The world is still waiting for Jared Kushner’s plan for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, not realizing that much of it is already known. Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last week, Kushner offered up yet another dispiriting slice of salami, indicating his plan would not mention a two-state solution.
“If you say ‘two-state,’ it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians,” Kushner told his audience. “We said, ‘you know, let’s just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means.’” It was odd that the presidential son in law did not express what the two-state solution meant to the United States, the country presenting his peace plan after all, which seemed to have a fairly clear idea of what it implied only a few years ago.
Kushner’s dissembling should remind us once again that his “peace plan” is nothing of the sort, nor was it ever designed to bring peace. As the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, argued in a recent article, the scheme is an illusionist’s trick. While the world focuses on the Kushner plan, away from the action U.S. policy is moving ahead with unilateral steps that greatly favor Israel and undermine the Palestinian position, while ruining any prospect of a two-state solution. When Kushner eventually presents his proposal, his primary purpose will simply be to anchor those Israeli gains.
What Kushner, along with Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, have evidently concocted is a modified version of the autonomy plan presented by former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in May 1979. The plan granted Palestinians limited self-rule in the occupied territories, but rejected statehood. Begin also sought Israeli sovereignty and security control over the occupied territories. Israeli law would prevail in areas of Jewish settlement, effectively creating separate and certainly unequal parallel legal systems, one for Arabs the other for Jews.
This recourse to a long-abandoned approach shows the inability of the Israeli right and its American enablers to break out of a mold in which Palestinians are denied all national rights. Indeed, the Trump administration’s policy in the last two years has been to steadily erode the political gains Palestinians had made in the previous two decades.
For Washington, Palestinian statehood is no longer a given. Jerusalem is seen as Israel’s capital, despite a hypothetical possibility that the Israelis might allow a Palestinian capital in a distant corner of the city. And administration officials have pushed to no longer consider descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948 as being entitled to refugee status. That is one factor that led to U.S. defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which cares for the refugees. And now, amid talk that the Trump administration is about to recognize Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank, the final arrow in the Palestinians’ quiver—the international consensus that the territory is occupied by Israel—may be subverted.
Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman, and behind them Trump, appear to subscribe to a view that Palestinians are the losers in their conflict with Israel. In other words they are not entitled to demand a state, just as Israel is under no obligation to give up any more land. The transcendent frivolity of assuming that one can compare a profound, obsessive national conflict between two peoples to a football match is just one of the many problems of how relations between Palestinians and Israelis are perceived in the United States. Yet it continues to feed a belief among the Israeli right and its American backers that peace can be based entirely on a Palestinian surrender.
Kushner’s proposal, when it comes out, will serve to consolidate everything the administration has done until now to legitimize the Israeli occupation. The Trump administration will blame the Palestinians for rejecting Kushner’s trap, using this to reaffirm that there is nothing they will ever accept, so that it’s better for the United States and Israel to pursue their liquidation of the Palestinian cause.
Few will be duped by this charade. Yet it will decisively shift the parameters of the U.S. approach to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, forcing future presidents to go along with Trump’s moves or risk a backlash from Israel’s allies. Kushner said as much at the Washington Institute, pointing out that while he might not bring peace to the Middle East, he at least wanted to “change the discussion” about it.
The problem is that this convenient setup between the United States and Israel fails to address what happens to Palestinians in the occupied territories. While the people of Gaza can be penned in indefinitely, what about the estimated 3.7 million Palestinians of the West Bank, who live within proximity of Jewish settlements? Demographically, Arabs—whether Palestinians under Israeli military control or Arab-Israelis—will likely become a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River within a generation, increasingly challenging Israel’s Jewish nature.
As Palestinian numbers grow, Israel will struggle with this presence. How it does so will be a matter of divisive debate—which has already started among Israelis, but also Jews in America. The most worrisome outcome is that Israel will exploit possible military confrontations with the Palestinians to impose permanent demographic changes that guarantee a long-term Jewish majority in Israel and the West Bank.
Sometimes a triumph brings with it an irresolvable burden. In 1948 the Zionist movement won a striking victory in its war against the Arabs, a feat surpassed in 1967. Yet the Palestinians are still there. Israel has no solution for this, and the so-called Kushner plan will make finding one impossible. It may be time for the Israelis and their friends in America to reconsider what they wish for.