By Rabbi Steven H. Garten
Let us put aside any thoughts about the optics of an indicted prime minister standing for election, and an impeached president who is preparing for an election campaign, announcing the “deal of the century.” If this a deal, it is hard to imagine it being successful. All indications are that it was not negotiated by both sides. Usually the word ‘deal’ suggests agreement by the parties involved. So let’s change the terminology and reframe this for what it is: a possible starting point for negotiations. Whether it is an actual starting point, however, is completely dependent on one’s perspective.
If I am an Israeli yearning for the annexation of the West Bank and a demilitarized, neutered Palestinian “homeland” that reflects my fundamentalist reading of the Balfour Declaration, this is indeed the “deal of the century.” No need for further negotiations. I am happy.
If I am a Palestinian nationalist yearning for a state in which my destiny can be honed and crafted, this document gives me very little hope for a negotiated settlement. The boundaries are convoluted, the access to water and arable land is minimal. The document seems to respond to all of Israel’s legitimate security needs and none of my political aspirations. This feels less like a deal and more like a humiliating ratification of the status quo. I am not happy.
If I am representing the Sunni Arab states in the Middle East, the boundaries proposed for Israel might seem to marginalize the proxy armies of Shia Iran. They would be surrounded by Israeli and Egyptian military installations with little access to the sea or air. My public enthusiasm for the ‘deal’ may be a sad commentary about my relationship with my Palestinian cousins. It may even seem as if I have sold them out for expediency and Trump dollars. But I am very, very happy.
If I am a North American Jew worried about the ever weakening relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, this document is worrisome. A recent poll conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 25 per cent of American Jews want to see a safe, secure, democratic Israel living side by side with a democratic Palestinian state. This document does not speak to that reality. In addition, we noted that the perceived mistreatment of Palestinian rights by the Israeli government reflects in our support for Israel. We continually express our desire for both parties to be treated with respect and with actions that reflect the universal values that we associate with Judaism. While it is true that a significant segment of religious Jews in North America prioritize particularism over universalism, they are not yet the majority. For most of us, the Trump ‘deal’ relegates the Palestinians to a ghetto. It is all too reminiscent of what was done to us.
As a North American Jew already wary of Israeli intentions in the West Bank, the Israeli prime minister’s announcement of immediate annexation was confirmation of our worst fears. Even though both the White House and the Israeli government walked back from their annexation talk, the intent was obvious. For me, this ‘deal’ is not an expression of hope. In fact, it will be another wedge between me and my neighbours. Support for BDS will potentially increase and leftist political parties/politicians in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and elsewhere will use this ‘deal’ as a means of bludgeoning Israel. So I am not happy.
If I am a student of history, I can see that the pattern begun in 1915 continues. The internal political needs of third parties lead them to interfere in the difficult process of nation building for two peoples struggling to actualize their aspirations. The list of failed third party attempts to impose settlements is quite long. So this ‘deal’ is just another failed attempt by outsiders to impose solutions to the Israel/Palestinian issue. I am also reminded that Egypt and Israel came to a peace treaty without outside interference, likewise Jordan and Israel.
So, as a historian, I feel vindicated.
The list of players goes on endlessly. As an Iranian, I am ecstatic about the way the document treats my Muslim co-religionists and gives me a bully pulpit from which to berate the West. As a right-wing American Christian, I am joyfully anticipating the rapture. As a liberal Christian, I am happily outraged by the continued public victimization of Palestinians.
Ultimately, most disappointed by the document are those of us yearning for an unencumbered opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to show their united desire for a lasting peace. But once again, it seems, we’ve been sold down the river on a barge of political expediency.