After four years of teasing his peace plan that would supposedly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Donald Trump finally unveiled the long-awaited “Deal of the Century” on Tuesday and held a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both leaders emphasized the deal’s historic and groundbreaking importance. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, reiterated his rejection of the plan with “a thousand noes.”
If Trump’s goal with this deal—or Vision, as the official document refers to it—was actually securing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, it may become one of his presidency’s biggest failures and leave a black mark on his record of being the “ultimate dealmaker.” The administration’s misunderstanding of the Palestinian mindset—their culture, history, or worldview—allowed for US policies that ultimately set the Vision up for failure. Ironically, the only person who can reverse that trajectory is President Abbas himself.
The Vision’s failure to gain traction with Palestinians started long before it was released, largely because of actions by American and Palestinian leaders. In December 2017, President Trump announced the US would officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the embassy to move there. In response, President Abbas severed ties with US officials and rejected any meeting requests. The following year, President Trump cut aid to Palestinians for Abbas’ refusal to end the practice of paying large salaries to the families of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel. The administration then cut additional US aid to Palestinians, through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, because of the organization’s “flawed” nature and what US officials saw as its perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee crisis.
To be clear, conditioning foreign aid on the recipient’s ability to abide by US interests and values is important. But regardless of whether these were necessary policies or not, the Trump administration made its job more difficult by pursuing them before the peace plan was released. Because Palestinian officials would not work with US officials, they were absent from any collaboration during the drafting and presentation of the Vision, which is a major criticism of the deal.
The Trump administration also apparently lacked an understanding of the Palestinian people’s values and aspirations. Palestinian national goals usurp almost any other aspirations they may have—including economic prosperity. Based on the details of the Vision, the Trump team thought the economic plan might be the selling point for Palestinians. Yes, economic prosperity and self-sufficiency are great and worth pursuing. But for Palestinians, they don’t replace more important questions about borders, refugees, East Jerusalem, and so on.
Additionally, drafting and presenting the Vision without the Palestinians created a feeling of humiliation and shame among them. For a people who see their lives defined by a history of collective trauma and a modern reality of humiliation, dignity is an incredibly powerful and uncompromising concept. In fact, if you spend time with Palestinians, they often speak in terms of rights, justice, injustice, freedom, and dignity. So for many Palestinians, the specifics of a deal are secondary to a solution that allows them to have pride in a victory after years of occupation. Call it stubborn or foolish—it doesn’t matter; this is how they operate. After the press conference, Arab leaders were quoted saying they felt “ashamed” by it all. In the Middle East, ceding one’s dignity does not happen easily or often. These factors contributed to criticism surrounding the deal by both Arab and non-Arab opponents alike. The psychological impacts of living under occupation do have significant consequences the administration should have considered, both out of respect for the Palestinian people and in an attempt to draft a deal with a better chance of success.
Is there a way to ensure compromise and dignity for both sides? That’s the question that earned this proposal the nickname “Deal of the Century.” As it appears now, Palestinians are unwilling to use the Vision even as a starting point for negotiations. A recent Palestinian public opinion poll revealed that the number of Palestinians who support a two-state solution has decreased in recent months, and only 26 percent believe negotiation is the most effective means of ending the Israeli occupation. A plurality (47 percent) view armed struggle as most effective. But for those who desperately want to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians one day, there may still be hope.
On Saturday, President Abbas will meet with the Arab League in Cairo to discuss the deal. He will likely remain unyielding in his rejection. But if Arab states can work with Abbas to provide a counter-offer, the peace process may still be salvageable, and Trump’s Vision might pave the path for direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.