New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reach out to the United States’ four key Arab allies, and suggest that they issue a unified “yes” to the much-anticipated Trump peace plan, so long as it provides for a viable, demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and for a degree of Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem.
In an op-ed published on Yom Kippur, and coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Israel-Egypt Camp David Accords, Friedman warned that the Middle East was again at a “fateful moment” and specified what he thought the Palestinians, Israel, the Trump Administration, and its Arab allies could do to break the impasse.
Abbas, he wrote, should turn to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates “and propose that they collectively say ‘yes’ to engaging Trump and [his adviser/son-in-law Jared] Kushner if the US plan includes two criteria: It calls for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank — not a bunch of disconnected cantons — and it grants Palestinians some form of sovereignty in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, where 300,000 Arabs already live. (The authority will also have to agree that its state will be demilitarized.)”
Such a gambit, Friedman asserted, “would give the Arab leaders cover with their publics for supporting a Trump plan and give the Palestinians cover for re-engaging with Trump.”
Without those two key elements, he added, the Arab leaders would also be making clear that the much-anticipated Trump plan would be “dead on arrival in the Arab world, not just the West Bank.”
Friedman’s article made no mention of another major Palestinian demand — central to the Hamas strategy for destroying Israel, and never relinquished in negotiations by Abbas — for a “right of return” for millions of refugee descendants to today’s Israel.
As things stand, he wrote, the familiar Palestinian strategy of “defiance and highlighting its victimhood is not working.” Elaborated Friedman: “The status quo is hammering Palestinians but, for now, is tolerable for everyone else. So the authority needs to get back to the negotiating table.”
For Israel, the interest in advancing on such a basis was also clear, he asserted: “It’s choose separation from the Palestinians or get bi-nationalism or apartheid.”
Unless there is dramatic progress, he warned, the PA could crumble, and then “Israel will have to take full responsibility for the health, education and welfare of the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel would then have to decide whether to govern the West Bank with one legal authority or two, which would mean Israel would be choosing between bi-nationalism and apartheid, both disasters for a Jewish democracy.”
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been what Friedman called “a brilliant strategist in confronting Iran and managing Russia in Syria,” on the Palestinian front he devotes his energies to ensuring that “the Palestinians get blamed in the US for any absence of progress — without offering any new, or old, ideas on how to separate from them” in order to preserve Jewish, democratic Israel. Netanyahu, he charged, “is well on his way to going down in history as the Israeli prime minister who won every debate and lost Israel as a Jewish democracy.”
As for the Americans, Friedman accused President Donald Trump of following “a pro-right-wing Jewish settler strategy” and branded Trump’s actions — notably including moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and defunding the Palestinians without seeking concessions from Israel on settlements or anything else — as “the art of the giveaway.”
At Camp David, Friedman wrote, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin made hard, correct choices. Now, opined Friedman, “we’re again at a fateful moment. For the Palestinians, it’s choose nihilism or pacifism. For Israel, it’s choose separation from the Palestinians or get bi-nationalism or apartheid. For Jared and Donald, it’s either be serious — and be ready to take a tough stance with all parties, including Israel — or stay home.”
Friedman quoted the former US Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, who served in both Republic and Democratic administrations, empathizing with his proposal. “The Palestinians can’t want to lose their governing authority in the West Bank,” said Ross. “And the Trump administration and Israel can’t want a total vacuum to emerge there, because in the Middle East, all vacuums are filled by something worse.”
Were Abbas and America’s Arab allies to make plain their agreement to minimum foundations for talks, said Ross, the Palestinians would have Arab cover to return to negotiations, the Trump administration would feel pressure to offer a credible peace plan, and Israel, said Ross, would have “a partner and some fateful choices to make.”