Might Trump and Netanyahu oversee the creation of a Palestinian state?

December 06, 2017

Below is an audio clip, followed by a transcript, of an interview from earlier today.




(The URL for this interview is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCSPdR6vDVQ)

 

Interview extract:

Tom Gross: There are many other peoples in the world that would like independent states. Can you imagine (to name but three of them) the Tibetans, or Kurds, or Chechens saying “no” if they were offered independence on 98 percent of the land that they said they wanted. And yet the Palestinians have said “no” and walked away from negotiations when they have been made similar offers by Israel. I think it is certain diplomats in western governments who have encouraged them to do so and they have not actually helped the Palestinian path to independence by doing this.

Once the Palestinians negotiate realistically -- and the Saudis and other states may now finally be pressuring them to do so -- there is a distinct chance that Trump and Netanyahu will preside over the creation of a Palestinian state, and that state will encompass some parts of the present municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

TV journalist Jonathan Sacerdoti interviews Mideast expert Tom Gross on Donald Trump’s dramatic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Jonathan Sacerdoti: Tom, this is an interesting moment. President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. What has been the reaction in the media internationally?

Tom Gross: The media has reacted with near predictable unanimity.

For example, the subject line of The New Yorker’s newsletter, which was emailed to thousands of subscribers, reads “Trump Sabotages the Mideast Peace Process”.

Or to quote a Financial Times headline today:

“Trump’s dangerous decision on Jerusalem:
Recognising the holy city as Israel’s capital is a senseless provocation.”

The BBC have highlighted the remarks -- some would call them hysterical -- of people like Turkish President Erdogan who announced -- as a result of Trump’s intention effectively just to move an office building from Tel Aviv to west Jerusalem -- that “the entire world is now a less safe place”.

That’s all pretty negative. What about other politicians around the world?

Well, I saw a tweet by British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He wrote:

“Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a dangerous threat to peace” -- as if hanging out with Hamas, as Corbyn and his allies have done, is not a threat to peace.

And many other politicians have simply declared, “The peace process is over”.

And do you think it is?

No, I don’t think so. On the contrary, Trump’s move, far from ending peace talks -- which in any case have hardly been going anywhere for years -- will more likely revive them.

If you read the subtext of some of what Trump, his Middle East advisor Jarred Kushner and some of the advisors close to Netanyahu and to the Saudi leadership are saying, I have a feeling it may well ultimately be Israeli hardliners who will be as disappointed by their policies, as much as Palestinian hardliners.

There is every indication that Israel and the Arab world, together with the U.S., are drawing up plans for a two state solution -- not perhaps the exact one that the Palestinian leadership wants or demands, but enough to potentially end the conflict.

The Arab governments in particular have had enough of Palestinian intransigence. They are much more concerned now about the Iranian threat and their own domestic problems, and many want to be rid of the Palestinian issue which is no longer as politically useful for them as it used to be. Speak to them in private as I do, and you will hear this time and again.

We know why Israel is worried about Iran, but why are the Arab states worried?

Well they are very worried. Iran has virtually taken over Syria, large parts of Iraq and Lebanon, and is attempting to exert control in Yemen and Bahrain, and the Sunni Arab states want and need cooperation with Israel and are tired of the Palestinians’ refusal to even negotiate with Israel. Even Hamas’ main Arab backer Qatar has been holding behind the scenes talks with Israel.

And of course the Arab States are also worried about the Iranian nuclear threat, as is Israel. Neither party feel Obama’s nuclear deal has properly thwarted this threat.

One of the biggest criticisms of Trump’s speech has been that people think it ignores any Palestinian ambitions over Jerusalem. Do you agree? /

If you read them closely, Trump’s carefully chosen words on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital have not closed this possibility. Indeed I think that one day other parts of Jerusalem may indeed serve as capital of Palestine. It won’t be easy, but arrangements can be made.

But what we need first is for the Palestinian leadership to start to negotiate in a realistic way, in good faith, to recognize Israel once and for all, and to end their encouragement of terrorism.

Nowhere in world history, to my knowledge, has the party that lost militarily (and this case it would be the Palestinians) been allowed to dictate the terms of the peace. It certainly wasn’t the case after, for example, the first and second world wars.

Conflicts end when the party that wins dictates the terms of peace. Now of course Israel should be generous to the Palestinians so the peace will hold, but I believe it is the international community, or some among them, that have done a disservice to the Palestinians by encouraging them to believe that they can dictate the terms of peace and therefore not to compromise.

But the Palestinians have got their own complaints. They will say that the negotiations haven’t offered them an end to the occupation.

Well successive Israeli prime ministers have offered them an end to the occupation, or to almost all of it.

I think Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered them 98 percent of what they wanted with land swaps to make up the rest, which was a little bit more than Ehud Barak who had already made the Palestinians a generous offer [for an independent state, and instead of continuing the negotiations, as Bill Clinton and Barak pleaded with them to do so, they resorted instead to suicide bombings and rocket attacks].

There are many other peoples in the world that would like independent states. Can you imagine (to name but three of them) the Tibetans, or Kurds, or Chechens saying “no” if they were offered independence on 98 percent of the land that they said they wanted. And yet the Palestinians have said “no” and walked away from negotiations when they have been made similar offers by Israel. I think it is certain diplomats in western governments who have encouraged them to do so and they have not actually helped the Palestinian path to independence by doing this.

