It felt as though it took just a day or two, after U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu introduced it together in Washington, D.C., for the “Deal of the century” peace initiative to fall out of the headlines. Last week, it seemed, most people – and media pundits – were too busy obsessing over Trump’s impeachment trial and the culmination of Brexit, or worrying about the spread of the coronavirus, to spend too much time considering peace in the Middle East. Heck, outside Israel barely anyone even mentioned the corruption charges now officially facing Netanyahu, a first for a sitting Israeli prime minister.
Predictably, many people dismissed the Trump proposal out of hand. On the left, the deal was rejected as wholly one-sided for not having any buy-in from the Palestinians, as well as over the proposed annexations of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. (For some on that end of the political spectrum, though, the deal might very well have gone as far as any previous Israeli offer and still been considered dead on arrival, simply because of the two men who presented it.) Meanwhile on the Israeli right, the mere mention of a future Palestinian state, along with the settlement freeze that the deal would purportedly set in place, were seen as major deal-breakers.
Even American and Israeli leaders didn’t appear to be completely on the same page: after the plan was introduced, Netanyahu hinted that settlement annexation could come rapidly, only for its American progenitor, Jared Kushner, to signal it might not actually happen until after the Israeli elections.
Beyond the ranks of the U.S. Republican party and the two Israeli parties vying to lead the next Knesset, Likud and Blue and White, you would have been hard-pressed to find much full-throated support for the Trump deal. (The much vaunted, other critical source of approval, from Arab nations like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, which sent envoys to witness the unveiling of the plan, along with U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt, took a step back over the weekend after the Arab League, spurred by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who announced plans to cut ties with U.S. and Israel, rejected the deal.) Even some mainstream Jewish groups, including here in Canada, reacted with degrees of caution, pledging themselves to “study the plan” and urging “all parties” to come to the negotiating table.
The departure from previous peace plan presentations couldn’t have been starker. We clearly remember the images of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat joining Bill Clinton on the White House lawn, Arafat and Clinton again, this time with Ehud Barak, at Camp David, the Taba summit, the Roadmap for Peace. All of those efforts were met with enthusiasm and encouragement from across the globe. Once you’d have expected wall-to-wall coverage of anything to do with Israeli-Palestinian peace, but this time it was much closer to bubkes.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the Trump deal. But then, there have been plenty of reasons to be skeptical of previous peace efforts, too – and indeed, in the end, despite all the apparent international optimism, much of the security concerns on the Israeli side were borne out during the resulting Palestinian intifadas. Optimism hasn’t produced peace.
For any deal to work, both sides will ultimately need to come to the negotiating table. But in the meantime, there’s no point sugar-coating the situation. Maybe a healthy dose of skepticism is exactly what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs. A photo op was never going to solve this problem anyway.