It’s been a busy few days for US President Donald Trump beginning with a trade deal with China, then representing his country at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and finally, unveiling the much-awaited Middle East peace plan during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States.
‘Peace, Prosperity, And A Brighter Future.’ Really?
At a White House event Jan. 28 flanked by Bibi, Trump shared his vision for “peace, prosperity, and a brighter future for Israelis and Palestinians” which he regards as different from all the previous peace plans. According to Trump previous plans were “light on factual details, heavy on conceptual details”.
Although the peace plan is supposed to put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there was not a single Palestinian involved in or attending the event. Moreover, the 181-page document, that looks more like a recommendations report prepared by a bunch of management consultants, doesn’t even try to hide its strong bias in favor Israel.
Starting the 21-section recommendations with an introduction and background, including a brief about the Oslo Accords, the document quickly moves towards defining the new approach and identifies key issues to be addressed, such as the status of Jerusalem, the primacy of security and the question of territory, among others.
At Issue: Israel-Palestine Borders
On the issue of borders, the plan proposes a conceptual map that could possibly become the states of Israel and Palestine. However, it does away with the general consensus on pre-1967 international frontiers and instead “contemplates a Palestinian state that encompasses territory reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967.”
Even the limited land that has been kept aside for Palestine will include as many as 15 Israeli enclaves, to be part of the Jewish state, while it will also incorporate settlements into the contiguous Israeli territory.
The Trump Administration has also gifted the Jordan Valley to Israel, where it would have sovereignty while the Palestinian agricultural enterprises could possibly continue their business, subject to the writ and regulations of the Jewish state. The plan goes on to propose demilitarization of Gaza, whose territorial waters would come under the control of Israel. Little seems to be up for grabs for the Palestinians: not the land, not the waters and certainly not the freedom to shape their own future as many of the conditions attached to the plan appoint Israel as both judge and jury of the land.
Jerusalem To Remain Undivided
Recognizing the religious importance of Jerusalem to all Abrahamic faiths, the peace plan acknowledges that the historical city’s holy sites should be open to followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike.
The new plan envisions an undivided Jerusalem, which would be the capital of Israel, in line with Trump’s position while Palestine’s would be in East Jerusalem, to be named Al Quds or anything else determined by the concerned party. While a physical and territorial division wouldn’t be established, a green signal has been given to a security barrier to separate the respective capitals of the two states.
Meanwhile, Arab residents of Israeli-controlled Jerusalem could choose to become either the citizens of the Jewish state, Palestine or retain their permanent resident status. Section six, entitled “The Trump Economic Plan,” builds upon a proposal from a May 2019 document called “Peace to Prosperity: A New Vision for the Palestinian People,” which predicts the facilitation of more than $50 billion in investment and creation of one million jobs over ten years, reducing Palestine’s dependency on foreign aid.
The Plan Gives Israel Even More Power Over Palestine
Progressing to the issue of security, the plan basically entrusts Israel with even more power over Palestine, which will become a fully demilitarized zone. While the latter will have security forces, they will only be mandated for matters like public order, protection of government officials and so forth.
As Palestine would develop capacity and meet certain criteria laid down in the appendix—mostly counter-terrorism efforts, including erecting a legal system that works towards the same goal. This capacity, in turn, would be decided by Israel.
“Should the State of Palestine fail to meet all or any of the Security Criteria at any time, the State of Israel will have the right to reverse the process outlined above,” the text says. In that case, Israeli security footprint in Palestine would expand. A review committee comprising of US representatives, in addition to the two parties, will also be formed.
There is a warped logic in entrusting a state’s arch nemesis with its security and making the same their judge and jury as well. In essence, the plan reduces Palestine to a fully subject entity, again at the mercy of Israel, whose security concerns reign supreme while those of Palestinians deserve no mention at all.
Regarding the issue of border crossings, the plan identifies Jordan and Egypt as partners with whom Palestine and Israel will work to improve the system for crossing, while an oversight board to meet every quarter and with representation from the US would also be formed.
