Does “Art of the Deal,” Trump’s bestseller, contain the secret to peace in the Middle East?
By: Gidon Ben-Zvi
Two-state solution advocates recently received a boost when US President Donald Trump hosted Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. Abbas’s urging of Trump to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from the offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is like a seductive siren song to the perpetually hopeful.
According to the latest edition of the official Palestinian narrative, the differences between Jerusalem and Ramallah on borders narrowed a great deal during the 2008 peace talks. Indeed, had Olmert not left politics, so goes the PA’s view of recent diplomatic history, it would have been possible to reach an agreement on the borders, as well as bridge all the other gaps.
Let’s assume that Abbas would have agreed to Olmert’s offer, which included Israel’s return to the 1967 borders with 6.3% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) annexed to Israel, territory swaps, safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem falling under Palestinian sovereignty, dividing Jerusalem into two capitals and Israel allowing a certain number of refugees to return.
Furthermore, let’s take the PA at its word and accept that Abbas’s main objection to Olmert’s proposal was that the former supported Israeli annexation of only 1.9% of the disputed territories.
If both sides were so precariously close to closing the deal of the century, what went wrong? Perhaps Chairman Abbas, who we’ve been told by members of the mainstream media, foreign diplomats and tenured professors is Israel’s only viable peace partner, should read President Trump’s 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal.
‘Most People Are Afraid of Success’
One of Trump’s secrets for success is to think big: “Most people think small, because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning.” Abbas embraces a ‘small ball’ style to statecraft that lacks a grand vision for a future Palestinian state. While the early Zionists obsessed over the contours and characteristics of the nascent Jewish state, Abbas and his Fatah party focus relentlessly and exclusively on extracting every last possible concession from Israel. Thinking big would enable the Palestinian leadership to be more flexible diplomatically.
Another lesson that Abbas could learn from the 45th President of the United States is to maximize options: “For starters, I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.” By fixating on the refugees’ right of return, making the entire West Bank Judenrein and dividing Jerusalem, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority is seemingly oblivious to Israel’s minimal security needs. Moreover, the idea of uprooting nearly 500,000 Jewish Israelis from the West Bank is out of step with the national consensus, which increasingly believes that the five large settlement blocs that contain over two-thirds of the Jews in the area should remain under Israeli sovereignty.
If You Can’t Deliver the Goods…
Finally, Abbas should take note, “You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you can’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.” Now in the 12th year of his four-year term, Abbas has successfully internationalized the cause of Palestinian independence. However, his reign has also been marked by extensive corruption at the highest levels of government. The Abbas family and Palestinian elite have manipulated the political and financial systems to benefit themselves at the expense of the people. As a result, two-thirds of Palestinians think he should resign. In addition, a joint Israeli-Palestinian survey revealed that only 44% of Palestinians still support a two -tate solution.
You can gauge Abbas’s success in negotiating with Israel by noting that he has failed to provide his people with even the most basic trappings of statehood, such as defined borders, an effective governing body, an independent financial system and a fully functional healthcare apparatus.
Now, if Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t have what it takes to be his people’s William Wallace, perhaps he should focus his energies on at least alleviating his people’s suffering.
To guide the leader of the Palestinian people on this new path towards honest, transparent and accountable governance, might I suggest he peruse another literary classic, The Emperor’s New Clothes?
Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer, editor and contributor.