Faisal J. Abbas
Pre-election politics in Israel is nothing if not predictable. It is almost expected that the incumbent seeking re-election will try to boost his popularity by launching a military strike or by building more illegal settlements. Alternatively, or on top of such actions, the incumbent prime minister might resort to making preposterous post-election promises, such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent pledge to annex the Jordan Valley.
This is not to say that Netanyahu’s threat should not be taken seriously. As any political analyst will attest, we are living in unprecedentedly unpredictable times where anything can happen.
This is particularly true given that the countdown has begun also for the election season in the US. As we all know, being pro-Palestinian does not win any politician votes in Washington, but being pro-Israeli does. In any case, the current US administration has made it crystal clear that unless the Palestinians are willing to sign a deal, there is not much it can do to help.
The Palestinian leadership has so far rejected invitations from White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s team even to be at the negotiating table. This naturally gives the Israeli leadership — which is likely to be less interested in such negotiations — an excuse that it is the other side which does not want peace.
This brings me to the point I have repeatedly made in this column: Palestinians should play ball. Yes, they are unlikely to get all that they bargain for, but they will not come back empty-handed either. And even if they do, they do not necessarily have to accept the terms.
“The longer it takes to reach a peace deal, the more harmful the results will be”
Faisal J. Abbas
US and Saudi sources familiar with the Kushner initiative told Arab News earlier this year that the plan would entail sacrifices by the Israelis as well. Also, at no point did any of these sources confirm that there was any plan to annex parts or all of the Jordan Valley. Rather, as reported, they said there would be a proposal involving recognition of the State of Palestine, and a negotiated land swap between the two states.
For decades now, observers have been warning that the window for peace is closing. As painful as the reality may be, Palestinians must be pragmatic and accept the truth that the longer it takes to strike a deal, the less they will be able to get out of it. This has now been historically proven.
Furthermore, the longer it takes to reach a peace agreement, the more harmful the results will be, indeed have already been, for neighboring countries, especially Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Israelis must act quickly and decisively too, because regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, the prospects for a two-state solution are rapidly receding. Unless Netanyahu, or whoever becomes the next leader of Israel, has a plan to throw nearly 5 million Palestinians into the sea, the demographics on the ground will make coexistence impossible.
What complicates the situation further is that the Netanyahu team continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land to secure votes. While this has helped him become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, it has made peace with the Palestinians all the more difficult to achieve.
To put the problem in perspective, one need only consider the relatively small number of settlers who had to be relocated when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. Or the few thousands who had to be evacuated from the Sinai Peninsula when then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin dismantled 18 Jewish settlements there in 1982.
Under Netanyahu, the number of illegal settlers in the West Bank is said to have grown to 800,000. Such a large population makes relocating the settlers a daunting challenge, and makes negotiations to establish a viable, contiguous state more difficult for Palestinians.
Under the circumstances, a plan to annex the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights or any other piece of Arab land may serve candidate Netanyahu very well from a political standpoint. But there is no gain for Israel going forward, for such a move would only make normalization of ties with Arab countries more difficult, while Iran remains a major threat to Arabs and Israelis alike.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News