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Change the Conversation

Time is not on your side, Trump effectively told the Palestinians. The world goes on without you


The poohbahs of the American foreign policy establishment were predictably dismissive of the “Deal of the Century” put forward by President Trump. “A sham from start to finish,” was Martin Indyk’s verdict.

Aaron David Miller, who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, complained that Trump has broken the mold of the peace processing in place since 1993 — encouraging talks, building trust, bridging gaps.

Quite right. Like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Trump noticed something that appears to have escaped all those caught up in the process: Nothing has changed in nearly 20 years since Yasser Arafat, at Camp David, rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s proffered Palestinian state, in almost all the territory captured in the 1967 war, and launched the Second Intifada. Well, actually, Mahmoud Abbas rejected a more generous offer from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert eight years later.

Even talks have been few and far between. Abbas told the Washington Post editorial board at the outset of the Obama administration that he had no interest in talking to Israel — a stance he maintained even in the face of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration of a full settlement freeze. Abbas preferred to rely on American pressure. And that would come in plenty. The Obama administration declared every new balcony built on an apartment in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood — and anywhere beyond the 1949 armistice lines — to be a breach of international law.

All for naught. Support for a two-state solution among Palestinians is at its lowest point ever, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. As Natan Sharansky predicted as far back as 1993, empowering corrupt Palestinian dictators would lead to state-sponsored incitement against Jews and Israel — in textbooks, summer camps, even payments to families of murderers of Jews. Dictatorships, he warned in The Case for Democracy, need external enemies to distract their captive populations. Arafat first whipped a new generation of Palestinians into a frenzy of hatred, and then told President Clinton at Camp David that he would be a “dead man walking” if he accepted Israel as a Jewish state.

Nor has Israeli trust been fortified by the more than 2,000 lives lost to terrorism since the onset of the Oslo Accords or the state-sponsored incitement in the official Palestinian media and education system.

Miller accuses President Trump of having effectively put the Palestinians on probation: Want a state? Then recognize Israel as a Jewish state, put a stop to terrorism, use the $50 billion of aid I’m offering to get rid of 70-year-old festering refugee camps rather than to line your leaders’ pockets, and start developing the institutions of civil society.

About that Miller is right. Time is not on your side, Trump effectively told the Palestinians. The world goes on without you. In case the Palestinians want proof that they are being passed by, let them note that the richest Arab countries, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and the most populous, Egypt, have all come out in favor of the Trump proposals. They no longer feel the need to even pay lip service to the maximalist demands of Palestinians.

The peace process, the Trump team made clear, will no longer be about coming up with an offer so sweet that the Palestinians cannot refuse. Intransigence will no longer be rewarded by allowing them to pocket each Israeli concession for the start of the next round of negotiations. A Palestinian state, Trump recognized, is not the sole goal of the peace process. Without secure and defensible borders for Israel, there can be no lasting peace.

The Trump plan makes explicit precisely what Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin told the Knesset a month before his assassination: Those borders must include full Israeli control of the eastern mountain range facing the Jordan River and all the territory between it and the river. Nor will Israel return to the 1949 armistice lines, in effect on June 4, 1967 — its “Auschwitz borders,” as Abba Eban termed them. Lord Caradon, principal draftsman of UN Resolution 242, called those borders “undesirable and artificial,” and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a 1967 memo to President Lyndon Johnson, pronounced them indefensible.

By introducing a long-missing element of reality into the proceedings, President Trump has not only benefited Israel, but offered a path forward for Palestinians as well. Natan Sharansky noted hopefully that 15 prominent Palestinian businessmen attended a Trump-initiated economic conference in Bahrain.

The New York Times declared that the plan does not offer Palestinians hope of a real improvement in their lives. That is wrong. A better life for Palestinians is there for the taking. In recent weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Ahmad, the foreman of the Palestinian crew refurbishing our apartment. We have become friendly, and his description of rising at 4 a.m. in order to make what should be only a 40-minute journey from his village near Beitar to Jerusalem, due to Israeli checkpoints, pains me.

As long as a significant number of Palestinians harbor the fantasy of destroying Israel, those checkpoints will remain in place. By calling out those fantasies, President Trump has held out the promise of a better future for Palestinians and Israelis.


Self-evident Truths

President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was last week, and as usual, that occasioned publication of excerpts from some of his greatest speeches. This year’s Power Line blog selection begins with Lincoln’s justly famous House Divided speech — “a house divided against itself [i.e., half slave and half free] cannot stand” — delivered upon his selection by the Illinois Republican Party as its candidate for the Senate in 1858.

The following night, his opponent, Democrat Stephen Douglas, who would also run against Lincoln in 1860 as the Democratic Party nominee for president, gave a speech in which he supported a “diversity” of domestic institutions [a euphemism for white rule] and proclaimed his opinion that the American government was “made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men….”

Lincoln invited the audience at Douglas’s speech to return the next evening for his reply. He began by reflecting on the remarkable growth of the United States in the 82 years since its founding. But that prosperity, he averred, owes to a “race of men living in that day whom we claim as fathers and grandfathers, they were iron men, who fought for the principle that they were contending for.” In our annual Fourth of July celebrations, Lincoln said, we remind ourselves of that previous period, and how independence was achieved and by whom.

But, according to Lincoln, perhaps as many as half the Americans living in his day were not descended from the founding generation. They were more recent immigrants of Irish, French, and Scandinavian origin: “If they [try] to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none…”

Nevertheless, Lincoln argued, they can connect themselves to that “glorious epoch” by picking up the Declaration of Independence and reading the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Those words, he said, are “the father of all moral principal” and [all Americans] have a “right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are.”

Douglas, Lincoln charged, by emptying those words of their plain meaning, had thereby denied a majority of Americans of his day any connection to the founding fathers and any part of a common creed.

Reading the excerpts from Lincoln’s speech, I could not help note how he had defined Americans in Jewish terms. Membership in the Jewish nation is not determined only by blood and soil: Anyone can join by declaring his or her fealty to the Torah.

And similarly, citizenship in America, a land of immigrants, is determined (or was until recently) not by blood alone, but by the willingness to affirm a particular constitutional creed.

That commonality is a large part of what binds the United States and Israel.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 799. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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