If the Palestinians Don’t Want to Lose Everything

Debate over the Palestinians’ intentions and the missed opportunities no longer matters. Whatever they sought in the past doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is what they decide now

U.S. President Donald Trump with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, last year.

Historian Benny Morris’ new book “Mideir Yassin Ad Camp David” (“From Deir Yassin to Camp David: Personal, Political and Historical Essays,” in Hebrew) is the latest addition to the polemics that have been raging for years over the question of whether the Palestinians have in fact accepted the formula of two states for two peoples.

But the debate over the Palestinians’ intentions and the missed opportunities no longer matters. Whatever they sought in the past doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is what they decide now.

If U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” really exists and is not mere illusion, the Palestinians must immediately embrace it. If they do not, they could soon discover that by turning their backs on the U.S. administration they are giving Israel’s right-wing government an opportunity to annex all of Area C, the parts of the West Bank that according to the Oslo Accords were under full Israeli control.

Then, any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, even a small one, will vanish forever. They will be left without any self-rule, dispersed in small, enclosed “Bantustans” in more than 60 percent of the West Bank, territory that was supposed to become part of the Palestinian state but is being stolen by Israel and will now serve as a basis for settlement throughout.

If the Palestinians would immediately enter U.S.-mediated negotiations, perhaps they could save Area C and perhaps even get a few outposts and settlements moved.

Essentially, the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem was meant to convince them that there is no real way to turn back the clock — either to 1948 or 1967 — and that further rejectionism only leads them to further catastrophe.

An August 2003 piece in The New York Review of Books by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, during the second intifada, described then-Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s point of view at the time, when he was trapped in the Muqata in Ramallah.

The writers said he believed that all was not bleak, that even though he was essentially in detention, his support and legitimacy had grown; that Israel still suffered from a lack of security; that its economy was ruined and immigration to Israel was evaporating.

And Arafat could point to achievements: The world, including many Israelis, was increasingly demanding that Israel withdraw to the ’67 borders, that it dismantle settlements and divide Jerusalem into two capitals.

Meanwhile, pressure for international intervention was growing. The Palestinians were suffering, but so were the Israelis. Only when the Israelis felt the full cost of the conflict would they fully appreciate the benefits of the two-state solution in which the Palestinians would regain their lost land.

Fifteen years have passed since then, and all of Arafat’s hopes have failed to materialize. Israel is now stronger than before, and the expectation that it will allow what it has taken for itself to be taken away from it is a dangerous delusion. The right-wing government would of course like to swallow up the entire West Bank and only leave the densely populated Palestinian areas to Palestinian civil administration.

But that disaster has yet to happen and action should be taken to avoid it. Trump, with his unique traits, is apparently the only American president who can bring a recalcitrant Israel to an agreement with the Palestinians that would at least liberate a significant portion of the West bank from the clutches of the settler right.

If the Palestinians don’t consent right now to the American compromise plan, not only will they never be able to divide ancient Jerusalem or return even a token number of Palestinian refugees, they will lose the territorial basis for their sovereignty. They should act soon before it’s too late.