At last, US president Donald Trump announced yesterday in the White House his vision for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. But in contrast to previous peace plans that have failed, this one might spell the death of the two-state solution which it claims to achieve.
Not surprisingly, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected the plan and promised to oppose it by all available means together with Hamas in Gaza. The Palestinians have a history of missing chances to peace only to see their situation deteriorate and being offered less than what they said no to before. But this time they might be right in rejecting the peace plan on offer.
Reading the plan, gives the impression that parts of it has been drafted by the current Israeli government and not by an US administration which was supposed to act as an honest broker of peace. The Trump plan is to a large extent tailor-made to Israel’s security concerns and deviates on several points from what until now has been the general consensus on the parameters of a two-state solution.
Deal of the century
The plan is presented under the headline “Peace to Prosperity - A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People” and includes for the first time a long-awaited political framework, including “conceptual maps” on the future Palestinian state. The second part is an economic plan on investments in Palestine in the magnitude of 50 billion US dollar to eradicate poverty and create jobs.
The economic plan was announced last Summer and serves as a carrot for the Palestinians. The grand idea is that the combination of a political solution with an economic package for investments and government reforms will lead to historic economic growth. The drawback is that the money will only be made available “in the event that peace can be made on terms consistent with the Vision”.
Admittedly the plan starts on the right tone. The time has indeed “come to end the conflict and unlock the vast human potential and economic opportunity that peace will bring to Israelis, Palestinians and the region as a whole”. It is also accurate to state that the parties in the region are not fated to live in eternal conflict because of their different ethnicities and faiths.
It is also possible that previous peace plans failed because they were vague and leaved disagreements to be resolved later. “This Vision directly addresses all major issues in an attempt to genuinely resolve the conflict.” Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not solve all the other conflicts in the region but will remove a pretext used to stoke emotion and wars.
But the plan contradicts itself when it claims that the US has only acted as a facilitator in the peace process by “collecting ideas around the world”, leaving it to the sides to negotiate in good faith on the proposals. In fact, Trump pre-empts the disagreements that are likely to follow by accepting Israeli demands and issuing a kind of ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept the conditions in the plan.
Trump even invokes the murdered Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords and “who in 1995 gave his life to the cause of peace”. According to Trump, Rabin outlined in his last speech to the Israeli Knesset a similar vision regarding the ultimate resolution of the conflict.
In fact, the Oslo Accords left the difficult final status issues on borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem to be solved after a transition period, during which trust and cooperation could be built. It did not work out but the idea of a gradual process was logical. In Trump’s plan there is not even any mentioning of any confidence-building measures to prepare the ground for a comprehensive peace deal.
The devil in the details
The plan states correctly that any workable peace agreement must address the Palestinians’ legitimate desire for self-determination. But according to Trump, Israel “has already withdrawn from at least 88% of the territory it captured in 1967” so it does need to give up much more territory to the Palestinians. In fact, Israel returned Sinai to Egypt and not any territory to the Palestinians.
In the plan, the territory in the West Bank intended for a future Palestinian state is non-contiguous and will require a complicated transportation network of bridges, tunnels and roads. The Jordan Valley, which account for about 30 % of the 5 600 square kilometres of the West Bank, will be under Israeli sovereignty.
“The State of Palestine will not be burdened with (defence) costs, because it will be shouldered by the State of Israel”, says the plan. Instead the money can be used for healthcare and education. The Palestinians might have been prepared to negotiate with Israel on security arrangements and demilitarisation of their future state but the plan does not leave much land to them.
While Israel is expected to maintain status quo for at least four years and not continue any settlement construction in areas not designed to become part of the country in the future, the plan foresees that it can declare its sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and all the settlements that will remain. A decision on this can come as soon as after the Israeli elections.
When it comes to Jerusalem, the Palestinians are in for an even bigger disappointment. In fact, they gave up on the Trump plan, “the deal of the century”, already in December 2017 when the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But then Trump claimed that the specific boundaries of Jerusalem would be subject to final status negotiations between the parties.
Now even this has disappeared in the plan because Israel “has been a good custodian of Jerusalem” and “returning to a divided Jerusalem, and in particular having two separate security forces in one of the most sensitive areas on earth, would be a grave mistake”.
The current physical barrier should therefore remain in place and serve as a border between the capitals of the two parties. According to the plan, “the sovereign capital of the State of Palestine should be in the section of East Jerusalem located in all areas east and north of the existing security barrier.”
The first reaction by the EU has been unusually cautious. In a declaration yesterday evening, High Representative Josep Borrell said the “US initiative provides an occasion to re-launch the urgently needed efforts towards a negotiated and viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Apparently, he has not yet studied the proposals.
When he does, he will no doubt find that the proposals do not meet EU's own requirements for a viable solution. The Trump plan does not respect previous UN resolutions on the conflict. While EU’s position has been that any borders must be mutually agreed by Israelis and Palestinians, the plan legitimizes unilateral Israeli decisions.
More than advancing the peace process, the plan will benefit prime minister Netanyahu in the forthcoming Israeli elections on 2 March, the third ones in one year. If the peace plan was delayed in the past so not to interfere in the elections, the timing now is hardly a coincidence.
Netanyahu has been indicted for charges related to fraud, breach of trust and corruption and faces trial in Israel. Trump is currently subject to an impeachment process ahead of the US elections in November. The Trump plan caters for their electoral bases, the Evangelical Christians in the US and the far-right parties and settlement lobby in Israel that share the same Biblical stories.
In his speech at the White House yesterday, a jubilant Netanyahu said to Trump that 28 January will be remembered:
“Because on this day, you became the first world leader to recognize Israel's sovereignty over areas in Judea and Samaria that are vital to our security and central to our heritage. And on this day, you too have chartered a brilliant future for Israelis, Palestinians and the region by presenting a realistic path to a durable peace.”
The Brussels Times