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The Day Netanyahu's Doctrine Was Presented as a U.S. Peace Plan

Trump is spoiling for a Palestinian surrender; the world is mum and Abbas is isolated; the scenario of a Democratic president; and how Bibi blazed in Washington. Four comments on the ‘deal of the century’

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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President Trump’s speech, viewed in a Jerusalem mall.
President Trump’s speech, viewed in a Jerusalem mall. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

1. The capitulation

The “deal of the century” proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump demands that the Palestinian national movement surrender unconditionally, like Germany and Japan did at the end of World War II. According to Trump, peace will be achieved only if the Palestinians stop recounting the “narrative of the past” and look forward, toward the diplomatic recognition and economic prosperity that awaits them. It worked for Germany and Japan: They gave up Nazism and imperialism, respectively, along with their status and ambitions as military and maritime superpowers, placed their security in the hands of the United States – and have enjoyed decades of abundance and economic stability ever since. The Trump scheme offers the Palestinians a similar deal with Israel, the neighboring states and the international community.

Trump is effectively saying to the Palestinians: You’ve lost the war, and it’s time you came to terms with that. The Palestinian national movement, heretofore based on the rejection of Zionism as a colonialist, racist, criminal movement, is now being required to supplant the national idea, the textbooks and the articles in their official media outlets, and to adopt a new story: Zionism is a movement that brought the Jewish people back to this land after thousands of years of exile, and the Palestinians are the poor neighbors of the Jewish state, who will enjoy “independence minus” if they make do with a limited territory, sliced up by settlements and controlled on all sides – whether from the air or via radio frequencies – by the Israel Defense Forces. If they can make that mental switch, they will get a capital in Abu Dis with a U.S. embassy, full membership in the United Nations and $50 billion.

The national ethos cultivated by four generations of Palestinians, centering around the demand for a return of the refugees to Jaffa, Haifa and the 400 villages that were razed to the ground in 1948-1949, is now supposed to be consigned to oblivion, along with hundreds of UN decisions calling for justice for the Palestinians, various lawsuits in the International Criminal Court and support for a boycott of Israel. The fact is, Trump is telling them, that you did not achieve independence with those methods, only poverty, suffering and unworthy governments in Ramallah and in the Gaza Strip. If you play along with me, things will be better for your children, but if you continue to be stubborn, you will get nothing and you will only lose even more.

Trump is unhesitatingly adopting the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who from the start of his career has advocated the crushing of the Palestinian national movement, portraying it as a crime and murder organization that succeeded in gaining a foothold in liberal, Western public opinion after persuading Adolf Hitler to murder the Jews of Europe so that they would not settle in Palestine. The time-out Trump has given the Palestinians to digest and adopt his plan is intended, apparently, to last until termination of the tenure of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the rise of a successor, who will be less committed than he to the narrative of injustice, victimization and the right of return. Jibril Rajoub, are you listening?

2. The Palestinians

After the expected condemnations, the curses it rained down on Trump and the days of rage in the territorie are finished, the Palestinian leadership will have to ask itself whether it misread the international arena and missed the chances for an earlier and better deal. Was Yasser Arafat right when he rejected the proposals made by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton at the Camp David summit 20 years ago, or did he help instigate a case of national suicide?

Israel, which in fact improved its proposals after that – at the Taba talks at the very end of Barak’s tenure, and in the blueprint Ehud Olmert presented to Abbas in 2008 – encountered refusal in those cases, too. But 20 years ago, Arafat was an internationally accepted leader, a regular visitor in the White House. The Palestinian Authority ruled in the cities of the West Bank and in most of the Gaza Strip. Israel was subjected to heavy international pressure, spearheaded by President Clinton, to conclude the Oslo process with a permanent arrangement that would establish a Palestinian state in Gaza and most of the West Bank. There were far fewer settlers. Israel agreed to evacuate the majority of the West Bank, divide Jerusalem and absorb tens of thousands of refugees. But the Palestinians wanted more, and railed against the injustice of the deal being suggested – in contrast to Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and its offer to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights.