A Sub-State Entity
Trump’s “Vision” also attaches all its conditions and punishments for failing to comply on Palestine, and none on Israel. For the Jewish state to implement its obligations, Gaza must be fully demilitarized, and Hamas and other militant organizations disarmed. Moreover, any government on the Strip must be acceptable to Israel as if the Palestinians are not independent people, capable of deciding for themselves. The hypocrisy of it can’t be stressed enough as neither the US nor any other Western foreign power would ever subject Israeli governments—no matter how rogue—to Palestinian approval and oversight.
A trade free zone between Jordan and Palestine is envisioned while the US also looks forward to negotiating wider Israel-Palestine free-trade agreement. To ensure that, Palestine will have access to certain facilities at Israeli ports under the latter’s security and laws, including even tariff agreements.
In the name of peace, all Palestinians have been given is the offer to pay “its share of costs” to use dedicated facilities at the ports of Haifa and Ashdod. If history is to serve any reminder, Israel hasn’t ever hesitated in imposing inhumane blockades, especially on the Gazan people and thus entrusting them complete control over Palestinian trade creates another apartheid style setting. A similar proposal is made with respect to the Kingdom of Jordan for the West Bank, again stripping Palestine of even a semblance of statehood.
The state of Palestine can earn the right to build a port along the Gaza strip, expected to be subject to Israel’s approvals and satisfaction.
Meanwhile, refugees from Palestine seeking a permanent place of residence are offered three options:
- Absorption into the State of Palestine
- Local integration in current host countries; or
- The acceptance of 5,000 refugees each year, for up to ten years (50,000 total refugees), in individual Organization of Islamic Cooperation member countries who agree to participate in Palestinian refugee resettlement
Yet again, the entire framework is contingent upon many conditions that—needless to say—don’t work to the benefit of the Palestinians.
Palestinian Statehood: Subject To Israeli Approval
As for Palestinian statehood, the plan outlines a path that must be met, including the building of a governance system, transparent financial institutions and an end to anti-Israeli “propaganda” through educational institutes, curricula and more criteria. The peace plan also bars Palestinians from joining any international organization without approval from Israel or to pursue any action against the latter’s or US citizens in foreign tribunals. On the other hand, the Jewish state agrees not to build new settlements or expand enclaves.
Needless to say, a complete mockery has been made by the United States with regards to legitimate Palestinian aspirations for statehood, as everything in the document puts Israeli demands as the priority, and makes it the judge, jury and the executioner of the plan, too.
Such a “Vision,” which the US administration considers as the deal of the century, is nothing but a freebie to Israel, that seems to have had an out-sized role in its input, or at the very least takes the primary precedence in terms of protection of its interests.
Adding Insult To Injury
Palestinian groups were quick to reject the so-called peace plan, but there was no surprise for them since the US has always favored Israelis at their expense. Especially since the advent of Trump in the White House, decades-old status quos have been broken with regards to the recognition of Jerusalem and Israeli sovereignty of Golan Heights. The Trump Administration isn’t just pro-Israel, it’s pro-Israel on steroids.
Campaigning For Netanyahu
With such a one-sided proposal, one is forced to wonder: what is even the point behind this futile exercise? From the looks of it at least, this seems to be yet another favor from Trump to his buddy Netanyahu, who’s been struggling to get reelected as his country’s prime minister. He has failed to get a majority twice already last year and will enter the third race this March, while still being under scrutiny for corruption charges.
A timely proposal from the US that gives all the concessions to Israel and is expected to boost the popularity of Netanyahu, who is currently in Washington along with his electoral rival, Benny Gantz. However, in order to be realistic and serious about peace, the US will have to look beyond petty political gains and giving out favors in in Israeli elections and get both parties to the negotiating table, while introducing confidence-building measures and taking input from each state, rather than imposing all the main conditions on only one.