But the Palestinians say they are eager to negotiate, that they just aren’t getting what they need from those negotiations.

I think that’s a bit disingenuous of them. Barack Obama, who was generally well disposed to the Palestinian cause, through both his terms in office, through eight years, he pleaded with them to negotiate, as did his secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry.

And yet in those entire eight years, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority agreed to sit down for only about four hours with the Israelis

And yet there was no price to pay. The Palestinian Authority continued to be very generously funded by America and many other countries. Abbas was treated not just like he was the leader of a sovereign state, but even as though he was the leader of a very important one. He was wined and dined at the White House, at the Élysée Palace, at 10 Downing Street, as if he was a major world leader.

Meanwhile the money flowed in, and many of the cronies around Abbas lined their pockets with it.

So the only way to break this impasse is to do something along the lines of what Trump has done which is to slightly move the goal posts, and to make them realize that by doing nothing [by refusing to negotiate] things may change and America will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But the problem with all of that is that so many people are deeply suspicious of both Trump and Netanyahu, and they just don’t believe that they want a Palestinian state at all. Do you really think they’re going to help create one?

Yes, I think potentially they will. Once the Palestinians negotiate realistically -- and the Saudis and other states may now finally be pressuring them to do so -- there is a distinct chance that Trump and Netanyahu will preside over the creation of a Palestinian state, and that state will encompass some parts of the present municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

And I don’t think that the relocation of the U.S. embassy to west Jerusalem makes any difference. All it does is place it near the Israeli Knesset and other seats of government. It doesn’t preclude parts of east Jerusalem eventually becoming a Palestinian capital.

That’s quite true, it doesn’t, I noticed that too in Trump’s choice of words. And so much of the [media] coverage totally ignored the room left in his speech for the Palestinians.

But most people simply don’t buy this idea that Trump and Netanyahu will deliver.

You’ve been closely observing the conflict for a long time, and I know you’ve got discrete contacts on both sides at a very high level. Do you really think these two much maligned leaders are the ones who can pull this off?

Yes, I do. I know that many regard them more as war mongerers than potential peacemakers. But time and again we have seen hardliners who are the ones who actually do deals with their enemies. So for example, Nixon reached an understanding with the Chinese communists. Reagan and Thatcher did a deal with the Soviets.

I also say this with some confidence because as an independent observer, who speaks to all sides, without having to represent anyone other than myself, I hear things. It allows me to think outside the box.

I remember some years ago when I had lunch in Jerusalem with Alan Rusbridger (who was then the editor of The Guardian) and his deputy Ian Katz (who later became director of the BBC’s flagship Newsnight program) and I told them that Ariel Sharon would likely withdraw from territory, including Gaza, and this was three years before Sharon announced it.

And Rusbridger and Katz said I was “mad” and didn’t know what I was talking about. They said “everyone knew” Sharon was a war criminal who would never make bold risks for peace. But as we see, my prediction did in fact turn out to be correct.

Now it is true that Benjamin Netanyahu has been less courageous in making bold moves than Sharon has, but nevertheless I don’t think that Netanyahu wants to end his long stay in power being compared to, for example, Yitzhak Shamir, who was a previous Likud prime minister who did nothing [regarding peace moves]. I think that Netanyahu, if he can get a deal, would like to go out as a statesman, as indeed I think Trump would.

But with the Middle East in such turmoil at the moment and Trump -- Mr. America first -- in charge in the United States, is this really the opportune moment?

I think Netanyahu knows that it is in Israel’s long-term interests to disentangle itself from the Palestinians and to allow them independence, so long as any independent state will genuinely accept the right of Israel to exist and won’t threaten Israel.

Netanyahu knows that Israel may never have a better opportunity to take such risks for peace – with Donald Trump in power in the White House, with Vladimir Putin in power in Moscow who has certainly been less hostile to Israel than previous Russian leaders, as well as the Saudi, Indian and Chinese leaderships relatively favorable to Israel, this is the time to re-offer the Palestinians the kind of agreement which they turned down when Barak and Olmert offered them a state.

And I think that this time the Saudis, Americans and others may pressure the Palestinian leadership to accept it. They will say you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want. You’re going to get (for example) 97 percent, and that will be that. And we are not going to go on funding you and treating you like a sovereign state and supporting your cause if you don’t accept.

I don’t think that there is any reason this conflict can’t be solved. Some people think it can’t be. But I think we need a new approach and it can be solved.

Interesting times indeed. Thanks very much for your insights.

Thank you.


 





Contrary to the impression given by some journalists, there are quite a number of very wealthy Palestinians. Above, one of the magnificent new Palestinian villas villas dotted around the West Bank, many owned by the corrupt allies of President Abbas, who have used western aid money to further their wealth. Below, one of several public swimming pools for West Bank Palestinians.




 

Update, Dec. 7, 2017

While politicians and journalists continue to assail Israel, most are completely ignoring the 400,000 Syrians who are currently trapped and starving a few miles away in Damascus.

Instead, Sky News reports that “One of the world’s most celebrated peace makers, the former archbishop Sir Desmond Tutu, said that ‘God is weeping’ over Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”

Meanwhile the British tabloid The Sun reveals that the Shadow Brexit Secretary “Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer invited a controversial anti-Israel charity who praised suicide bombers for killing Jewish kids to the House of Commons.”

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.