JERUSALEM, Israel | Tibetans would like a state of their own, as would Uyghurs. China’s rulers do not intend to let those peoples go. The Kurds would like a state of their own. The governments of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria remain determined to prevent them from establishing one. The Chechens would like a state of their own. Russian President Vladimir Putin will allow that when pigs fly.
Most famously, of course, the Palestinians would like a state of their own. They could have one. They’ve been offered one — on several occasions. But, in exchange, they’d have to agree to end their conflict with Israel, negotiate borders and security issues, and embrace peaceful coexistence with their Jewish neighbors.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, has said clearly that it will never pay that price. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the West Bank, claims to favor a two-state solution. But he has never been willing to accept the three concessions listed above.
Nor has he ever seriously attempted to prepare Palestinians for peace. Were he to sign a peace treaty, it is doubtful Palestinians would accept it, or that he would be able to implement it.
Given this context, you might conclude that President Trump stands no chance of making progress on the Palestinian-Israeli file. A visit to Israel leaves me with a different impression. I think it’s possible for him to create new and improved facts on the ground. Actually, he already has.
In December 2016, during his final days in office, President Obama facilitated the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, “Palestinian Territory.”
Within East Jerusalem lies the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the holiest Jewish religious sites — places where Jews lived and worshipped for thousands of years before being exiled by Jordanian soldiers in 1949. Jews returned only in 1967, after Israeli troops, fighting a defensive war, drove out the occupying Jordanian forces.
UNSCR 2334 sent Palestinians a message: That the ethnic and religious “cleansing” of the Jews was not wrong, and that the Hamas narrative is right. Because if Jews don’t belong even in the Jewish Quarter, they don’t belong anywhere in the region; they have no history or homeland here; and they are not a people.
From that, the de-legitimization of Israel and the dehumanization of Israelis ineluctably follow. That’s not the precondition for a two-state solution. It is the precondition for a final solution.
The resolution also said to Palestinians: No need to negotiate or compromise. Appeal instead to the “international community” which will demand much of Israelis and nothing of you.
I’m willing to believe that Mr. Obama intended none of that. The fact, however, is that UNSCR 2334 placed an enormous obstacle in the path of any peace process undertaken thereafter.
Repealing a U.N. Security Council resolution is virtually impossible, but President Trump did the next best thing: He moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, thereby reaffirming and re-emphasizing America’s support for the legitimacy of Israel and for Jerusalem as its capital.
That doesn’t rule out the possibility of Palestinians also having a capital in Jerusalem or immediately adjacent to it. But such an outcome would have to be the result of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
As they say in the television ads: “Wait! There’s more!” President Trump last month ordered the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, the de facto Palestinian embassy. The PLO “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the U.S. State Department explained, adding that Palestinian leaders also have “condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”
Also helpful: In late August, President Trump’s slashed funds to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency which provides services to Palestinian refugees — as well as their millions of descendants whom UNRWA also designates as refugees.
Soon after, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently announced that he was replacing UNRWA in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp. Charging that the agency has “failed utterly” to provide adequate sanitation, health care, education and welfare, and that it not just tolerates but incites terrorism, Mr. Barkat committed the municipal government to assuming responsibility for Shuafat’s 30,000 residents who, he said, should be treated “like any other residents” of the capital.
If this initiative succeeds, it could constitute a kind of peace process albeit one carried out by people in the streets rather than diplomats in drawing rooms. Over time, it could shift the calculus of Palestinians in the West Bank, and perhaps even those in Gaza.
Imagine what it would mean if the next generation of Palestinian leaders did not oppose “normalizing” relations with Israelis. Imagine if jihadist terrorists were no longer glorified as martyrs in Palestinian mosques and media. Imagine if Palestinians willing to work with Israelis for the benefit of both peoples were no longer condemned as apostates and traitors.
I don’t expect any of that to come to pass while President Trump is in the White House. But he has fixed what his predecessor had broken. And he’s made clear that Palestinians can have a state of their own, but only if they recognize that a two-state solution implies two states for two peoples, both willing to peacefully co-exist. That may not amount to the “deal of the century,” but it’s more than any past peace process achieved.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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