Faisal J. Abbas
Palestinians today mark the 71st anniversary of the Nakba, the “Day of Catastrophe” when displacement, occupation and injustice befell the people of Palestine as a result of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
Since that day in 1948, all attempts to restore Palestinian lands, whether by peaceful or military means, have failed. In truth, the cards have been stacked against the Palestinians since the seeds of the state of Israel were sown by Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917. Israel enjoys support from France and the UK, the two colonial powers that inherited and carved up parts of the old Ottoman Empire, and it has enormous political, military and financial backing from the US. The Palestinians, meanwhile, rely on Arab help. They lost even more land as a result of the wars Arabs tried to wage on Israel, and many opportunities for peace were missed because of internal Palestinian rifts, Arab rejection or Israeli intransigence.
When Arab News marked last year’s 70th anniversary of the Nakba with a special issue, I wrote that peace was “remote but still possible.” The more that time passes, I argued, the more it becomes difficult to make peace as Israel builds more illegal settlements, Hamas fires more missiles and the hatred grows deeper.
However, an interesting development has been brewing for the past few months that may, just may, reverse the situation and make peace more possible and less remote — the Jared Kushner peace plan. Many people have been skeptical of the efforts led by President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser. In addition, Kushner has kept a tight lid on his proposals, thus encouraging much speculation, including the theory that no peace plan actually exists.
It is all very well for veteran politicians and diplomats to carp about Kushner’s lack of experience in such matters, but what exactly have they achieved in more than 70 years of trying to resolve this conflict? Too much “process” and not enough “peace,” I would suggest.
That is why there is a strong counter argument that it is time to think outside the box; and how “Trumpian” would it be of Jared Kushner if he proved to be a master of the “art of the deal,” and pulled this off?
The Kushner initiative is expected in early June, after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. So what will it contain? Contrary to some of the wilder speculation, Saudi sources have told Arab News it will be a two-state solution, in which Palestinians will have their own nation state. Moreover, reports that Saudi Arabia will attempt to force the deal on the Palestinians are untrue. “Any proposal will still be subject to both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, agreeing and adhering to it,” the Saudi source said. “This has been the Saudi position on every peace offer, including the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.” While the Kushner peace plan will include some aspects of that initiative, it will not be a replica of it.
“Cynics have already rejected the Kushner peace plan despite knowing nothing about it, but it may be the Palestinians’ last, best chance of their own state”
Faisal J. Abbas
Arab News understands that Kushner’s plan will require painful sacrifices by both sides. For sure, it will end illegal Israeli occupation, but it may include an exchange of disputed territories. It will also guarantee Israeli security by finding agreed ways to secure the border, and control weapons coming into the Palestinian state.
Both sources Arab News spoke to — one Saudi, one American — denied conspiracy theories about an alternative state for the Palestinians in Egypt, Jordan or elsewhere. “Americans also understand the sensitivity of Jerusalem for both sides and the importance of Al-Aqsa mosque for Muslims,” the US source said, and any deal will ensure that this issue is agreed upon.
How can Saudi Arabia help? As our Saudi source says, only the Kingdom, home of the two holy shrines, can persuade Arab and Muslim countries to back the bid once the Palestinians have agreed to it. Also, Riyadh will work closely with donor countries to ensure a sustainable and prosperous life for Palestinians, so that they can finally focus on education, jobs and a better economy.
“Other countries have an important role; Jordan has historically had one that is vital, so does Egypt. Donors and development partners such as the EU, Japan and others also can help,” the source said.
Should the Palestinians accept? It would clearly be wrong to reach a final judgment without seeing the whole plan. However, it is also the definition of insanity to repeatedly do the same thing and expect a different result; for 70 years, every time the Arabs have said ‘no’ the Palestinians have lost more land, more rights and more opportunities.
This may be the last chance to secure a two-state solution. The Palestinians should negotiate hard, and then take what they can to secure a nation state for future generations; everyone would salute their courage and sacrifice if they did, while there is nothing to be gained from a refusal to come to the negotiating table.
That, of course, is what Israel is counting on; another Palestinian ‘no’ would allow the Israelis to claim that they had done everything possible to secure a deal and been rejected, and it would encourage the already generous Trump administration to cut them yet more slack.
Bottom line: Let us give peace a chance.
Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News