The parallels between the Trump impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate and the release of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan are striking. Donald Trump, a master of diversion, unveiled his incendiary proposal for the Mideast at the height of the Senate’s process. Just as the impeachment trial was, in some senses, a process whose outcome was predetermined by the Republican majority, so too is the Mideast proposal outcome predetermined in that it barrels over the Palestinian opposition and rubber-stamps almost everything the more extreme elements of the Israeli body politic have long demanded.
The approach is counterintuitive – like almost everything this U.S. president has done. Supporters might contend that, since all the rational thinking of the best diplomatic minds has not resolved this problem, a 180-degree turn that electroshocks the status quo might be better than nothing. The proposal is so one-sided that, out of sheer outrage, it has at least forced the Palestinian leadership to articulate what they will (or, rather, won’t) accept to a degree greater than they have expressed in recent years.
In the end, though, this emphasis on winning and losing – the Trump plan would be a clear win for Israel and a commensurate loss for Palestinians – is precisely the wrong approach. We may believe that the Palestinian leadership has betrayed their people by rejecting previous offers of coexistence, and conclude that what their people get is what their leaders deserve. But the Palestinian people deserve better than this.
Israel and the Zionist project have always had to contend with the realities and vagaries of coexistence – what other choice do Jews really have? Despite early warnings, coexistence with their neighbours was a widespread expectation among the early Zionists, some of whom thought (naïvely, in retrospect) that they would be welcomed with open arms by the other peoples in the region. But, even with the history of conflict and the absence of anything to give us a great deal of hope, some slow evolution that leads toward coexistence is the only realistic alternative to the status quo of suspended violence and intermittent war.
We need to recognize, above all, that a lasting resolution is not going to look like a win for one side and a loss for the other. Likewise, it is not going to resemble a win-win, as negotiators in various arenas, as well as salespeople, like to say. It will be a lose-lose proposition. An enduring peace and coexistence will almost certainly occur only when both sides are willing to accept a loss on many or most of their key demands – and accept that loss as a price for their children’s lives and well-being.
More immediately, we should be very wary of any master plan for peace that is scribbled out in the middle of an election campaign or another drama like an impeachment. The contents of such a plan are almost certainly more geared to the outcome it is trying to influence (votes for Likud or the Republican Party) or distract from (the U.S. president’s impeachment and trial or the Israeli prime minister’s loss of immunity from prosecution) than the problem it is ostensibly meant to address. Israelis and Palestinians, both, deserve self-determination and lasting peace.