allow it to materialize is now further strengthened by the lure of annexing the biblical lands it has coveted for decades. Trump’s plan opened a gate for a powerful stream that will carry us toward the dreadful challenges of an apartheid state. The question before us now is what we all — Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis and the world — will do about that.