International Affairs

How dealmaker Trump can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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In his last days as president, Bill Clinton received a call from Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat. “You are a great man, Mr. President. But I cannot accept this deal.” Clinton replied, “I am not a great man. I’m a failure, and you’ve made me one.”
It wasn’t perfect, but what if Arafat had taken Clinton’s deal? There comes a time when you have to let go of your ancestral past to embrace your children’s future. I say this as an American who grew up in Gaza during the 1990s, survived the Second Intifada in 2001, whose father worked on economic negotiations with Israel, and whose grandparents were killed in the conflict.
{mosads}In July 2000, President Clinton spent two weeks working with the Israelis and Palestinians on a final peace deal. The Palestinians wanted a state based on the 1967 borders. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had reservations, but accepted Clinton’s parameters: A Palestinian state in Gaza and approximately 97 percent of the West Bank, control of Islamic and Christian holy sites, and a capital in east Jerusalem. 
The following year, Arafat rejected the deal, Barak and Clinton left office, and the Twin Towers were attacked.
As a Palestinian-American child, it was disturbing to watch Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 confession video, in which he used the plight of Palestinian children to justify the attacks. That’s why President George W. Bush pursued the peace deal, in an effort to undermine the plot of terrorism.
Long before today’s “Muslim ban,” terrorist groups have been using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a recruitment tool. That’s why President Trump is rightly pushing for peace so early in his presidency. It’s not only the crown jewel of world diplomacy, it’s the Achilles’ heel of global terrorism.

Unfortunately, the two-state solution is suffering from two unhealing fractures. The first is a political fracture. Following Arafat’s death, the Palestinian Authority splintered, with President Mahmoud Abbas now governing the West Bank and Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007. 
The second is a territorial fracture. Since 2000, more than 200,000 settlers moved in to the West Bank and in east Jerusalem, along with security checkpoints, outposts and borders. The result is a further fragmented future Palestinian state.
Barack Obama proposed a deal during his administration based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps, but the fractures proved irreparable. His secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, logged countless miles trying to restore her husband’s work. Her successor, John Kerry, also pressed on.  
And this week, after Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump’s joint press conference, the two-state solution appears to be on life support. However, no matter how improbable two states may appear, one Jewish-Democratic state is impossible. 

First, the average Israeli earns 10 times more than a Palestinian. It would be unfair for Israel to shoulder the economic burden of providing benefits and services to millions of Palestinians who aren’t socio-economically empowered to equally contribute.
Second, is Israel — not to mention its prime minister, Netanyahu — prepared for a democratically elected Palestinian prime minister of Israel? That could happen under an Arab-majority state.
Third, is Israel prepared to give up democracy to maintain its Jewish identity by denying Palestinians voting rights? If so, Israel’s founding vision as a sovereign democratic Jewish state would cease to exist.
There is an alternative, which Trump alluded to: a “very different deal” that “takes in many countries,” “covers a very large territory” and provides “a bigger canvas to play with.”
At first, this sounds like it could be a plan to mass deport the Palestinian people to various countries throughout the Arab world. If all, or even a majority, of Palestinians were relocated outside the Palestinian territories, that would be the beginning of the end of Palestinian identity. 
The last thing the world and Trump need are 5 million enraged refugees and 51 Muslim countries channeling apocalyptic anger at the exodus of Muslims from their holy site of Jerusalem. So I don’t think that’s what Trump has in mind; otherwise he wouldn’t have asked Netanyahu to temporarily stop building settlements Wednesday. 

Instead, Trump may propose voluntary relocation, with financial compensation as an incentive. Or, part of a less ambitious plan might be not to grant the Palestinian Authority full statehood but to create independent Palestinian cities functioning as statelets within Israel.
A more grand solution would be to reinstate most of the Clinton parameters, incrementally. Israel stops building new settlements, Abbas accepts a de-militarized state in the West Bank and an election is held the following year, giving Gaza a referendum vote to either join his state of Palestine or remain as a territory under Hamas — in essence, a reverse Brexit.
Can dealmaker Donald Trump, who flipped 200 Obama counties to side with Republicans and vote for him in 2016, get Palestinians and Israelis on the same page? Possibly — it almost happened in 2008. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, building on Clinton’s proposal, were reportedly two months away from ending the first, worst, and lost cause of the Middle East that has destabilized the region for the past 70 years. 
Regardless of Trump’s proposal, an Israeli-Palestinian deal will ultimately embody the spirit of Clinton’s parameters: a solution nobody wants, but everyone needs. Trump can set the stage, but will Abbas end his intransigence if the Israelis “hold off” on settlements? “We’ll try,” said Netanyahu on Wednesday. Try they must, or they will leave office feeling like Clinton: failures, with only themselves to blame.
Ammar Campa-Najjar is a former Obama administration official, author and activist. He is a Mexican-Palestinian American citizen born and raised in San Diego.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 9/11 Barack Obama Bill Clinton Donald Trump Gaza Hamas Hillary Clinton Israel Jerusalem Jews John Kerry Middle East Muslim ban Muslims Palestinian Authority Palestinian-Israeli conflict Travel ban Two-state solution West Bank

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