Dershowitz: With 'Mideast Marshall plan,' Abbas can help — or hurt — Palestinians

Dershowitz: With 'Mideast Marshall plan,' Abbas can help — or hurt — Palestinians
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The White House has unveiled the economic aspects of its Middle East peace plan. As expected, Palestinian leaders rejected it before the ink was dry. But that may not be the final word because there is likely to be pressure on them to reconsider — pressure from their Sunni Arab neighbors and, perhaps, even from their own people. 

If ultimately accepted, the plan would provide $50 billion — more than half for Palestinians, the remainder divided between Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon — in educational opportunities, health care, business incentives, infrastructure improvements and many other tangible benefits. Nearly 180 specific projects already are identified.

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It would create, for the first time, a physical connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, thus enabling residents of each to transit to the other. It promises realistic protections against the massive corruption that has plagued what, heretofore, has been a Palestinian kleptocracy depriving its citizens of the benefits of funding that has come through the government.

The bottom line is that if Palestinian leaders were to accept — or at least sit down and negotiate about —the proposed peace plan, they could quickly improve the quality of life of their people. This could lead to a two-state solution that would be a win-win for all sides.

But as Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once quipped, the Palestinian leadership “never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” They rejected a two-state solution in 1948, 2001 and 2008. They rejected other opportunities to improve the lives of their people, as in 2005 when Israel unilaterally left the Gaza Strip, ending its military presence and abandoning all settlements. The Palestinians could have created a “Singapore on the Mediterranean” with the financial help they received from numerous sources. Instead, they used these resources not to help their people but to hurt their neighbors, by building rockets, terror tunnels and other offensive weapons.

This negativity has gotten them nowhere. It hasn’t improved the quality of life of Palestinians. To the contrary, it has made it much worse. This has been the history of Palestinian leaders from the beginning: They seem to care less about helping their people and more about hurting Israel. They seem to want their own state less than they want there not to be a neighboring nation-state of the Jewish people.

Well, they are not going to accomplish that goal despite their rockets and terrorism, BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) or U.N. condemnation. Israel will continue to thrive. It is strong militarily, economically, diplomatically and in other ways. Palestinians must come to recognize the reality that Israel is here to stay, whether they like it or not. The remaining question is whether there will ever be a viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. That is largely up to Palestinians.

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Such a state can emerge only from negotiations with Israel in which both sides make painful compromises. The new U.S. economic proposals can serve as a building block for such negotiations. Palestinians should go to a conference on the plan in Bahrain this week with open minds. They need not commit themselves to any specific agreements except to listen and to offer suggestions and counter-proposals.

Even if they erroneously decide to continue to boycott that conference, they should publicize the contents of these economic proposals to their people in order to get their views. It is the people, not their kleptocratic leaders, who stand to benefit the most from this “Mideast Marshall plan.” If the Palestinian people understand how this will improve the quality of life for them and their children, they may demand that their leaders put the welfare of the average Palestinian above ideological, religious and political objections to the Jewish nation-state.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Hamas tyranny over the Gaza Strip are functioning democracies with structures that assure that the opinions of their citizens will be taken into account. But neither could those leaders totally ignore “the street” — Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that the street will not even know what their leaders are denying them unless they become aware of the contents of the U.S. economic plan.

There is no free, independent media on the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Residents can tune into Israeli or international media but they have been taught not to trust either. So it is uncertain whether the Palestinian street will know what their leaders are depriving them of by not engaging with the U.S. and its beneficial economic proposals. It is certainly possible that Palestinian leaders will once again miss an opportunity to help their people and that their people will be misinformed about that missed opportunity.

This may be the Palestinians’ last chance for a peaceful resolution of the long conflict with Israel that has caused so much misery and so many deaths on both sides. When then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down the offer of a two-state solution from President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMajor health reform requires Democratic congressional dominance No presidential candidate can unite the country Lindsey Graham's Faustian bargain MORE and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. called Arafat’s decision a “crime” against the Palestinian people. Will Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas commit yet another crime against his people by refusing even to listen or negotiate?

If he were to agree to negotiate in earnest about the proposed peace plan — the geopolitical elements of which will be rolled out toward the end of this year — there is a significant likelihood that the end result of mutual, painful compromises may be a Palestinian state. If he persists in his refusal to negotiate, he and his people will have no one but themselves to blame for the persistence of an untenable status quo. 

The U.S. has presented the first phase of its plan. It’s an excellent, fair start. The ball is now in the Palestinian court. They should reconsider their knee-jerk rejection and begin negotiations that may be the only road to statehood. 

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School. His new book is “The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump.” You can follow him on Twitter @AlanDersh.