Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas make an odd couple. One hasn’t been prime minister of Israel since 2009, the other is still president of the Palestinian Authority even though his term of office ran out that same year.
Yet they came together in New York last week to talk about Israeli-Palestinian peace. The pair famously failed to come to a peace agreement in 2008, and further discussions broke off when Olmert resigned from office under the threat of indictment for corruption. Since then, Olmert has been fairly quiet, and Abbas has been either non-responsive or antagonistic when it comes to overtures toward peace with the Israelis.
Yet last week Abbas tried quite clumsily — and failed — to rally the United Nations against President Trump’s peace plan. No one seemed terribly moved by what he had to say.
While in New York, Abbas and Olmert were like two Don Quixotes. At a joint news conference, Abbas announced that he was fully prepared to resume peace negotiations on Olmert’s long expired 2008 terms. And Olmert tried to find promise in the Trump plan’s recognition of the importance of a two-state solution.
The two former adversaries said they have stayed in touch in the past decade. But even if their personal relations remain warm, it appears that the Palestinians themselves feel a chill from the Trump plan. A survey released last week by Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, found that Palestinians believe that the Trump plan has made the gap with Israelis totally unbridgeable; 94 percent of respondents rejected the plan entirely. As explained by Shikaki, the Trump plan tilts too favorably toward Israel. In addition, 64 percent of Palestinians surveyed felt violence is the best response to the plan, 50 percent said violence was the most effectivte means of ending the “occupation” and 45 percent said the only way to change the status quo was through armed struggle.
Viewed from that perspective, the Trump plan may portend more strife. That would be bad for Israel and bad for the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the plan’s promise of economic benefits for the Palestinians if they embrace the political program has had little impact. Now, the Palestinians face some tough decisions. Either they pursue violence and insurrection as a means of expressing their anger and frustration, or they face the prospect of a possible end to Palestinian nationalism, and move from insistence on a one-state solution to a binational one.
Neither option looks at all promising. But as Olmert pointed out, Israel is due for an election next month. The results of that election — and the presidential election here in November — could significantly change the available options. For the moment, however, everyone seems to be tilting at windmills.