No solution in sight

Despite good intentions, Trump is not going to reach ‘the ultimate deal’ between Israel and the Palestinians — for good reason

By Moshe Arens

President Donald Trump is arriving in Israel with the best of intentions — to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The “ultimate deal,” he calls it. And why not? Each side gives a little bit and the mission is accomplished. That’s how it’s done in the business world. But over the years many have tried and have not succeeded. So there must be some underlying reasons that make it nigh impossible. These reasons are not hard to identify, and when Trump becomes aware of them, he may conclude that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unfortunately not on the horizon at this time.

So what are these reasons? Why was it possible for Israel to make peace with Egypt and with Jordan, and for a while even to believe that a peace agreement could be reached with Syria? What makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so different?

Look at the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. First of all, it took four wars and the great Israeli victory in the Yom Kippur War to bring it about. Secondly, it was primarily a territorial conflict. Egypt was intent on recovering Sinai, territory it had lost in its wars of aggression against Israel. Thirdly, Israel was prepared to meet Egypt’s territorial demand on condition that Sinai would be demilitarized. The Egyptians were prepared to meet this Israeli condition, and a multi-national force was deployed in Sinai to assure that this was implemented. Thus Israel could feel secure after the withdrawal from Sinai. And fourthly, and most importantly, in Egypt it took the decision of one man, Anwar Sadat, who had dictatorial powers, to sign the agreement and implement its provisions. It’s easy when you are dealing with a single individual who has the required power.

With Jordan it was easier still. King Hussein had already dissociated himself from the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria as well as the territory Jordan annexed after its aggression against Israel in 1948. So there was no territorial dispute between Israel and Jordan. King Hussein had the power needed, and once the Oslo Accords had been signed with the PLO he was prepared to break ranks with the rest of the Arab world, follow Egypt and sign a peace treaty with Israel. He could be depended on to prevent acts of terror from Jordan against Israel, ensuring Israel’s security along the Jordanian border.

Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak thought that the agreement with Egypt could serve as a template for a similar agreement with Syria. Return to Syria the territory it had lost in its wars of aggression against Israel, add a little demilitarization, and count on the Syrian dictator, Hafez Assad, to implement the agreement and keep the border with Israel peaceful. Within a few years it transpired that the there was nobody to count on in Syria, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the agreement, which for a while seemed almost within reach, had not been signed.

With the Palestinians it is much more than just a dispute over a defined piece of territory. Although Mahmoud Abbas, among his many other demands, calls for all of the territory east of the Israeli-Jordanian armistice lines of 1949 to be turned over to a Palestinian state, many Palestinians insist that all of Israel must eventually come under Palestinian sovereignty. In other words, the very existence of Israel is put into question. Abbas’ unalterable demand for the return of the Palestinian refugees, who left their homes during the Arab aggression against Israel in 1948 and their descendants, is in effect a demand for the destruction of the State of Israel. Nor does Abbas have the authority or the capability to implement an agreement if one were to be signed, or to prevent acts of terror against Israel from areas that would come under his control. At the moment there seems to be no solution to the conflict in sight.

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