The Deal of the Century is finally out, and Palestinian leaders should take it.
President Trump’s voluminous “Peace to Prosperity” vision document for Israeli-Palestinian peace is hardly perfect as supporters on both sides will note. Palestinians are especially bothered that their future state is described as less expansive, less contiguous, and far uglier than they would like. But they cannot deny it provides a clear path to something they have never achieved under Arab, Turkish, or Jewish rule until now: full independence.
The saddest part of Trump’s new peace plan is that it is really just an old peace plan with a smaller and more weirdly shaped Palestine. Arab leaders rejected the first plan in 1947 (when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who later lamented the decision, was just 12 years old), even though it gave Palestine’s Arabs a larger chunk of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and included all of the much-coveted central highlands. The United Nations General Assembly granted the Jews a comparatively narrow strip of coast, some land in the Galilee, and the vast moonscape of the Negev Desert. Yet the Jews said yes; the Arabs said no.
Subsequent events tell the rest of the story. A small State of Israel was founded in 1948 and, despite a rough start, blossomed into one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Frequent Arab attacks only increased Israel’s resolve and, ironically, its borders. Palestinians meanwhile were left stateless by the Jordanians and Egyptians who ruled over them between 1949 and 1967, and were then dragged through several rounds of unsuccessful peace negotiations by Palestinian leaders after 1993. Nearly three decades after Yasser Arafat’s famous handshake with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, Palestinians are worse off than they have ever been.
Something is better than nothing.
It was pragmatic thinking that forced the Jews of Mandatory Palestine to accept the 1947 partition plan even though it was dramatically less than they had hoped for. Chaim Weizman, Israel’s first president, famously remarked that he was willing to take a state “even if it’s the size of a tablecloth.” President Abbas and his advisers would be wise to embrace such realism as they consider their response to Trump.
People are more important than land.
Abbas has every right to reject the plan, but he must offer a compelling and realistic alternative for resolving the status quo. Polling data shows that a growing number of Palestinians believe that armed struggle—God forbid—is better than the “sort-of-peace” that the Palestine Liberation Organization now maintains with the Jewish state. Abbas is not Hamas, but he needs to show his people that peace is a better path and take them there.
Abbas needs to recognize that what was possible before is possible no longer. Those heady days of the 1960s and ’70s when Arafat captivated us on sepia television screens have long since passed. Even the Oslo moment of the mid-1990s and Ehud Barak’s peace offer of 2000 are water under the bridge. Most Arab states have realigned in Israel’s direction against Iran and Turkey, abandoning the Palestinian cause and forcing groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to subsidize the liberation of Jerusalem through non-Arab donors.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Acceptance of Trump’s plan, even as a basis for negotiations, will get Palestinians defined borders within which to develop their political and economic base, a significant international aid package, a US embassy in East Jerusalem, and a beginning to the end of a long nightmare. A rejection will further erode Palestinian confidence, diminish prospects for sovereignty, and open the door to another round of fruitless violence. The next map of Palestine, if there is one, is likely to be even smaller.
Seven decades after the Nakba, the Palestinians need a body—something solid, fixed, and stable on which to build a future. As indigenous people of the Holy Land, they deserve nothing less. But nostalgic dreams of mass Jewish exodus, final Arab victory, and reversion to the happy days of yore are misplaced. It is time to recognize reality and salvage as much Palestine as possible.
Start small and build. The world stands ready to help.