The Palestinian reaction to President Donald Trump’s peace initiative has been depressingly predictable. The Palestinians angrily rejected the plan and are now preparing a diplomatic campaign against it. Meanwhile, popular unrest and violence are growing.
Events in Gaza are also playing out according to a familiar script. Terror groups fire occasional rockets, the IDF responds with limited strikes, and truce efforts continue. For now, southern Israel residents are caught in the middle.
Trump’s plan will likely not bring peace, but it does reinforce the basic reality of the so-called peace process: Palestinian leaders have little desire to establish a state or to achieve peace. Their grand strategy is to extract concessions from Israel without fully disengaging from it, while undermining the Jewish State.
Unlike the Palestinians, Israel initially viewed Trump’s initiative as a dawn of a new era. However, a US veto postponed Israeli plans to annex large areas of the West Bank. Hopefully, the next government will be able to carefully weigh its next moves.
Rethinking the Israeli approach to the Palestinian conflict is of vital importance. The current situation keeps Israel hostage to Palestinian whims and erodes its global image. While Israel cannot fully resolve these issues, it should aim to cope with them more effectively.
Israel’s strategic aim should be to extricate itself from the Palestinian bear hug. Large-scale annexation will only hurt this effort by increasing friction between the sides. Instead, Israel should use the Trump plan to boost Palestinian autonomy and minimize friction.
Avoiding One-State Reality
Extending Israeli rule to the Jordan Valley could eventually make sense, given its strategic importance and sparse population. But elsewhere, Israel should aim to disengage from the Palestinians. For example, by handing over densely populated areas such as Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
The government could also lobby for international investment in West Bank businesses and infrastructure that reduce Palestinian dependence on Israel. Every move should be based on the overriding goal of promoting separation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Militarily, minimized friction would ease the burden on the IDF. Moreover, Palestinian terrorists will have fewer points of contact with potential Israeli targets. Diplomatically, Israel could argue more convincingly that it has no interest in ruling over the Palestinians. Reduced friction would also create fewer opportunities for damaging incidents and images.
Overall, Palestinian autonomy is not a perfect solution, but it offers clear rewards. Moving in this direction will enable Israel to manage its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians from a stronger position, while avoiding a disastrous one-state reality.
While the Palestinians continue to cling to unrealistic demands such as the “right of return,” Israel’s leaders should take real steps to improve its strategic standing. Now is the ideal time to do this, when there is less pressure to make harmful and futile concessions.