Let me say to begin that this essay criticizes Israeli policy. I am not attacking Jews in general, or Judaism.
The essence of Trump’s proposal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is to recognize Israel’s long occupation of Palestinian territory, to legitimize Israeli settlements on those territories, and to offer Palestinians a substantial amount of aid in return for their accepting Israel as a Jewish state and affirming the legality of Israel’s possession of previously Palestinian territories. It offers a quid pro quo: a bribe for a surrender.
Israel was founded by Zionists with the hope that somehow Jews and Arabs could peacefully coexist as equals in the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Arabs of Palestine never accepted the legitimacy of Israel, nor did the surrounding states. They first waged war on Israel in 1948, at its founding, after rejecting a proposed settlement from the United Nations that would have given the Palestinians much of the territory that Israel subsequently occupied in its 1948 victory. Several more full-scale wars were fought, most recently in 1973. Each time Israel seized more territory, and each time the Palestinians refused to recognize it. They now have the merest rump of what they once had, and Trump’s plan would reduce that still further.
Today a generation of right-wing Israeli governments have left Zionist idealism behind, and seem entirely comfortable with a perpetual occupation of Palestinian land without according the Palestinians the rights of Israeli citizens.
Palestinians ought to reflect on what they might have had today if they had accepted the UN plan of 1948. But, characteristically, they won’t.
There have been peace plans, most notably those of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The former led to a durable, chilly peace between Israel and its near neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. The latter led to recognition of the Palestinian Authority as a quasi-state quasi-ruling the territories remaining under Palestinian control (but aways under overall Israeli hegemony).
But a final peace has been elusive because the Palestinians have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and refused to recognize Israel’s right to the territories it has seized in successive wars, while Israel has insisted on just those points and has reinforced them by planting settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Today a generation of right-wing Israeli governments have left Zionist idealism behind, and seem entirely comfortable with a perpetual occupation of Palestinian land without according the Palestinians the rights of Israeli citizens.
After World War II, the National Party of South Africa set up a system of strict segregation and radical disenfranchisement directed against the subjugated African majority of the country. The system was called apartheid. Where people could live and work was tightly regulated. Africans were disenfranchised by being declared citizens, not of South Africa itself, but rather of one of several black homelands (Bantustans) that were declared to be independent countries. These black homelands were not recognized internationally because they were correctly seen as puppet states under South African domination.
We must take care with analogies. The blacks of South Africa were, and the Palestinians are conquered people, though neither surrendered. Black South Africans were and are the overwhelming majority of the population. Palestinians are a minority in the territory of Israel proper plus the occupied territories, but their growth rate could make them the majority in the foreseeable future. South African blacks took half a century, but they finally defeated apartheid and established a multiracial democracy. The Palestinians have lost, and lost again, but they have never surrendered. And surrender is what Trump asks.
He won’t get it. Israel will still occupy its conquered neighbors. The two-state solution envisaged by the United Nations in 1948 is dead. For Israelis, democracy; for Palestinians, apartheid.