The “economic workshop” in Bahrain this week, a summit of business leaders and political figures, is the first step in the rollout of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. However, because the plan offers a new approach, many on the Palestinian side, including President Mahmoud Abbas and the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, say that the plan is dead on arrival and that engaging with it is tantamount to a Palestinian declaration of surrender. I ask: What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?
Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission. Applied to the Israeli-Palestinian context, Mr. Erekat takes the inverse position: Negotiating with Israel is costlier to the Palestinian people than the Palestinian Authority’s current political and economic policies. This is an absurd viewpoint.
More than 20 years after the Oslo Accords began what was supposed to be a foundation for a lasting peace process, the Palestinian body politic is bifurcated, perhaps irreparably. In the West Bank, Mr. Abbas, who is in his 80s, is still serving the four-year term he was elected to in 2005 and presides over a Palestinian Authority so corrupt that according to at least one poll, more than 90 percent of Palestinians distrust it. The Gaza Strip is run by Hamas, a terrorist organization with its ideological roots in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, its tactical playbook drawn from Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, and much of its financial support from Iran.
Unemployment among Palestinians is north of 30 percent, including over 50 percent in Gaza. Encouraged by the United Nations and the international community, millions of Palestinians are kept in perpetual refugee status around the world, with host countries unable or unwilling to absorb them. And the international community continues to shower the Palestinians with some $2.3 billion in development aid annually — more than most countries receive.
Given this woeful state of affairs, it is self-evident that the Palestinian people need a new course of action.
Yet Mr. Erekat and the Palestinian leadership choose to stay the course and reject the term “surrender.” In doing so, they expose the uncomfortable truth about the Palestinian national identity: It is motivated not by building a better life for its people but by destroying Israel.
The words a country uses in its official statements and founding documents speak volumes about its animating ethos. The United States’ Declaration of Independence enshrines the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” France’s national motto is “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Israel’s own Declaration of Independence speaks about “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate in their own sovereign State.”
In contrast to these Western national ethoses, the charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a precursor to the Palestinian Authority, states its “mottos” as “national unity, national mobilization, and liberation” and talks about the “basic conflict that exists between the forces of Zionism and of imperialism on the one hand, and the Palestinian Arab people on the other.” Palestinian leaders have rejected multiple peace overtures, launched intifadas and wars, and sponsored countless acts of terrorism in adherence to this belief.
With this national ethos, negotiating without the explicit endorsement of a Palestinian state is seen as a rejection of the Palestinian national identity, and an acknowledgment that Israel and the Jewish people are here to stay. In short, for Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erekat, this approach is akin to national suicide.
Yet a national suicide of the Palestinians’ current political and cultural ethos is precisely what is needed for peace. The belief that the Jews have no right to the land and Israel is to be destroyed, which engenders a culture of hate and incitement, needs to end.
Mr. Erekat misleadingly suggests that a “surrender” will lead to an end of the Palestinian people. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, surrendering will create the opportunity to transform Palestinian society, thereby leading to his people’s liberation.
The United States did not eradicate the German and Japanese people after their surrender in World War II, but instead helped transform them from imperial military powers to what are today among the world’s leading economic powerhouses. In the Middle East, following defeat in four conventional wars between 1948 and 1973, Egypt surrendered the idea that it could wipe Israel from the region, and President Anwar Sadat chose peace, which Israel was ready to accept. After the 1979 peace agreement, Egypt became a favored recipient of American foreign and military aid, and the beneficiary of an influx of Western investment.
There is no reason to believe a Palestinian declaration of surrender could not lead to a similar transformation.
The Palestinians have little to lose and everything to gain by putting down the sword and accepting the olive branch. Israel awaits the emergence of a Palestinian Anwar Sadat, a leader who is willing to do what is best for his people — a leader who recognizes that building a bright future requires surrendering a dark past.
Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.