“The peace process” is the name we’ve given to decades of attempts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The reality: These diplomatic efforts have never made meaningful progress. Yet those involved — smart and well-meaning though they are — have been reluctant to entertain the possibility that they have misunderstood something essential about the conflict and what will be required to bring it to a conclusion.
That’s one reason it was useful for President Trump to disrupt the status quo by recognizing another reality: The capital of the state of Israel is in Jerusalem. No conceivable “peace process” will induce the Israelis to pack up and leave. That’s a reality, too.
Palestinians responded by denouncing the president. One Palestinian official accused him of issuing “a declaration of war.” There also were the usual violent demonstrations carried out by young men in masks and/or keffiyehs, and staged for the benefit of foreign correspondents who can be counted on to provide sympathetic coverage.
Among the various realities these journalists neglect to report: During the Obama years, the “peace process” was not just unproductive — it was comatose. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, refused (with one very brief exception) even to sit at the same table with his Israeli counterparts.
And then there’s this reality: A “two-state solution” implies two states for two peoples — a Palestinian state and a Jewish state, peacefully coexisting. Mr. Abbas, despite all these years of peace processing, hasn’t accepted that premise.
Which is why, instead of negotiating, he has been orchestrating a campaign on the international stage to delegitimize Israel, to wage economic warfare against Israel (through the insidious Boycott, Divest and Sanctions, or BDS, movement), to cast doubt on whether the Jewish people has any historical connection or claim to Jerusalem and the adjacent lands where Jews have lived since long before those lands were conquered by foreign empires — Roman, Babylonian, Arab, Ottoman and British among them.
In Turkey recently, addressing representatives of the dozens of nation-states that identify as Islamic, Mr. Abbas charged that “they” — meaning either Israelis or Jews — “are really excellent in faking and counterfeiting history and religion.”
He maintains that the founding of the modern state of Israel was both an error and a unique injustice. He rejects the proposition that the Jews who fled Europe following World War II, along with the Jews who were expelled from the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa in the same era, had any right to a safe haven on any portion of their ancestral homelands.
His goal has been to win recognition for a Palestinian state that would continue to battle Israel indefinitely, funded largely by European and American taxpayers. You might call this a two-state non-solution.
When Barack Obama first became president, he seemed to disfavor such an approach. In 2008, he declared that Jerusalem “is the capital of Israel and must remain undivided.” By this time last year, however, he apparently changed his mind.
The U.S. has substantial power to prevent resolutions from being presented to the U.N. Security Council. Failing that, the U.S. can veto such resolutions. But Mr. Obama allowed U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 to come up for a vote and he then abstained — ensuring its passage. UNSCR 2334 declares all of east Jerusalem — even the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews — illegally occupied territory.
To understand how damaging this was to any possible peace process, recall that in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 — fought against four of Israel’s Arab neighbors — east Jerusalem was conquered and occupied by Jordanian forces. Those forces then expelled all Jewish residents and destroyed Jewish holy sites. In effect, UNSCR 2334 signaled retrospective approval for such ethnic and religious cleansing.
But it’s worse than that: UNSCR 2334 confirmed the extremist Islamist narrative that lands conquered by Muslims must never again be ruled by non-Muslims; that jihad needs to be waged against any infidels claiming sovereignty and a right to self-determination on such lands.
Security Council resolutions are just about impossible to repeal. But President Trump has done the next best thing. And, by implication, he has reimagined the peace process. To be realistic, it must start — not end — with Palestinians agreeing that Israel has a right to exist; that the Jews won’t be driven from Jerusalem again; that Israel won’t be erased from the map.
The U.S., as Mr. Trump has made clear, could then support and assist the birth of a Palestinian state, and that state could even have its capital in or adjacent to east Jerusalem.
Were the goal of Palestinian leaders to have a state of their own and live in peace, they’d leap at this opportunity and begin negotiating hard for the best deal they can get. Hamas won’t be tempted. Neither, I predict, will Mr. Abbas though I’d love to be proven wrong.
Sooner or later, there will be other Palestinian leaders. Perhaps they will recognize the reality that only Israel can keep at bay the forces now drowning so much of the region in blood. Perhaps they will acknowledge that diversity and pluralism are beneficial — even in the Middle East. Perhaps they will see that the Arab and Sunni states need Israel if they are to defend themselves against the growing threat posed by an expansionist and jihadist Iranian regime.
But until and unless Palestinians are led to the conclusion that the extermination of Israel is an impossible dream, they will not be willing to settle for less — no matter how ardently we push what we call a “peace process.” That’s just the reality.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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