Having reshaped the Arab-Israeli conflict by moving our embassy to Jerusalem, slashing aid to the Palestinians, and annexing the Golan Heights, Team Trump floats an economic plan for the Palestinians that is anchored firmly in the obsolete Oslo “land for peace” formula.
But a Jewish World Review article from a top Middle East journalist says this is a feint and that Team Trump is working on a deal with Russia on managing Middle East conflicts under which the Palestinians will be bypassed. The author, Zev Chafets, who handled press matters for Israeli Prime Minister (1977-1983) Menachem Begin and was an active participant in the Camp David “peace process” negotiations, writes that the Bahrain conference is an “orchestrated exercise in futility” that masks the real Trump agenda: a Middle East rapprochement with Russia that will accommodate common geostrategic regional interests and help stabilize the endemically unstable Mideast.
If true, this is an important step in marginalizing the Palestinians, who offer nothing constructive, and it would limit the damage done by President Obama in inviting Russia back into the Middle East after forty years in the Middle East geostrategic wilderness. First, we can look at the Trump plan and its implications, were it enacted; for purposes of this analysis, I will discount the contrary report and treat the deal as if it is a genuine proposal. Second, we can factor in certain Middle East realities that bear on the Arab-Israeli conflict. And third, we can then assess the implications of a possible Trump-Putin Middle East deal.
The Trump Plan: On June 22, the Trump administration rolled out its economic plan for the Palestinians. Peace to Prosperity, (PTP) proposes “a new vision for the Palestinian people and the broader Middle East.” In fuller formulation, the plan proposes “[t]o transform and improve the lives of Palestinians and the peoples of the region by unleashing economic growth, unlocking human potential and enhancing Palestinian governance following a peace agreement.” Incredibly, the PTP’s opening paragraph flags the Palestinian peoples’ “historic desire to build a better future for their children.” Israeli pundit David Horovitz notes that the “historic endeavor” of the Palestinians has been “just the opposite.”
PTP calls for a new Marshall Plan, the 1947 four-year plan that underwrote Western Europe’s post-World War II recovery (Russia turned down an invitation for itself and its Eastern European satellites to participate) and avowedly places implementation into private-sector hands. A Wall Street Journal report notes, however, that of the $50 billion regional aid total (actually $50.7 billion) $39.1 billion (77 percent) is in the form of grants and loans, and only $11.6 billion is earmarked for private-sector investment.
Priced at $15 billion in 1948 dollars — $160 billion today — the MP amounted to $337 per person, adjusted to 2019 dollars. Since Oslo, the Palestinian territories (excludes UN-administered refugee camps) received $5.5 billion. Since 2007, another calculation shows $12 billion — some $14 billion in 2019 dollars — from donors.
Thus, assuming a round number of 4 million Palestinians between West Bank and Gaza, some $20 billion has been disbursed to the Palestinian territories since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords. This amounts to $5,000 per person, some 15 times the per person aid given Western Europe under the Marshall Plan, spread over a period more than six times that for the MP.
To all this prior aid, the PTP adds $50 billion over a decade, with $28 billion going to the West Bank and Gaza (the remainder is apportioned between Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon). Alas, the PTP is, per the celebrated America sage Lawrence Peter (“Yogi”) Berra, “déjà vu all over again.” It is the latest in a series of plans that began with the 1993 Oslo Accords. If the Palestinian population remains roughly constant, this is $7,000 per person — this on top of the $5,000 per person already given. If implemented fully, PTP will raise the total per person aid given the Palestinian territories to $12,000 per person — 36 times the per person amount given Western Europeans under the MP.
The proposed rail transport loop linking major West Bank Palestinian cities and Gaza would connect all major Palestinian cities and thus of necessity bisect Israel into northern and southern sections with a public right-of-way easement. This revives the awful Clinton-Ehud Barak 2000 idea of bisecting Israel to benefit Palestinians. What other country on the planet offers its mortal enemy a bisecting easement?
The remaining 44 pages of the 94-page PTP cover various social services, education, and myriad programs to improve Palestinian governance. Noteworthy is the general education section, which proposes to connect Palestinian students to leading academic institutions around the world via high-speed internet. There is also a scientific and vocational education section. These global education institutions are overwhelmingly left-wing, and hence assuredly will continue the Palestinian practice of inculcating Palestinian students with anti-Semitic propaganda, unless massively monitored.
