Itzik Shmuli represents the Labor Party in the Israeli Knesset.
Seventy-two years from the day of its foundation, Israel finds itself at a pivotal moment that may well have a dramatic impact on its core essence and its future as a country. America’s unilateral moves toward a “deal of the century” represent an imminent threat to Israel’s survival and could eradicate the chance of creating a lasting two-state solution to our country’s conflict with the Palestinians.
The Trump administration’s recently announced “deal of the century” meets Israel’s demands on the core issues. But it also contains a series of prior conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state, most of which would be impossible for any Palestinian leadership to either accept or accomplish.
It is already clear that the plan is not likely to lead to a historic peace agreement as advertised. The critical question that remains is what function the White House currently intends it to fulfill: a basis for future negotiations between the sides by improving its terms and enlisting the aid of the Arab states to bring the Palestinians back to the table? Or to give Israel an American seal of approval to go ahead with unilateral annexation in the case of a Palestinian rejection of the deal?
The annexation-oriented intentions of the current Israeli government cast doubt on its willingness to end the conflict by means of a two-state solution. In principle, the long-term consequence of a hasty annexation would be fatal to Israel and would lead to a country ripped apart internally by unending bloodshed and collapse under growing external pressure and ostracism. The land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, what some refer to as greater Israel, is home today to about 9 million Israelis and 4.5 million Palestinians, who share an ancient hostility. Even an American go-ahead to annex this land would not allow Israel to swallow what isn’t in its military, economic, demographic and moral capacity to digest. It is also the interest of the Palestinians to obtain sovereignty in a state of their own.
In “Mending Wall,” the American poet Robert Frost writes that “good fences make good neighbors,” and this saying couldn’t be truer regarding this conflict. If Trump’s proposal is used as a platform for the annexation of the Palestinian territories, it would be dangerous and not pragmatic. As a single sovereign entity, Israel would no longer have a Jewish majority and would forfeit its historic promise to serve as the national home of the Jewish people. It would also cease to be a democracy if it proceeds to instate two different legal systems for its two different populations. By that point, the annexation would most likely lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and would make way for the rise of extremist factions in its stead. Israel would also face direct opposition from the international community; its treaties with Jordan and Egypt would collapse, as would the possibility of promoting common interests with the Gulf States against the common threat — Iran.
Under such circumstances, the American government would have been better advised to insist on bringing both sides to negotiate prior to publishing any roadmap or plan. In case the Palestinian leadership refuses to participate in the process, Israel, in coordination with the U.S. and the relevant Arab states (Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular), could initiate independent preparations for separating from the West Bank with the aim of shaping the permanent borders of the future two states. This can be done without annexing territories and subjugating them to Israeli sovereignty, without annihilating the possibility of a two-state solution and without taking away the Palestinians’ right to resume negotiations.
Such an initiative would take the veto power (stemming from their obstinate refusal to compromise and their rejection of initiatives that proposed far-reaching Israeli concessions) away from the Palestinians, eliminate the need for Israel to absorb millions of Palestinians and protect Israel’s national and security interests. At the same time, Israel would declare that it has no claim to territories outside of the proposed border.
Contrary to this, the “deal of the century” — which threatens to tear away 30 percent of Palestinian territory and instead allow a fragmented series of Palestinian “Bantustans” with no territorial integrity and limited self-rule — implicitly renounces the possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state. The American proposal for Israel to incorporate dozens of isolated settlements, outside of the large settlement blocks in Judea and Samaria, is a major strategic mistake that forces the Palestinians into an impasse and reflects the White House’s internalization of an erroneous view according to which these places are intended to serve security needs. Unlike other elements like a military presence along the Jordan River, they serve only the goal of blocking the possibility of separation.
It’s up to the U.S now, while Israel is still headed by an interim government that enjoys little to no public trust (and a prime minister indicted on charges of fraud and bribery) to block any irreversible attempt at annexation. Otherwise, Trump’s peace deal will have turned into an exploding powder keg.