In an unprecedented meeting on December 28, 2021, at the private residence of Benny Gantz in Rosh Haayin (central Israel), Israel’s Defense Minister hosted Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmud Abbas. Gantz approved significant trust-building concessions to the Palestinians. Aiming at bolstering the failing fortunes of the PA and Abu Mazen’s in particular, against the increasing influence of Hamas in the West Bank. Gantz approved the addition of 600 entry permits to Israel for Palestinian businessmen, as well as Palestinian vehicles. Dozens of Palestinian officials will receive VIP permits. Moreover, Gantz agreed to provide the PA with advanced tax payments collected from Palestinians working in Israel worth NIS (New Israeli Shekels) 100 million, or $32 million.
Palestinians in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip cheered the granting of the status approval to some 6,000 Palestinian residents of the West Bank, and 3,500 Gaza residents who appear on the PA’s Population Registry. It means that Israel will officially recognize the legal status of thousands of Palestinians, allowing them free movement within the West Bank.
After years of sheer contempt for Mahmud Abbas and the PA, both in Gaza and the West Bank, Abu Mazen’s stature has risen significantly as a result of “extracting” the above concessions from Gantz. Thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza celebrated with Abbas’ (Abu Mazen’s) picture in hand and a paper confirming their new status. Abbas finally got his cheers. Unfortunately for Abbas, as Bassem Eid, former Palestinian refugee and human rights activist said to me, “the only ones that ‘voted’ for Abbas are his wife and his sons…”
The state of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza is on ‘life support,’ with the political situation dismal as well. There is little trust in the leadership among the majority of Palestinians in both Hamas-ruled Gaza and the PA. With corruption, nepotism, absence of the rule-of-law, and basic freedoms, Palestinians are ambivalent about a Palestinian State. In Israel, “around the corner” they see prosperity, freedom, and advancement. An Israeli TV Channel 11 broadcast featured a Gaza resident telling a reporter that he “would forgo a $100 donation from the Qatari government for a permit to work in Israel…”
Resurrecting Abbas’ fortunes won’t change the realities in the PA. It is incapable of providing its people with basic needs, and it lacks the ability to govern. Gaza, under the terrorist group Hamas, is in far worse condition. According to the India-based Business Standard (December 29, 2021) headline “Unemployment rate in Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip exceeds 50%: Palestinian official says.” The poverty rate in the Gaza Strip has grown to 64%, and the rate of food instability among Gaza Strip households has reached 69%. Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, but its leadership is indifferent to the suffering of its Gaza residents. Since it took over the Strip from Fatah and the PA in 2007, conditions have sharply deteriorated.
The Palestinians are divided into two separate entities, and neither is ready to negotiate a two-state solution. Abbas and the PA lacking the backing of their own people have no desire to be a partner for peace. Hamas, supported by the radical Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood leaning regime of Qatar, have incentivized Hamas to focus on instability with periodic terror attacks on Israeli population centers. The results are misery and suffering for the people of Gaza and Israel.
The Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to compromise with Israel, and its insistence on rights to “all of Palestine,” means a deadlock with no foreseeable solution to the two-state formula. Many Palestinians have already given up on the notion of an independent Palestinian state, and some are advocating a “one state” solution, that is joining the Jewish state in order to eradicate it demographically. This would be a solution that no Israeli politician or layperson would accept. A bi-national state would never work, and it didn’t work under the British Mandate, resulting in endless bloodshed, and chaos. It is for this reason that the British Peel Commission in 1937 resolved that Palestine should be divided into two states: Arab and Jewish. The Jews of Palestine accepted a tiny portion (less than 25% of the land) while the Arab-Palestinians rejected the commission’s recommendation, choosing the murderous way of Hitler’s ally, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. In 1947, the Arab-Palestinians repeated their rejection of a two-state solution, with the same intransigence of “all of Palestine to be ours,” by violence if necessary, but no compromise. This attitude has persisted in Arab leadership to this day.
David Pollock of the Washington Institute (February 25, 2020), headlined his story: “Palestinian Majority Rejects Two-State Solution, But Backs Tactical Compromises.” Citing a recent survey showing that, “Most Palestinian respondents now say they prefer ‘regaining all of historical Palestine’ over permanent peace with Israel.” At the same time, Palestinian majorities in both the West Bank and Gaza voice much more pragmatic views about “the impracticality of a one-state solution, the return of refugees, or armed struggle against Israel.” When asked “What is your personal opinion about what should be the top Palestinian National Priority during the coming five years?” The survey showed in 2017, 30% said, regaining all of historical Palestine from the river to the sea. In 2018, 47% chose the same answer, and in 2020, 66% repeated that priority…
In a Foreign Policy magazine piece (October 15, 2021), Jordanian entrepreneur and writer, Hasan Ismaik argues that, Amman should re-annex the West Bank to end Israel’s occupation, bring peace and prosperity, and give Palestinians democratic rights.” A voluntary confederation between Jordan and the West Bank Palestinians is the most natural and organic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First, precedence already exists. Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan occupied the West Bank and ruled it as a federation of sorts. Second, the two parts share the same culture, language (Arabic), and religion (Sunni-Islam). Close familial relations exist between the two entities. About two-thirds of Jordan’s population is already Palestinian, and Jordan’s Queen Rania is the daughter of Palestinian parents. Third, Jordan was originally part of the British Palestine Mandate. To accommodate Abdullah, the elder son of the Sharif of Mecca, and as payback for the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during WWI, Winston Churchill (British Colonial Secretary at the time) cut off Eastern Palestine to create the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Fourth, Jordan’s 35,000 square miles will provide the space and opportunity for the densely populated West Bank Palestinians. Aqaba and Jordan’s 16 miles of shoreline along the Red Sea would give the landlocked West Bank Palestinians an outlet to the open sea.
Although US President Biden and America’s Western allies are hell bent on the two-state solution, it appears that the Palestinians themselves, Mahmud Abbas included, aren’t too keen on the idea. A one-state solution is a non-starter, for reasons underlined above. In particular, such a solution would lead to conflict and a bloodbath between Arabs and Jews, and it would end the 2000-year yearning of the Jewish people for a refuge and home for the Jewish people, who are still enduring worldwide antisemitism.
Short of maintaining the status-quo, the only natural, organic and viable solution is the idea of a confederation. In time, Israel might even join such an arrangement.