President Trump’s proposal for peace in the Middle East strongly favors Israel and has no chance of being accepted by Palestinian leaders. Liam Glen writes on the administration’s strategy of granting legitimacy to the current situation in the region.
The Trump administration’s long-awaited plan for peace between Israel and Palestine has finally been unveiled. The 181-page pdf is impressively detailed. It is clear that years of work went into it. The fact that the whole thing is a farce truly is a shame.
One would think that a peace deal would need to be negotiated between all parties in the conflict. But in this case, the US seeks to enforce its own plans on the Middle East.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has enthusiastically embraced the deal. Palestinian leaders, however, have opposed the process from the onset. Both President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds limited authority over the West Bank, and Hamas, the militant group which controls the Gaza Strip, denounce Trump’s deal on no uncertain terms.
This is not surprising. The proposal fulfills nearly all of Netanyahu’s demands while giving almost nothing to the Palestinian side. As scholars like Khaled Elgindy point out, any Palestinian leader who accepted such a deal would quickly find themselves out of power.
Rather than proposing a new peace, it solidifies the existing status quo. As conservative columnist David Harsanyi euphemistically put it, the plan injects a “dose of reality” into the peace process. Israel holds military supremacy, so its government can enforce its wishes without making any meaningful concessions. Trump’s goal is to grant legitimacy to the current situation. Whether Palestinians consent is immaterial.
A One-Sided Deal
The international consensus overwhelmingly favors a two-state solution to the conflict. Most iterations of this proposal entail an independent Israel and Palestine separated along the Green Line, the border established by the 1949 armistice.
Decades of conflict, however, have created complicating factors. It is not clear who would control East Jerusalem, which Palestinian leaders claim as their capital, or what would happen to Jewish settlement in the West Bank. In addition, Palestinians demand an immediate end to Israeli occupation in the West Bank, whereas the Israelis fears that a sovereign Palestinian state would threaten their national security.
After countless diplomatic breakdowns, many analysts have declared the two-state solution dead. But the alternative is less clear. One popular idea is a one-state solution that guarantees both Israelis and Palestinians equal rights and citizenship. But the viability of such a plan is questionable when each side possesses its own strong national identity and has long seen the other as an enemy.
Trump’s proposal takes another path, creating the best-case scenario for Israeli leaders and the worst for Palestinians. The Israeli government would annex large swaths of the West Bank, leaving a rump Palestinian territory too small and divided to be self-sustaining. Palestinian independence is left as a distant promise, and even then, Israel would have control over its security.
This would not be a major change. Rather, it would be a simple continuation of current Israeli occupation and settlement in the West Bank.
Critics of Israeli policy declare this situation a form of apartheid. Under the plan, all Jews in the region would be placed on the Israeli side of the border. Meanwhile, as many Arabs as possible – even some who are currently Israeli citizens – would be left in the Palestinian territory. They would be under the de facto authority of the Israeli state, yet they would have no say in its governance.
Establishing Facts on the Ground
This proposal has been long in the making, but its release comes at an opportune time from Trump. In the midst of an impeachment trial and an upcoming general election, he is going back to a familiar strategy of adopting hardcore conservative positions to appease the Republican base. Specifically, his pro-Israel policies are a strong selling point to Evangelical Christians.
While the peace deal is unlikely to be accepted by Palestinian leaders, it does succeed in other ways. For one, it comes just a month before Israel’s next general election. The plan is expected to be a boon for the right-wing incumbent Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, this will set the tone for future US action in the region. Analysts have noted that Trump’s earlier moves, like recognizing Israeli control of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, are unlikely to be undone by future administrations. Now, while lip service to a two-state solution was once universal, this deal will grant more legitimacy to the idea of permanent Israeli control over Palestinian territory.
While Muslim-majority states in the Middle East have traditionally used pro-Palestinian rhetoric and anti-Israel demagoguery to rouse public opinion, many of them have expressed ambivalence to Trump’s plan. Governments like Saudi Arabia, which wishes to maintain ties with America and fend off Iran, no longer see much benefit in advocating for Palestine.
Many in power are willing to keep the status quo where it sits. But that is unlikely to be sustainable. Denying self-governance to the Palestinian people will doom them to continued poverty and underdevelopment. Israeli ultranationalists believe this will guarantee their own security, but an angry and disenfranchised Palestinian populace will only create more sympathy for terrorist groups.
A situation where Jews and Arabs alike have access to safety and prosperity now seems more distant than ever. In many ways, the Trump peace plan was intended as a political ploy, but its consequences will be more far-reaching.