The general belief among observers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that the main obstacles to an agreement are the determination of permanent borders, the future of Israeli settlements, and the final status of Jerusalem — the latter being the most emotional issue of all.
To be sure, it will be extremely difficult for U.S. interlocutors to bridge the gaps between these bitter foes regarding these historically intractable issues. And the challenge gets greater still when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightful demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state is factored into the equation.
Despite the herculean efforts required to overcome these seemingly unbridgeable points of contention (other than the matter of the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state), the abovementioned subjects are basically complex real-estate issues. It’s safe to say that if anyone can overcome real-estate differences, President Trump and his designated Middle East negotiator, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, are best equipped to do so.
As for recognizing the Jewishness of Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) will have no choice but to recognize this reality — albeit reluctantly — once a final deal is in place. Once a pact is agreed to, recognition of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist state is unavoidable.
This leads us to two often overlooked issues that will arguably be the most problematic to resolve for a final deal to be reached: Israel’s insistence for complete military control over the negotiated, demilitarized Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, and the PA’s demand for its Arab inhabitants to repossess the same homes and property their ancestors lived in prior to Israel’s rebirth as the Jewish homeland in 1948.
How will Israel respond to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team when they rightly point out that no existing sovereign nation in the world is barred from protecting its national interests by way of an independent military force? If that principle works for every other nation, the PA will argue, why should we be the exception to that rule? And if we are willing to accept that the Israel Defense Forces can be maintained by Israel, our new peace partner the PA will further contend, why should we be expected to accept anything less in the realm of self-defense and self-perpetuation? In short, we’re trusting you to be a peaceful neighbor with all the rights to defend yourself — why should we not expect and demand the same rights in return?
Israel can easily counter this argument by citing recent history. The ongoing terrorist campaign against innocent, non-combatant Israelis by way of PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others’ acts of terrorism makes us unable to fully trust your motives – even with a peace treaty in hand. Prime Minister Netanyahu can credibly say: “Unless and until the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims among you forsakes — once and for all — the goal of not permitting Jews to live in what that majority considers to be its exclusive, Judenrein neighborhood, there can be no total trust of your intentions.”
At the same time, Israel can offer a fig leaf to Abbas & Co. to ward off charges of intransigence by the international community. Israel can assert that if the PA renounces any future intention to ally itself and cooperate in any way with Hamas or any other anti-Israel terrorist entity, and if the PA pledges in writing to not request or demand any changes to the terms of the final, binding agreement, the PA will be allowed to retain a limited, missile-free defense establishment. This gesture would hopefully sweeten the pot for the PA to sign onto a deal.
The final difference between the parties, as mentioned above, is likely to be the potential deal breaker.
The PA’s demand to have any Palestinian return to his or her original home, so long as he or she has the home’s deed in hand, is a nonstarter for Israel. No country wishing to continue to exist and thrive would tolerate the displacement of millions of its citizens. Only acceptance by Palestinians of affordable financial compensation by Israel is likely to possibly solve this ostensibly insoluble dispute.
It is obvious that the Trump administration will need to exercise maximum creativity and relentless persistence to end the long-running conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.
Let the latest peacemaking efforts begin in earnest.