Reactions to US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” offered no surprises. The Israelis embraced it as a great step although stopped short of endorsing it pending further details. The Palestinian position was predictable, rejecting the plan out of hand before knowing the details, suspecting it could just be a ruse to save Benjamin Netanyahu from the threat of prison!
So many years have passed since Israel-Palestine peace talks started that the region is barely recognizable. Long-standing Arab regimes like Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq have fallen; Sudan has lost half its territory; and Syria has been destroyed. The region’s strategic value as the world’s primary source of energy has declined with the rise of US oil production and renewables. Some of the region’s leaders are still remnants of the old guard, which raises risks that they will not reflect the momentous changes sweeping the region.
The Israelis just want the Palestine case closed. If forced to negotiate, they will bet on the refusal of Palestinian side to sit at the table or, if talks do begin, a failure of the some Palestinian factions to reconcile the competing interests of Iran and Syria, for example.
Although the criticisms of previous peace deals were valid, it is undeniable that those treaties have partially served the Palestinian interest. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and 1995, helped Palestinians to gain international legitimacy as well as an administrative entity on the ground instead of having an organization based in exile, in Tunisia. It enabled more than 150,000 Palestinians to return to their country.
Right now, Israel’s best ally is Iran. By working through Palestinian factions influenced by Tehran, the Iranians have ensured that all previous attempts at peace have ended in failure. They worked tirelessly to undermine confidence in peace talks by placing bombs under cars, spreading chaos through proxy militias and questioning the legitimacy of the late President Yasser Arafat.
Palestinians are always the victims when peace talks fail, not the Iranians or Israelis. Without a deal in place, every day Israel expands into Palestinian land and the Palestinian territories shrink.
The argument behind refusing to negotiate is that US President Donald Trump is pro-Israel. But in fact, all of Trump’s predecessors were on Israel’s side, yet the Palestinian Authority dealt with them. Trump’s decisions related to Israel have recognized the reality on the ground to win voters in the US, but they remain illegitimate.
By International law, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem does not mean that all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel. Despite the announcement that Golan Heights are part of Israel; they are recognized as occupied Syrian territories on the UN’s maps. Trump is not the most dangerous threat to Palestine. The greatest danger to Palestinian interests now is to do nothing and continue waiting for a miracle.
The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is perhaps the only one who can fight the new battle to resume negotiations. He is the oldest and most rational among the historical leaders. If it was not for him, chaos would have spread within the Authority following the death of Arafat 16 years ago.
Does accepting Trump’s invitation to negotiations mean the Palestinian Authority is required to accept whatever is offered? The answer is, of course, no. What it does mean is sitting down, starting a constructive dialogue and no-one imposing a solution that the Palestinians do not want. Of course, the Israelis will be reluctant to change the status quo, which apparently gives them more land and power over Palestine. They regard Trump as one of theirs. A friend who might be re-elected and gain enormous power, which the Israelis may harness to their advantage or at least minimize harm.
So it is vital that Palestinians grasp this opportunity to begin talks and explore the opportunity that lies therein before the goal posts of history move once again, and not necessarily in their favor.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the Chairman of Al Arabiya's Editorial Board and former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.