The Specter of Palestinian Politics: For once, PA president-for-life Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech given in Ramallah, spoke the truth:
The U.S. is trying to turn the whole issue from a political to an economic one, and we will not accept that. We need the economic [support], the money and the assistance, but before everything there is a political solution. (Underscore mine.)
But the Palestinians are tracking once again the famous quip by the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” In addition to summarily rejecting the Trump offer, they are simultaneously branding Arab states allied with Trump as “traitors” to the Palestinian cause whilst asking them for more financial aid — $100 million per month! Palestinians cannot even execute a “bite the hand that feeds you” strategy, under which one bites the helping hand only after having been fed.
As recounted in David Meir-Levi’s History Upside Down: the Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression (2007), Palestinian nationalism is the brainchild of the former Soviet Union’s intelligence services. They hatched the 1960s “wars of national liberation” to energize sub-national groups in their struggles against the West. This was then used to rebrand the Palestinian movement in the late 1960s. With Egyptian president Nasser’s approval, the Palestine National Council was formed in Moscow, under chairman Ahmed Shukairy, a KGB agent of influence in Egypt; the KGB picked all 422 delegates. (Mahmoud Abbas is a graduate of Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba People Friendship University.) With Soviet backing, Yasser Arafat replaced Shukairy as Palestine Liberation organization (PLO) chief in 1969. Thus was born Palestinian pseudo-indigenous nationalism. In 1968, Fatah (military arm of the PLO) leaders met with legendary North Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Giap, who advised a shift from an openly stated aim of destroying Israel, to strategic deception: nominally basing the PLO cause on faux moderation. Said Giap, ”Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights.” PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhse told an Amsterdam newspaper in 1977:
The Palestinian people does [sic] not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. … Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about a Palestinian people. (Underscore mine.)
Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) melded Palestinian nationalism with Nazism and Communism and religious fanaticism.
Arab and Jew in Palestine: Compare the Mandate period (1920-1948) views of Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini to those of Israeli leaders. Haj Amin al-Husseini (1936): “There is no place in Palestine for two races. The Jews left Palestine 2,000 years ago, let them go to other parts of the world, where there are wide vacant places.” David Ben-Gurion (1937): “We do not wish and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places. All our aspiration is built on the assumption — proven throughout all our activity in the Land of Israel — that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.”
The Myth of Palestinian Uniqueness: Palestinian suffering is portrayed in most Western media outlets as the result of Israeli callousness and intransigence, and hence they call for a “land for peace” two-state deal. A sounder view is presented in a WSJ op-ed by George Mason University professor Eugene Kontorovich: the latest Palestinian no-show in Bahrain should end Western offers of aid. After citing repeated outright rejection of compromise by the Palestinians and repeated Israeli willingness to accept compromise, he notes how unique is the treatment accorded the Palestinians:
India and Pakistan didn’t reject independence because major territorial claims were left unaddressed. Ireland accepted independence without the island’s six northern counties. Morocco didn’t refuse statehood because Spain retained land on its northern coast.
While there have been hundreds of national independence movements in modern times, few are fortunate enough to receive an offer of fully recognized sovereign statehood. Including 1947, the Palestinians have received four. From Tibet to Kurdistan, such opportunities remain a dream. (Italics mine.)
Kontorovich closes by arguing that this latest offer to the Palestinians not “[stay] on the table and [accrue] interest,” as this only increases the incentive for Palestinians to hold out for still more concessions.
Oslo’s Undercurrent: In 1999, Suha Arafat (wife of Yasser), speaking to an audience in Gaza, uttered a classic Blood Libel in the presence of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton:
[O]ur people have been subjected to the daily and extensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces, which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children.
Yasser Arafat told Romanian dictator Nicole Ceausescu (ca. 1977) that for want of “tradition, unity and discipline” a Palestinian state would fail from the start. Mahmoud Abbas in July 2002 called the Oslo Accords “the biggest mistake Israel ever made.” And as Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s offer of 92 percent of the West Bank in 2000, Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of 97 percent of the WB in 2008.
PTP Summary Assessment: Why are we offering aid to the Palestinians at all, without first insisting that they stop all terrorist activities? That they stop brainwashing their children with blood libels about the Jews? That they stop telling outright lies about the history of the Holy Land?