Palestinian protesters burn Israeli flags and posters with pictures of U.S. President Trump during minor clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 30, 2020. Credit: Nasser Nasser,AP

Abbas succeeded Arafat and pursued his political path, even after the Palestinians were defeated in the second intifada and Hamas expelled the PA from Gaza. He seems to have believed that international support for the Palestinians was firm and impervious to political changes, and that if he only waited long enough, “the world” would dictate to Israel a more convenient agreement. Abbas did not take into account that the United States could do an about-face and completely adopt the position of the Israeli right. He broke off contacts with the Trump administration and relinquished the attempt to influence the “deal of the century,” on the assumption that no one would listen to him anyway. Now Abbas has to cope with a peace plan that is based on the Netanyahu doctrine, with whole sections of it copy-pasted from the Israeli prime minister’s books and speeches. And, worst of all for Abbas, “the world” has not condemned the plan. The Palestinians have remained weak and isolated.

3. The Democrats

So far, the Israeli left is responding to the Trump plan with denial in the hope that it “shall never come to pass.” In any event, they assume, nothing will come of it, it’s all talk, Netanyahu won’t dare annex land, and so on. This recalls to some extent the initial responses on the right to Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip. But the so-called deal of the century also has an audience in the United States, which is now caught up in a presidential election campaign, and it poses a dilemma for the Democratic candidates who want to replace Trump, and in particular for the leading candidate, Joe Biden, who is perceived as representing the center – the American version of Kahol Lavan.

How will Biden proceed if he wins the election? And what will an even more left-leaning Democrat who succeeds Trump next January do? It’s likely that any future president will shelve his predecessor’s political plan, as all American presidents have done since 1967. That’s politics. It’s also likely that the Democrats, who are committed to advancement of international cooperation, will respect the decisions of the United Nations and not treat the world organization as a nonentity that produces garbage – as Trump and his peace team think. But how will the Democrats, should they win the coming election, relate to the moves that have already been made on the ground? Will they move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem? Will they demand that Israel roll back its annexations, if any are declared in the months ahead, and return the settlements back under the control of a military government, subject to orders from the high command?

Experience shows that the United States accepts unilateral Israeli actions, even if it has previously objected to them in principle, and certainly if they were made with its blessing. Thus the Americans accepted the declaration of statehood in 1948, the transfer of the capital to Jerusalem, the building of the Dimona reactor, the annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the Israel Defense Forces’ prolonged presence in Lebanon. It’s quite likely that they will retroactively accept the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the settlements, certainly after those moves obtained American agreement. Which is why Netanyahu, or his successor, will declare the annexation before the November election in the United States.

4. Netanyahu

In his White House speech, standing by Trump’s side, Netanyahu compared January 28, 2020, to the day Israeli independence was declared, May 14, 1948. The comparison is not so farfetched: Then as now, the Zionist movement successfully exploited the distress of an American president seeking reelection and fearful of losing his job, in order to obtain White House support. It’s too soon to say whether January 28 will be engraved in Israel’s history, and even commemorated in the future along with Independence Day as “Borders Day” or “V-P [Victory over the Palestinians] Day” – or whether it will fade quietly away like other historical dates associated with the peace process.

But it is not an exaggeration to reckon that January 28, 2020, will be the key date in Netanyahu’s long career. The day on which his political-diplomatic doctrine was presented as an American peace plan – after many years in which he stood alone before Israeli and international public opinion – and the day on which a serious indictment was submitted to the court against him, for a series of corrupt acts.

All of Netanyahu’s character traits stood out on his big day: his phenomenal skills as a diplomat and a speaker, which brought him to that pass in the White House; his pathological pursuit of glory, which entangled him criminally in three separate cases; and the obligatory mention of his wife Sara at the start of his White House speech, as in the fawning reports of the past on the Walla site and in Yedioth Ahronoth, which Netanyahu would undoubtedly like to forget.

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