When the 22 members of the Arab League convene in Cairo Saturday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan unveiled Tuesday by President Trump, they have a historic opportunity to endorse a fair and equitable vision that would create a demilitarized Palestinian state able to live in peace with Israel. This is an offer too good to turn down.
But unfortunately, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has vehemently rejected the Trump peace plan and is urging his fellow Arabs and Muslims to do so as well. And Abbas requested the emergency Arab League meeting with the hope that Arab nations will join in his blanket rejection.
Rejection would be a very big mistake, because while the Trump plan gives neither the Palestinians nor Israelis all they want, it is a compromise that considerably improves the current situation for both peoples – and for the Arab and Muslim world.
President Trump said adoption of the plan by both sides would trigger $50 billion in international investment in a newly created state of Palestine that could result in job creation, economic development and dramatically improved living conditions for Palestinians. The Palestinian people deserve this great opportunity.
As a Muslim and an American, it was my honor to attend the White House ceremony where Trump announced his Peace to Prosperity plan, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing beside him. I was saddened that Abbas was not standing there as well. Instead, Abbas angrily condemned the Trump plan and said he greeted it with “a thousand noes.”
“Trump is a dog and the son of a dog,” Abbas said. “They called me from Washington and I did not pick up the phone … I said no and I will continue to say no.”
Despite Abbas’ foolish comments, the peace plan’s potential is exciting and its intention is a direct overture for reengagement of the Palestinians into the peace process. It could be a game-changer for the entire Middle East if only the Palestinians would give peace a chance.
The peace plan’s collateral impact is breathtaking. It has the potential to inject enormous economic, educational, governance and technological advancements not only into a new state of Palestine but across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond.
The Arab League must now weigh the choice of supporting the Palestinian Authority’s petulant and reckless disengagement that could result in decades more of intractable violent conflict – or instead support a plan to end the bloodshed.
To their credit, both Prime Minister Netanyahu and his chief opponent in the March 2 Israeli election – Benny Gantz – have endorsed the Trump plan, which for the first time clearly defines the borders of a proposed Palestinian state. This shows that the Israelis are committed to peace and the tough compromises needed to get it.
Trump’s media critics, some of his political opponents and even former U.S. peace negotiators have been intensely critical of the Trump peace plan – in part because of the December 2017 disengagement of the Palestinians from the peace process.
Abbas – who rules the West Bank Palestinian territories – cut off talks with the U.S. when President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decided to move the U.S. Embassy there. Hamas – the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip – was never part of the peace process because it refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and has vowed in its charter to destroy the Jewish state.
But Egypt called Tuesday for the Palestinians to carefully consider the Trump peace plan. And the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday: “The kingdom appreciates the efforts of President Trump’s Administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides.”
Many have remarked on the absence of the ambassadors of Egypt and Saudi Arabia at the Trump announcement in the White House Tuesday. But their support is apparent not only in their official press statements, but also in their deepening alliances with Israel and the personal engagement Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has developed with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It is the Saudis who have made both financial and regional commitments to the Palestinians in support of normalization of relations with Israel. They have successfully lobbied and won the engagement of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council nations in favor of the peace deal, bringing in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait (but excluding Qatar.)
This support was evident in the attendance at the White House for the peace plan announcement by the ambassadors of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – ignoring a demand from Abbas that all Arab nations boycott the ceremony and reject the peace plan.
Egypt has been deeply vested in maintaining peace with Israel since President Anwar Sadat heroically signed the Camp David peace accords with Israel in 1978. Tragically, he later paid the ultimate price for ending his nation’s conflict with Israel when he was assassinated in 1981.
Certainly, the economic, infrastructure, technological, agricultural and educational visions for the Trump plan are remarkably detailed and ambitious. But what will appeal more to the Arab Gulf states is the opportunity the deal provides for a greatly strengthened regional economy.
The plan envisions regional integration through the elimination of trade barriers; new pro-growth tax policies; the creation of a multilateral, international and patently transparent sovereign wealth fund; and fully transparent and enhanced governance and anti-corruption measures. These are all major incentives for foreign investment.
Palestinians would also gain freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank via a tunnel that would be built to connect the two parts of their new state. And Palestine would be connected to the outside world via Israeli seaports. This would benefit both Palestinians and nations trading with them.
Most exciting is that the peace plan focuses on Palestinian youth and Palestinian women – advancing both groups into the workforce and educational and entrepreneurial spheres. This is remarkable. Palestinian women are among the most highly educated women in the region, yet reap the lowest employment opportunities.
In contrast to Jordan’s official statement saying it continued to support Palestinian demands not included in the Trump peace plan, most of the Arab world no longer sees the Palestinians as the sole – or even prime – issue in the Middle East.
Today the region faces an increasingly bellicose Shiite Muslim Iran, which threatens the Sunni Muslim world and Israel equally. The region also faces the international crisis of the ISIS terrorist group, of a demographic youth bulge, and the dawn of a post-petrochemical era.
In addition, the Middle East faces massive numbers of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria and perhaps future refugees from instability in Iraq and Iran. On top of this, an increasingly arrogant and imperial Turkey threatens the regional and international order.
The Palestinians now are much lower a priority for the region than they were in 1967 when Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza and other areas after its victory in the Six-Day War.
President Trump and Jared Kushner are onto something: peace is no longer about the Palestinians. Peace today is all about prosperity. Perhaps leaders in the Arab Gulf, knowing the incredible return on investment, are today willing to foot the bill in more ways than one.
Palestinians and their allies must accept the fact that Israel, which became an independent Jewish state in 1948, is here to stay and that Israel will not agree to every single one of their demands – particularly demands that threaten Israel’s national security.
If Palestinians continue to hold out for unachievable goals, the Palestinian people and the Arab world will suffer. But if they make realistic compromises for peace, all will benefit.
Qanta A. Ahmed, M.D., is a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations @MissDiagnosis