Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian answer to the Trump administration’s historic “deal of the century” peace plan—as it would have been to any plan—was a resounding “no.”
The ultimate source of Palestinian rejectionism comes from the deeply rooted belief that according to Islamic law, any territory that ever comes under Muslim rule must remain Muslim forever. All of Israel and the West Bank were captured by the Muslims in 637-638 C.E. That means that from a Muslim perspective, it is Muslim territory, forever. (According to this view, Spain, too, which Muslims ruled from 712-1492 C.E., still belongs to the Muslims.)
Tel Aviv, therefore, is, from the Muslim perspective, as much a “settlement” as any of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Jews cannot be legitimate sovereigns over either. Only a “thought revolution” in Islam, whereby Muslims re-examine their sources and discover ways to live with non-Muslims in peace, will ever change this reality. Sadly, there seems to be no such revolution on the horizon.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat—at Camp David with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton—explained it best. In exchange for peace, Barak offered Arafat the entire West Bank, in addition to eastern Jerusalem—except what was under the Temple Mount, which Barak said were the remains of the Jewish Temple. Arafat, as recounted by Clinton, jumped up and visibly shaken said there never was a Jewish Temple, and then said what was really on his mind: “I will not have tea with Sadat.”
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed an agreement with Israel and was assassinated for it, even though when he returned to Egypt, he gave a speech ending with, “I did what I did now for the good of Egypt. What will happen in the future will happen in the future,” meaning that in the future, “the time may come when we will be able to take back this Muslim land.”
If the internationally feted Arafat couldn’t agree to any type of peace agreement with Israel, certainly a relatively unimportant figure such as current P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas can never be expected to do so.
A fatal flaw of the Oslo process was thus that it gave the Palestinians veto power. In practical terms, that gave the Palestinians control over the process. Any time they disagreed with something, the United States and some Israeli leaders then started to look for ways to improve the offer, not understanding that there would be no way they could ever placate Palestinian negotiators. The “deal of the century” removes that veto power. It is built upon actions that each side is required to take.
In order for Palestinians to get any form of a state, they first need to meet a series of extremely difficult requirements. Similarly, the deal penalizes the Palestinians for failing to agree to previous generous offers while rewarding Israel for gaining military and economic strength since the first negotiations got underway. Thus, Palestinians no longer have the luxury of being able to reject an Israeli offer, and expect that the previous offer would be the starting point in any future round of negotiations.
By removing the flaws that led to the failures of previous negotiation attempts, the “deal of the century” is much more likely to bring peace—even if the Palestinians reject its terms, which is a highly likely scenario.
Harold Rhode received a Ph.D. in Ottoman history and later served as the Turkish desk officer at the U.S. Department of Defense. He is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.