Netanyahu’s defeat a mortal blow for the Trump peace plan

Netanyahu’s defeat a mortal blow for the Trump peace plan

Benny Gantz was given a mandate to form a government by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. (AFP)
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US President Donald Trump’s peace plan probably never had a genuine chance of being implemented. Worse, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the deal was probably just an excuse he wanted in order to claim to support peace while simultaneously preventing it.

Netanyahu’s 12-year reign has proven that he never really wanted to make peace with the Palestinians and that he has done everything possible to push Palestinians to the limit. But the March 2 elections changed those dynamics, with rival Benny Gantz being given a mandate to form a government by President Reuven Rivlin. Gantz has the backing of the ultra-right Yisrael Beiteinu party and its leader Avigdor Lieberman, as well as the left-wing Arab Joint List of Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh.

The election results spell doom for Netanyahu, who faces three indictments for corruption and the end of a decades-long fight against Palestinian rights led by himself and predecessors Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir. They also spell doom for Trump’s plan, which would have diluted the Palestinians’ ability to form a nation and given Israel everything it wanted.

So what must Arabs do in this new era of change, one in which they have an opportunity to impact the future in a positive way? Well, the biggest problem of the Palestinians has always been their inability to be united. When they were united under Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), they made huge advances toward achieving Palestinian rights.

Under the PLO, the world reversed many anti-Palestinian policies. The world previously denied the existence of Palestinians and tried to orchestrate Middle East peace without their involvement. The right of Palestinians to a state has now been embraced by hundreds of governments around the world. Arafat was given a platform at the UN to advocate a vision of justice requiring that Israel compromises. And the two-state solution became the mantra of peace.

Unfortunately, as Arafat’s leadership weakened because of his age and illness, the Palestinians abandoned unity and began pursuing selfish goals. The biggest division has been caused by the refusal of religious extremists to support a secular government, giving Hamas a powerful foothold in Palestine. Hamas has used violence at every opportunity to prevent peace and to incite Israelis to enforce even more oppressive policies on Palestinians; not just in the Occupied Territories but inside Israel too.

Even though it is unlikely Gantz will sign any peace deal in the near future, the change of direction gives hope for a new and better outcome

Ray Hanania

The most important consequence of Netanyahu’s defeat is that the advance of extremism in Israel has been halted. For how long we can’t be sure, but if it continues there is a good chance that the peace process can go full circle and return to a strong embrace of a real two-state solution, in which Palestinians would be given autonomy and a path toward statehood.

Even though it is unlikely Gantz will sign any peace deal in the near future, the change of direction gives hope for a new and better outcome. If this positive momentum can continue, Israelis might swing back from the extreme right to the progressive left, which would mean there could soon be an Israeli government that would back a more balanced two-state solution.

The mortal blow to Trump’s deal also delivers a significant setback to all of Trump’s unilateral declarations. Amid a new momentum for peace, everything would be on the table for negotiation. It is unlikely that, under any circumstances, Israel would surrender control of East Jerusalem, but it might return a part of the city to Palestinian control, especially the Christian and Muslim Quarters that house their holy sites.

And, while the Trump administration recognized all of Israel’s illegal settlements as being legal, a new peace initiative would void that declaration. In a future peace compromise with a more enlightened and just Israeli government, Palestinians could see a situation in which half of the settlements would either be dismantled or returned to Palestinian state control.

There will never be a scenario in which the Palestinian right of return is fully implemented, but there could be a scenario in which a limited number of refugees, maybe 100,000 or even 250,000, could be returned to lands in Israel. Under a peace accord in which the Palestinians recognize Israel, having more Palestinians in the country would not threaten Israel’s existence.

Gantz’s victory is just a first step. His decision to partner with the Arab Joint List and its 15 Knesset members creates a new environment of respect in Israel. And that means anything can happen.

The Arab world now needs to change its strategies and conduct too. It needs to work with Israel’s potential new government, just as the Joint List is, and advocate peace and Palestinian rights. Give recognition to Israel, on the condition that Israel recognizes Palestinian rights. If Israel is forced to recognize Palestinian rights, it will effectively be recognizing the rights of the Arab world. One cannot exist without the other.

• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view