Israelis and Palestinians must realize that each needs to give, not just take

The White House reportedly held a key meeting this week to decide on how to deal with Israeli annexation of territories allotted to it in the Trump Peace Plan.

We have been critics of the plan, believing that by calling for the absorption of all 130 settlements — including the 78 outside the blocs — it makes separation of Israelis and Palestinians and a viable two state outcome nearly impossible. The Trump administration view is different, believing a Palestinian state neither requires territorial contiguity in the West Bank or a border with Jordan — and thus touts its plan as a credible and novel prescription for a two state solution. Indeed, the president in presenting the plan described it as meeting the needs of both sides: the Palestinians will get a state in 70 percent of the West Bank and receive from Israel another roughly 10 percent of equivalent West Bank territory in the Negev next to Gaza.  Israel, for its part, will get to absorb 30 percent of the West Bank, including all the settlements and the Jordan Valley. 

The plan, officially called “the Vision,” makes clear it is a package deal. Note its words: “both Israelis and Palestinians have long-standing negotiating positions but also must recognize that compromise is necessary to move forward. It is inevitable that each side will support and oppose aspects of this Vision. It is essential that this Vision be assessed holistically. This vision presents a package of compromises that both sides should consider, in order to move forward and pursue a better future that will benefit both of them and others in the region.”

This is not the message Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is marketing in Israel now. No, his message is annexation, not two states. While his ambassador here in Washington uses the language of two states, in Israel, those closest to Netanyahu in his party not only don’t use it, they deny there will be a Palestinian state. For example, Miki Zohar, who is coalition chair in the Knesset, declared recently, “With God’s help, we will apply sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel, at first in coordination with the American plan, over at least part of Judea and Samaria, but there is no way we will allow the government or the Knesset to recognize the principle of establishing a Palestinian state, heaven forbid. This must not happen, and we will not allow it to happen.”

Amir Ohana, Netanyahu’s hand-picked Justice Minister prior to the new unity government and one of his strongest defenders, stated bluntly, “another state will not be established west of the Jordan River.” And another long-time minister close to Netanyahu, Tsachi Hanegbi said, “The prime minister and the Likud are adamantly opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state with the characteristics of sovereignty in tracts of the homeland in Judea and Samaria.”

These are not the words of settler leaders who oppose the plan, but those in Likud who typically serve as the prime minister’s surrogates. Indeed, while Netanyahu touts his close relationship with Trump, nobody in his party makes the case for the entire plan. Ironically, in Israel, only the Blue and White Party, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, is making the case for the whole Trump Plan.

For their part the Palestinians declared the plan dead on arrival.

Netanyahu, himself, speaks only of extending Israeli sovereignty (annexation) and not of the other key elements of the Plan: statehood, a four year freeze on the 15 settlements that will remain part of Israel but be within the territory of the Palestinian state, and the Israeli territory in the Negev that will become part of the Palestinian state as part of a swap arrangement. 

In other words, Bibi is taking what the plan gives Israel but ignoring the rest. One reason for doing so is the Plan’s provision for a territorial swap would trigger Israel’s Referendum Law if brought to the Knesset. That law, backed by Netanyahu at the time in 2014, requires 80 votes in the Knesset — two-thirds of its members — to approve any withdrawal from Israeli territory. (Adding territory doesn’t require a super-majority.) Small wonder Netanyahu makes no reference to the territorial swap and is not poised to present the Trump Plan to the Israeli parliament. 

Is this a case of Netanyahu acting in bad faith? No, it is Bibi taking the path of least resistance politically — something that has characterized his approach to the Palestinians.   

While Netanyahu has always felt more comfortable explaining what Israel cannot accept in the West Bank, his reading of the political landscape has militated against his ever preparing his camp for what Israel could safely concede. Hence, there is an understanding of what Israel is entitled to receive, but not what it must give in order to achieve Israeli-Palestinian coexistence — with the result now being that Netanyahu treats the Trump Plan as if it is a buffet and he can choose only the parts he likes. 

Regrettably, this is very reminiscent of the Palestinian approach — never lay the groundwork with your own people for compromise, and, as with Yasser Arafat and the Clinton parameters, accept all that Israel must give and none of what is required of the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas remains true to that posture.   

Given the opposition of his own camp to the Trump Plan, it may be understandable that Netanyahu is focused only on what Israel gets and not what it would have to give. But as the administration decides what to do about Israeli annexation, it should at least be clear that its plan is not being treated “holistically.” Whether the Trump Plan advances or not, little can change until both Israelis and Palestinians realize that each needs to give, not just take.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Between 2013-2014 he served in the Office of the Secretary of State as a senior adviser to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @DavidMakovsky.

Dennis Ross is counselor and the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He served as special assistant to President Obama, as Special Middle East Coordinator under President Clinton, and as director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff in the first Bush administration. He is the author, with David Makovsky, of “Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny.” Follow him on Twitter @AmbDennisRoss.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Dennis Ross Israel Israeli-occupied territories Israeli–Palestinian peace process Mahmoud Abbas Politics of Israel Trump peace plan Two-state solution West Bank

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