In the lead-up to the historic UN vote in November 1947 on the plan to establish separate Jewish and Arab states in place of British Mandatory Palestine, a full-page ad appeared in The New York Times titled “Partition Will Not Solve the Palestine Problem!”
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Paid for by the United Zionists-Revisionists of America, it blasted the plan, claiming it would rob the Jews of their historic homelands, “the cradle of the Jewish race,” and “would spell the end of the great Zionist dream.” One of the signatories was the organization’s executive director and the man who had drafted the ad: Dr. B. Netanyahu.
Some 72 years later, another B. Netanyahu was back in the United States to address a new plan. There are, of course, some key differences between the partition plan that Benzion Netanyahu repudiated and the one his son, Benjamin, has just enthusiastically endorsed.
Back in 1947, the proposed Arab state was to constitute 43 percent of the entire territory. In 2020, the state on offer to the Palestinians is roughly half of that and looks like a Swiss cheese, filled with settlement-sized holes. In 1947, Jerusalem was to be an international city; in 2020, it is to remain entirely under Israeli sovereignty. But as far as the Israeli right is concerned, the principle remains the same.
Even U.S. President Donald Trump’s “peace” plan, which is hopelessly biased in Israel’s favor and will never be accepted by any self-respecting Palestinian leader, envisages a significant chunk of the biblical Jewish heartland in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) under the sovereignty of another nation.
That is why right-wing, religious politicians like Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich, as well as the leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements – while overjoyed at what they have interpreted as the plan’s green light to go ahead and annex the settlements to Israel – are adamantly opposed to the other part of the plan. It is anathema to their ideology of Jewish sovereignty over the entire historic land of Israel.
So has Netanyahu Jr. broken with his father’s Revisionist orthodoxy? Benjamin Netanyahu’s blueprint for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was set out in “A Durable Peace,” the updated version of his 1993 book “A Place Among the Nations.” In the revised edition – which he put out in 2000, following what he called “the failure of the Oslo Process” – Netanyahu made clear that a Palestinian state, or an entity with the accepted trappings of statehood, “is a recipe not for peace but for disaster.”
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The most he was prepared to let them have was a “Palestinian entity with considerable powers, and certainly all the ones necessary for self-government. Yet they are not compatible with the idea of unlimited self-determination, which is what many normally associate with the concept of statehood.”
In June 2009, under pressure from then-President Barack Obama, Netanyahu seemed to be changing his tune when he said in his “Bar-Ilan speech” that “if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.”
But a closer reading of that speech shows that Netanyahu’s position had changed only semantically. He refused to countenance the removal of settlements in a future peace agreement and would not commit to the territory of the Palestinian state, saying that Israel would have “defensible borders.” He insisted on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and that Jerusalem would remain “the united capital of Israel.”
In other words, it was a state he knew the Palestinians would never accept. It was the same “self-government” he had proposed nine years earlier in his revised book. His one concession was that he was now deigning, due to Obama’s pressure, to call that a state. Netanyahu’s position on the Palestinian state did not change at Bar-Ilan University, and it hasn’t now.
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump rhapsodized at length over the wonderful economic advantages the Palestinians would enjoy in their future state, the “hope, joy, opportunity and prosperity” that awaited them in a “new future with dignity, self-sufficiency and national pride.”
Netanyahu, on the other hand, did not mention a Palestinian state once, save for one giveaway line in which he told Trump: “Your peace plan offers the Palestinians a pathway to a future state.” But he didn’t sound like he believed they would be taking that path. “I know that it may take them a very long time to reach the end of that path,” he said. “It may even take them a very long time to get to the beginning of that path, but if the Palestinians are genuinely prepared to take that path, if they’re genuinely prepared to make peace with the Jewish state, and if they agree to abide by all the conditions you have put forward in your plan, Israel will be there.”
Ever since the Trump plan was unveiled, some have called it the “Netanyahu plan” – and with some justification. Many details of Jared Kushner’s “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People” document are standard Netanyahu talking points. These include the promise that “a realistic solution would give the Palestinians all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel” – a formulation that originally appeared in “A Durable Peace” and has been a standard feature in Netanyahu’s speeches and interviews ever since.
But there is one fundamental difference between Trump’s attitude to his plan and Netanyahu’s: In the extremely unlikely case of a Palestinian capitulation, Trump would be overjoyed. Nothing would prove to the world that he is indeed “Master of the Deal” more than begrudging Palestinian acceptance of his offer. Trump would love that, and he’s prepared to give the Palestinians up to four years to come around.
That doesn’t mean there is anything fair or evenhanded in his proposals. Trump is proposing to screw over the Palestinians – and he’s fine with that. But he’d love it if they agreed to his shabby deal. He doesn’t mind if they would be doing so as a result of blackmail and fear that if they insist on rejecting the plan, they will have lost even this meager shred of statehood forever.
Trump said: “It is time for the Muslim world to fix the mistake it made in 1948 when it chose to attack, instead of recognize, the new State of Israel,” and spoke of “the amount of needless bloodshed and all squandered opportunity.” There may be no more such chances, he warned. “After 70 years of little progress, this could be the last opportunity they will ever have.”
He is not out to deliver justice to the Palestinians or to make them happy. Just to get them to sign on the dotted line. If, despite every prediction to the contrary, the Palestinians choose to accept the “truly independent and wonderful state” he’s offering them, he will be genuinely happy and feel vindicated.
Netanyahu, however, is banking on them to reject it. He endorsed the plan only because he believes the Palestinians will never accept it.
And he’s almost certainly right on that count. But if he were to be proven wrong, if the Palestinian leadership were to decide it may as well accept Trump’s humiliating terms and conditions, he would be devastated. Not only because it would drive a great wedge between him and the far right and the settlers, but because he sees a Palestinian state – even a state with greatly diminished powers and with only 70 percent of the West Bank – as a terrible outcome for Israel.
Planning for January 2024
As he wrote in “A Durable Peace,” Netanyahu believes that even the shrunken territory now being offered to the Palestinians is much more than Israel can afford them to have. His book specified that Israel needs to retain not only the settlements and the Jordan Valley, but also to other strategically important points and buffer areas. By his calculation, “Israel would retain some 60 percent of the territory with all the West Bank’s Jewish population; the Palestinian Authority would have some 40 percent of the area with virtually the entire Palestinian population.”
In his speech on Tuesday, he was already hinting he is preparing for the day when the Palestinians’ window of opportunity is closed. “For at least four years,” he told Trump, “Israel will maintain the status quo in areas that your plan does not designate as being part of Israel in the future.”
The focus in recent days has been on the government’s immediate plans to begin annexation in those parts of the West Bank not earmarked for the future Palestinian state. Netanyahu needs to make some progress on that to rally his base ahead of the March 2 election.
But Netanyahu still believes he can somehow win the election and remain prime minister for years to come – if necessary, by changing the laws to grant him immunity from prosecution in the corruption charges against him. He’s looking forward to that four-year deadline, in January 2024, when he hopes both he and Trump will still be in office and he intends to foreclose on the Palestinians then.
Trump believes he can cajole the Palestinians into eventually accepting his plan. Netanyahu is relying on them never doing so. He supports the Trump plan because he believes it can never work, and that it will deliver his final proof that the Palestinians are a perfidious, rejectionist fake nation, never to be offered even the most slender sliver of statehood between the Jordan and the Mediterranean ever again.