There is one person who can stop Israel from annexing settlements and large swathes of the West Bank, which is scheduled to happen on July 1, and that is Mahmoud Abbas. It wouldn’t require much effort on the Palestinian president’s part. All he needs to do is call, text or email the White House to request a meeting with President Donald Trump at which he announces his willingness to resume peace talks with Israel on the basis of the “deal of the century.” After a message like that, Trump will almost certainly ask Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the annexation and enter into negotiations for a detailed final status accord, at the end of which a Palestinian state would be established.
But Abbas is settling for issuing the usual denouncements of Israel and the United States and the same old empty threats about “ceasing security cooperation” in the West Bank. He shows no sign, not a hint, no willingness to return to the negotiating table in return for halting the annexation. Israeli and American officials are drawing up a map of the territory to be annexed from the West Bank to Israel without involving any Palestinian in the discussion, and Abbas doesn’t care. He will only study the map after it is completed and published, rather than request consideration from the outset.
Hold on a minute, the critics will say, what are you talking about? Let’s start with the criticism on the left, which says that Palestinian consent to any discussion of the “deal of the century,” even to just a photo op of Abbas with Trump or Netanyahu, would amount to an appalling national humiliation. These critics will argue that the plan serves Israel’s interests and barely leaves any crumbs for the Palestinians, and will justify the indifference and intransigence from Ramallah in the name of honor. Well, and what is the Palestinians’ situation right now, with the international community preoccupied with the coronavirus, the economic crisis, and the clash between the U.S. and China? The international community has forgotten them under Israeli occupation and moved on.
Here’s a reminder: The PLO leadership under Yasser Arafat and Abbas rejected all the previous peace offers for the very same reasons, with the encouragement of Israeli leftists who dream about replacing Zionism with one egalitarian state between the Jordan River and the sea. But the balance of powers in the region does not favor this dream. It clearly leans toward Israel – as evinced by the shrinking amount of territory and sovereign authority that American peace plans have offered the Palestinians in the past 20 years. Will the Palestinians persist in their obstinacy until the little they’ve already obtained from the international community evaporates as well?
And now for the criticism from the center, which says nothing will come of peace talks anyway, so why waste time on futile exercises. Indubitably the gaps between the positions are too wide, international resolve to impose an accord is too weak, and trust between the parties is nil. But even in these difficult conditions, there is value to a diplomatic process, which would at least accentuate the differences between Likud and Kahol Lavan and kick-start anew the internal Israeli debate about the future of the territories and the occupation.
In the absence of negotiations with the Palestinians, the political debate in Israel remains confined to the right, in the space between the prime minister and the Yesha Council (of Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district) and hinges only on the question of whether, post–annexation, construction in the relatively isolated settlements can only rise high, or also spread out.
Abbas doesn’t seem to care about any of this. He would apparently prefer for Netanyahu to proceed with annexation just to spare himself the unpleasant encounter with the prime minister and with Trump. Maybe he is harboring illusions that annexation will hurt Israel, that Jordan will revoke the peace agreement, that the Arab world will again unite behind the Palestinians, that Joe Biden will void Trump’s promises, that Gantz will replace Netanyahu. Perhaps he has just tired of it all. Whatever the case, he still has 26 days to change his mind and pull the emergency brakes on the annexation train.