Why do the PTP’s proposed measures aim to strengthen Palestinian nationalism? This monster was created out of whole cloth by the KGB and deserves to be killed off. Egyptian president Nasser bluntly stated as to the Palestinians in Gaza:
We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the Mediterranean?
Enter Russia? Chafets sees a U.S.-Russia division of spheres of geostrategic influence — echoing the post-World War I arrangements between Britain and France. Middle East governments have repeatedly failed to bring stability to the Middle East, which, as Bismarck is reputed to have said of the 19th-century Balkans, “produces more politics than can be consumed locally.” The outlines of a deal would have Russia ceded primacy of interest over Syria and Lebanon and restraining Turkey. Iraq might well be repartitioned into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish states. The U.S. would be ceded primacy as to Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, the alliance of several Gulf states with Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The U.S. and Russia would jointly manage Iran, whose nuclear ambitions could plunge the world into nuclear war. Israel would be a central player, liaising with both the U.S. and Russia. The Palestinians would be confined to the ash heap of history.
None of this may come to pass. But the idea reflects Trump’s pragmatic realization that former president Obama’s 2013 inviting Russia back into the Middle East is, six years later, an irreversible fait accompli. While Moscow might savor Iranian threats handcuffing America, the potential for a crisis that spins out of control could well temper Moscow’s desire to aid the Iranians. Also, if Iranian oil craters, Moscow benefits. And if the ayatollahs are dislodged, a subsequent regime will have no incentive to antagonize Russia if a U.S.-Russia arrangement emerges.
Bottom Line: Oslo is dead. With or without a U.S.-Russia deal, Oslo is no more. Israel will as soon as seems feasible annex portions of the West Bank, including the fertile Jordan Valley, within the boundary between Israel and Jordan established by the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. This awaits the U.S. 2020 elections, unless Trump pulls off a major Russia deal. A Democratic administration otherwise would likely seek to re-impose Oslo’s failed two-state solution; annexation of the West Bank would infuriate any Democratic president from the current slate of primary contenders. And it would create political problems for President Trump — the last thing Israel wants, as it would impair prospects for a second Trump term. King Abdullah II, who recently decided to reclaim agricultural land leased to Israel, would no doubt make a big stink. And most global media would cover it as Israel damaging chances for peace, encouraged by the asserted ineptitude of Team Trump. But a U.S.-Russia deal could push Jordan into the background and tamp down political opposition.
President Trump’s pursuit of Middle East peace, labeled by much of the press and the Palestinians as the “deal of the century” — a phrase never uttered by the president — will fail. It will fail because the Palestinians are interested in ending the Jewish state, not accepting it. It will fail also because the Arabs have moved on, seeing the Palestinians as a growing nettlesome nuisance. Finally, it will fail because a vibrant, powerful Israel is strong enough to withstand intense pressure from outside — including from the United States.
There were in the recently dissolved Knesset 100 votes (out of 120) against an Oslo repeat and in favor of annexing at least part of the West Bank. This will not change. Any Israeli prime minister who tries to make an Oslo-style deal would be summarily forced out of office.
It is an old chestnut that one makes peace with one’s enemies. This is false. There are two ways one can make peace: (a) impose peace on defeated enemies, as we did in World War II, and (b) negotiate peace with former enemies, as we did at the end of the 19th century with Great Britain, via negotiations and arbitration of the Venezuela boundary crisis, thus laying the foundation of America’s “special relationship” with Britain that came to fruition in the 20th century. What cannot be done is negotiate a secure peace with enemies who persist in seeking victory, as is the case with the Palestinians versus Israel. This is, of course, precisely what the Oslo approach entails.
In truth, the Palestinians missed their main chance in Bill Clinton’s final six months. He would easily have sold the peace deal noted above — 92 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps to offset Palestinian land ceded to Israel, and shared sovereignty in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak could have sold the plan to the Knesset; as Israel’s most decorated soldier, his credentials as to patriotism and military acuity are beyond question.
That window is closed. The Knesset will see that Oslo stays closed. Someone should have explained to the Palestinians that 92 percent of something beats 100 percent of nothing. The Arabs never cared for the welfare of Palestinians. Once a weapon of human misery aimed at Israel, at no cost to the Arabs, the Palestinians no longer serve Arab interests. According to Bahrain’s foreign minister, who hosted the economic talks, a secure, prosperous Israel does so.
John C. Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (2d Ed. 2014).