It is Time for the Palestinians to Adopt a Smart Approach

Rejection and Defiance Has Too Often Characterized the Palestinian National Movement

We now know that the long-awaited Trump peace plan is going to be presented very soon.  Without knowing what is in it, it is hard to evaluate it.  Repeatedly, Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject it without seeing it.  He argues that the Trump Administration is biased and adopted hostile policies toward the Palestinians.  Yes, there have been policies that punished the Palestinians by cutting all assistance to them.  And, yes, it is very hard to see any action taken by the Administration to date that sought to address Palestinian needs or concerns. 

Still, why pre-emptively reject something you have not seen.  Rejection and defiance has too often characterized the Palestinian national movement.  And, the reality of the Palestinian condition today is a clear reminder that rejection and defiance has come with a cost.  Why not at least see what is in the plan?  I will grant my own expectations for the plan are not high, but maybe it is time for the Palestinians to adopt a smart approach.  Maybe the first response of the Palestinians might be to say since the plan was not briefed to us and since we are only now seeing it, we want to study it.  We want to determine if this is fixed in stone or is more of a vision.  As such, we want to meet with the Administration and explain where we have problems, hear what its representatives have to say about our concerns, see what can be adjusted, and discover what might be implemented now and what could be deferred for further discussion.

Even assuming there are elements of the plan that ultimately cannot be accepted by the Palestinians, isn’t it better for the Palestinians to engage in discussions with the Administration before it comes to that conclusion.  At this point, the Administration may be assuming that no matter what it offers in a plan, Mahmoud Abbas is going to say no; surprise the Administration, and maybe President Trump’s desire to be seen as a deal-maker might yet produce some change in the Administration’s approach.

Perhaps, this is a long-shot, but what do the Palestinians have to lose?  Some may argue that a Palestinian willingness to engage with the Administration would lead others, for example, the Europeans to adopt a more passive response to the plan—and not simply make clear they won’t support it. While true, if the Palestinians engage and get no responsiveness from the Administration, the Europeans at that point will very likely express their opposition. 

What I am suggesting not only goes against what Mahmoud Abbas has said he would do but also against the instinct to reject any plan that doesn’t meet a set conditions that meet terms he has long demanded on borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and security.  The problem is that no peace plan was going to provide the Palestinians everything they wanted.  The question was whether it would provide what they needed in terms of addressing their needs for independence, dignity, security and viability. 

Those should be the criteria that guide Palestinians and Arab leaders.  Can Arab leaders help?  I believe so.  Start by saying, let’s reserve judgment until the plan is formally presented.  Then, after seeing it, if it has elements that appear to contradict the independence, dignity, security and viability criteria, why not say we have problems in a number of areas but are prepared to engage with the Administration to see what might be adjusted.  If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is counting on Palestinian rejection to be able to go ahead and unilaterally annex areas like the Jordan Valley that might be given to Israel as part of the plan, why play his game? 

The Trump Administration from the outset has said the plan is not meant to be imposed but negotiated between the parties.  By definition, there is no peace that is not the result of an agreement between the parties.  Arab leaders can say we favor peace and know it cannot come as a result of either side acting unilaterally. 

In other words, Arab leaders, while saying only the Palestinians can determine their own future, can counsel caution.  But they should make clear to Mahmoud Abbas, they will not be part of an effort to mobilize the world against the plan—and no doubt that is what Abbas will try to do.  He will fall back on the traditional playbook and call for an Arab summit to condemn the Trump plan.  That, of course, will have no impact on Trump, and those around him, other than to confirm their view that nothing has changed on the Palestinian side and nothing will change. (And, in fact, that view seems to have informed their thinking that it is time for the Palestinians to see that constant rejection does not pay off for them; on the contrary, they actually lose from it.)

While I can understand the Palestinian fear that ideas that they see as fundamentally threatening to their hopes and national aspirations might gain currency if they don’t vigorously reject them, the problem is that they have a history of rejecting every peace proposal—including those that would have been dramatically better for them than what is likely in the Trump plan.  Isn’t it time for them to try a different approach?  Engaging does not mean acceptance. Why not break precedent and engage, and instead of repeating familiar slogans, even be prepared to offer a credible counter-proposal to the Trump plan?  That was not done either at Camp David in the summer of 2000 or in response to the Clinton parameters five months later, or in response to Olmert’s proposal in 2008 or in response to the principles that Obama offered in March 2014. 

Arab leaders do the Palestinians no favors when they go along with the same old Palestinian approach.  The Palestinians don’t have a state today, even though acceptance of the Clinton parameters or the Olmert proposal or the Obama principles would have provided one. 

The time-worn definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Maybe it is time for the Palestinians to break that pattern.