U.S. President Donald Trump’s flawed and much-criticized “deal of the dentury” deserves the full-throated support of Diaspora Jewry.
The plan has the enthusiastic backing of all Israeli political leaders. Despite the rivalry between them, both the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the opposition, Benny Gantz, have thrown their support behind the plan. Opposition to it is led in Israel by the parties on the fringes of the left and right, who represent only small sectors of public opinion.
The primary reason for the substantial support by both the centre-right and the centre-left is the realistic nature of the plan. It recognizes Israel and Palestine as they are, without attempting a return to any mythic past. It recognizes that Israel’s settlement blocs on the West Bank and its large settlements function de facto as parts of Israel. Displacing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in these settlements, numbers equivalent to the entire Jewish population of Canada, in order to achieve a mythically-egalitarian formula of land-division will serve no useful purpose.
Jodi Rudoren has claimed that preserving settlements demonstrates “lack of empathy” for Palestinian demands (https://forward.com/opinion/439144/the-real-thing-thats-missing-from-trumps-peace-plan/). Dismantling settlements in order to return to pre-1967 borders will not satisfy Palestinian demands for equality. The Palestinian leadership is open and vocal about its demand for a practical right of return of descendants of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the pre-1967 borders of Israel. The Palestinian leadership demands a return to the demography of pre-1948 Palestine: in which Palestinian Arabs are entitled to live anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, but Jews are limited to the narrow coastal zone that was pre-1948 Israel, along with the Galilee and the Negev.
In other words, achieving empathy for the demands of the Palestinian leadership, or what Palestinain President Mahmoud Abbas called “dignity” for Palestinians, means returning to the pre-1948 hierarchy of Arab hegemony between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
Such a return to pre-1948 demography, or even to pre-1967 border lines, means exposing Israel’s most densely-populated areas to at-will bombardment from the mountains of the West Bank. The primary reason the overwhelming majority of Israelis, and nearly all security experts, vehemently oppose any withdrawal to 1967 lines lies in Israel’s bitter experiences with Gaza since the 2005 withdrawal.
Contrary to the oft-repeated assertions of the last American secretary of state to advance a peace plan, John Kerry, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 with an agreement from European states to monitor border crossings, and with the tacit agreement of the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_Border_Assistance_Mission_to_Rafah). Within months, both agreements collapsed as Hamas took control of the territory, threw Palestinian Authority officials to their death from the rooftops, and intensified the launching of missiles on Israel. These missiles have made life in what is now known as “the Gaza envelope” (the area within 20 kilometres of Gaza into an unending exercise in traumatic stress. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live (again, a population roughly equivalent to the Jewish population of Canada) live in this area. Missiles have brought life to a standstill again and again in cities such as Ashkelon (pop. 130,000) and Ashdod (pop. 220,000), and have reached the Tel Aviv metropolis. In response to Israeli fears of missiles emanating from the West Bank, were Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines, Kerry proposed early warning stations, staffed by foreign troops, along the Jordan valley (https://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinians-reject-us-proposal-for-10-year-idf-presence-in-jordan-valley/). Such stations would be useless in the face of the missile threat, and there is no reason to assume that in the event of an expected take-over of the West Bank by Hamas, these foreign troops would behave any differently than the European observers at the Gaza borders.
In contrast to Kerry’s plan, formulated in Obama administration-backed UN Security Council resolution 2334, Trump’s deal accepts Israel’s need for a security border along the Jordan River. It gives Israel the ability to defend itself and to effectively block either the threat from missiles or from Hamas seizing control of the West Bank.
The plan gives the Palestinians in the West Bank the right to run their own lives and to develop significant lands. Most importantly, a multimillion dollar investment will allow Palestinians to achieve meaningful economic development. If Palestinian dignity means achieving a reality in which Palestinians have respectable livelihoods, in which “bishtghil fi isra’il” (working in Israel) is no longer the highest employment aspiration of Palestinians, in which a Palestinian technology sector can drive an economy in which Palestinians no longer need envy Israelis’ standard of living, then the Trump plan provides for Palestinian dignity. This is real empathy.
But if the only form of empathy is a return to pre-1967 lines, and to pre-1948 demography, because Palestinian dignity demands a return to a mythic past, then there is no hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Because this type of empathy for Palestinians excludes the possibility of allowing Israelis to have peaceful lives and decrees displacement and trauma on the lives of hundreds of thousands Israelis living in the West Bank.
The Trump plan requires painful sacrifices from Israel. Fifteen of Israel’s most isolated settlements are to be included in the territory of the Palestinian state, and may need to be evacuated. These house about 20,000 Israeli Jews (as well as several hundred Samartians, members of an 2,700-year old sect who live on and venerate Mount Gerizim, outside Nablus, and claim they are the true Israelites). It will involve a substantial blow to Israeli dignity in sharing Jerusalem. These are prices that Israel is willing to pay in order to go much of the way towards providing Palestinians with meaningful and realistic dignity.
The plan also has an answer to those who argue that empathy means granting Palestinian demands, because Palestinians must be allowed to define what constitutes dignity for them. It asks Israeli Arabs (many of whom self-define as Palestinian citizens of Israel), who live in cities bordering the to-be-established Palestinian state, whether they are interested in moving the border, and becoming citizens of Palestine instead of Israel. Overwhelmingly, the inhabitants of these cities demand to stay in Israel. They see the economic opportunities Israel provides as a greater source of dignity than the need to allocate more land to the incipient Palestinian state. When surveyed by Israeli journalists, the Palestinian inhabitants of the Jordan Valley (which is to be annexed to Israel under the terms of the plan) also expressed excitement at becoming citizens of Israel.
Diaspora Jews have a key role in advancing what Trump calls his “deal of the century.” It is difficult for Canadian or American governments to offer support for the Jewish state unless that support concerts with the views of their own Jewish voters. In the name of misplaced empathy, North American Jews are being asked to oppose a plan that offers realistic chances for Israeli security and Palestinian freedom and economic growth. For good reasons, many American and Canadian Jews are wary of supporting anything supported by a president whose rhetoric can charitably be labelled “problematic.” But as we approach the Purim season, North American Jews ought to remember Mordecai’s warning to Esther not to be silent when the welfare of her fellow Jews is in danger. As Jews, we share a covenant going back millennia to remember that we are a single people, and that we have a historic homeland. The covenant of the millennia must guide our response to “the deal of the century.”