After much delay, the Trump Administration this week announced that its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the “deal of the century,” is finally set for release. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his prime political antagonist, Benny Gantz, have been summoned to Washington, D.C. for the occasion. The plan, spear-headed by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, has already been rejected by the Palestinians.
The news came at an inauspicious time. These have not exactly been halcyon days for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, or between the United States and the Palestinian authority. Israeli politics is frozen in a kind of nauseating gridlock, and Palestinian leadership is just as corrupt and hateful as ever. The region seems both hopelessly stalemated and dangerously volatile, hardly ideal traveling conditions to set out on the road to peace. And let’s not even mention impeachment.
For these reasons, the peace plan is often preemptively pronounced dead on arrival, and not just by the president’s foes. Both sides of the political spectrum find it convenient to treat the new initiative as a bad joke. For many on the right, there can be no agreement with the Palestinians worth the paper it is written on; they associate Oslo not with a charming city in Norway but with charred out busses and the wail of sirens and Israeli husbands and wives and children, lost. They see Palestine as a terrorist state in the making and have no desire to see a new Raqqa near Rehovot. The memories of energetic US efforts to pressure Israel into concessions still rile the blood.
Meanwhile, the left, the ostensible peace camp, has been even more vociferous in arguing that the Trump peace plan is an artifact of ridicule, null and void from its very conception. They see an Administration that has forfeited its ability to be a “neutral broker” by spoiling Israel with indulgent unilateralism; the Golan Heights, the Embassy, the settlements. The close relationship between the left’s two bêtes noires, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, also presents a united front to resist. Like religious Jews waiting for the Messiah, they wait for a Warren or Sanders Administration to undo all that has been broken, to restore the “rule of law” and put Israel back in its proper place. Spare the rod, you know.
Both of these approaches are wrong, for the simple reason that peace is always a surprise, and always a little bit weird. History moves not at all and then all of a sudden, and the prospect of new leadership in both Israel and the United States should be sobering.
The right might never have a better opportunity to dictate the terms of a final status, and there is something very powerful about a positive vision of what you want, rather than a negative vision of what you fear. The point of Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky’s concept of the Iron Wall, or argument that peace with the Arabs would only be possible when Jewish strength was inarguable, was not the wall, but the pathways on the other side of it.
Opinion | Give Trump’s peace plan a chance
Indead, as the founders of Zionism itself argued in response to the traditional messianic hope, history happens in the interim, not in the best of all possible worlds. And in the interim — also known as “reality” — a couple of important truths need acknowledgment: The Arabs have waged war after war against Israel, and their current predicament is traceable to the outcomes of those wars. The Golan Heights are part of Israel. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. A Gantz government is likelier to look far closer to Netanyahu and Trump’s vision than J Street’s. The chances of an immediate withdrawal from the West Bank are nil, not because Israelis are desperate to rule another people but because there is no Israeli consensus for it; the left has lost that argument and continues losing it. Long-running Palestinian delusions about central facets of the conflict have not served them well.
Just as there is no guarantee that the right will continue to reign here and there, there is no certainty that the history gods, or the God of History, will compensate the left for its recent setbacks. The great lesson of the Middle East is that saints are in short supply, and that the good is far more precious than the perfect; the howl over Trump’s executive order protecting Jewish students on campus and the silence over his efforts at criminal justice reform indicate a left that has lost its ability to distinguish.
It is likely that the peace plan fails, but then so have so many of the ones before it. There is no script, and conditions do not seem ideal. But they never are, and peace sometimes looks strange.
To give up on hope is a terrible thing. Don’t give in. Give peace chance.
Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist at the Forward.
Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist for the Forward, where he writes about politics and culture. He is an adjunct assistant professor at New York University, and has a doctorate in English Literature from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford.