The real estate man in the White House has embedded the term “deal of the century” into the political consciousness of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. It’s been adopted by everyone, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was quick to use it in his first meetings with Donald Trump in Washington and in Bethlehem. Abbas sought to please Trump then, before realizing it was pointless and severing ties.
The term describes a dramatic move — a peace agreement that would end the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, lead to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and enter the history books.
But as any intelligent person knows, that isn’t what Trump, much less the Netanyahu government, means. Their true goal is to emasculate the Palestinian leadership by offering a deal that is indeed essentially a real-estate transaction: The Palestinians will receive opportunities to work, to earn a living and to live in reasonable conditions in their current homes, in exchange for abandoning their national dream. They won’t get a state, a capital in Jerusalem or the right of return.
To the Palestinians, then, the “deal of the century” means the end of their national dream. It’s become a synonym for an Israeli-U.S. diktat on the Palestinian leadership, coupled with efforts to enlist the Arab world’s support.
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If any proposal deserves the name “deal of the century,” it’s the one that’s been on the table for 18 years. In 2002, at the height of the second intifada, the members of the Arab League passed the Saudi peace initiative. Yasser Arafat was under siege in his presidential compound in Ramallah, but even as isolated as he was, no Arab leader dared challenge the Palestinians’ national principles, as the Arab Peace Initiative proved.
Trump and his gang of advisers, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman cannot reinvent the wheel, dictate a new script, especially in light of their lack of diplomatic experience. These are not the sort of people who can lead a difficult, momentous process where far more experienced diplomats have failed.
Ostensibly, the Palestinian leadership has nothing to worry about. The Palestinian people has overcome harder, crueler situations. After the blow of the 1967 war, which killed the dream of liberating the historic land of Palestine, came the 1970 events of “Black September” in Jordan, which were meant in effect to eradicate the presence of the Palestinian factions there. In interviews, Arafat declared that the plan — which had the support of the CIA — was to eliminate the Palestinian national movement.
The peace agreement between Israel and Egypt signed in 1979 was another blow, as far as the Palestinians were concerned. The biggest, strongest Arab nation had stepped outside the ring, effectively determining that there would be no more regional conflict, because no Arab country would dare attack Israel without Egypt; and it reached an agreement with Israel that left the Palestinians outside, with no nation and what looked like an ever more remote chance of realizing their nationalist aspirations.
In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in order to eradicate the PLO presence there, with the aid of local Christian militias. That isolated Syria and destroyed the chances of the Palestinian nationalist dream even more.
At each of these historical junctures, the Palestinians paid in blood, but the dream did not die. The nationalism movement is alive and kicking. Time and again, attempts to dictate agreements to the Palestinians that fail to include any acknowledgement of their nationalist aspirations — especially a state within the 1967 borders — have come to nothing. Even the Israelis and the Americans have grasped — though they keep trying to ignore it — that the Palestinians aren’t going to give up on this.
So why are the Palestinians so worried? Mainly because of their leadership crisis and the persisting internal rift that precludes any possibility of creating a unified Palestinian strategy. So if Abbas, who knows all the deals and all the intrigues, hopes to bequeath something to the next generation, he needs to look out not for his own legacy but for that of his people and do all he can to create an internal Palestinian process that ends the schism, and leads to the election of new leadership that will aim to formulate a national consensus.
That is the only possibly way to bury Trump’s plan and present the international community with exactly two options, and no more: a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders alongside Israel, or a single state for all its citizens. That really would be the deal of the century.