The Trump-Netanyahu peace plan is fatally flawed
One of the largest dilemmas of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is that American administrations expect to be treated as the neutral arbiters in the conflict, but American policy is clearly not neutral. The United States and Israel have long had a “special relationship” that, intentionally or not, taints our ability to negotiate on the Palestinians’ behalf.
All of our previous presidents have realized this, and made some nominal attempt to guarantee American neutrality towards the outcome. President Trump has not. He has thrown the weight of the United States fully behind Israel, granting it concession after concession without extracting anything in return. Trump has recognized an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the U.S. Embassy there, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and declared that his administration no longer viewed Israeli settlements within the West Bank as illegal — a view contrary to long-established international law.
I took the time this weekend to read through the 180-page plan, loftily titled “Peace to Prosperity,” which was announced to great fanfare by Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last week. As I was reading, a recurring thought kept popping into my head: this is nonsense. Why is anyone pretending this will work? What’s the purpose of this charade?
Indeed, anyone with more than three functional brain cells must realize that the Trump-Netanyahu peace plan is a non-starter. The largest warning sign was that it was negotiated only between Americans and Israelis, leaving the Palestinians out entirely. To be fair, this is because the Palestinians have been extremely hostile to negotiations from early on in Trump’s administration, but the final proposal still dramatically favors Israel at the Palestinians’ expense. It gives Israel control over an undivided Jerusalem, granting the Palestinians only a handful of neighborhoods on the outskirts. It annexes almost all Israeli settlements within the West Bank, transforming it from a single territorial unit to a patchwork of tiny islands within the larger Jewish state. Most important is the Israeli annexation of the settlement-saturated Jordan Valley, which, save for two crossing points, effectively eliminates Palestine’s border with Jordan and turns it into an enclave within Israel. All of this is completely unacceptable to the Palestinians, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ reply was “No, no, and no.” Over the weekend, the Palestinian Authority cut all ties with Israel and the United States, with further retaliation promised.
No one denies that the plan would be very good for Israel. As Eylon Levy notes in the Washington Post, “[Israel] has learned from history that it cannot afford to pull out of the West Bank. But it can’t afford to fully absorb the land, either, because that would endanger its status as a Jewish and democratic state. If Israel actively accepts that large sections of the West Bank are earmarked for a Palestinian state, it can begin to remove the Palestinians’ doomsday weapon: the threat to drop their demand for sovereignty and instead demand the vote in Israel when they become or approach a majority.”
Levy is right. But think about it. This situation — effectively cherry-picking the desirable parts of the West Bank, giving the unwanted bits to the Palestinians to protect Israel’s demographics — isn’t something that any rational Palestinian would agree to. In fact, it is eerily similar to a strategy practiced by apartheid South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, when the white minority government assigned the native inhabitants small homelands, or “Bantustans,” on the worst land and kept the best for themselves. In this way, no one could complain that the Africans did not have their own land, because they did — even if it was only a sliver for the vast majority of South Africa’s population.
I want to be absolutely, positively, one hundred percent crystal clear: Israel is not similar in any way, shape or form to apartheid South Africa. It is a democratic oasis in a sea of dictatorship, in which citizens of all faiths and racial backgrounds enjoy equal rights. Ironically, by any objective measure, Israeli Arabs are far better off in the Jewish state than in any of the surrounding Arab-majority ones long set on its destruction. I’m also extremely loath to agree on anything with the Palestinian Authority, which continues to pay pensions to the families of suicide bombers. Yet the peace proposal unveiled by Trump and Netanyahu undeniably invites the comparison.
Given these issues, a cynical person might argue that the “Peace to Prosperity” deal is more of a political ploy than a genuine attempt to move the peace process forward. Trump is fighting a contentious re-election battle, while Netanyahu’s recent indictment on charges of bribery and corruption have given him an uncertain future as prime minister. What better way for both men to be seen as statesmen, rather than aspiring autocrats, than to take a crack at solving one of the modern world’s oldest and most intractable conflicts? It also makes them look productive by comparison; Abbas and the powers that be within Palestine refuse to accept the offer, showing the world that the Palestinians must be opposed to peace.
Ultimately, there is very little structural incentive for anyone to try to bring about real change. While the peace process is stalled, the status quo, which increasingly favors Israel, remains. The current Palestinian leadership also gains from the impasse. Abbas was elected in 2005; his term officially ended in 2009, over a decade ago, but he remains in office because instability precludes new elections. With the status quo, Abbas and the deeply corrupt Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority retain their control over the shrinking West Bank.
The real losers in this situation are the Palestinian people, who will remain mired in poverty as long as the charade continues. To bring it to an end and restart the peace process, the United States needs to return to some semblance of neutrality. Somehow, I don’t see that happening during Trump’s presidency.