Reactions to President Trump’s so-called “Vision” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians – and throughout the Middle East – have ranged from enthusiastic support (by the Israeli government) to lukewarm scepticism and outright rejection since it was unveiled on 28 January. Beyond the fact that the US president’s inexperienced son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, concocted the plan, the vision is critiqued for its favouritism of the Israeli extreme right’s demands, which are totally unacceptable to the Palestinians (who were barely consulted in the process). Although the vision retains the principle of an internationally sanctioned two-state solution, a future Palestinian State lacks sustainable substance. It is unsurprisingly consistent with the Trump administration policy of relying on unilateralism, maximum pressure, defiance of international law and influence of the powerful domestic pro-Israel lobby (ultra-conservative evangelical Christians). Domestic policy seems to be the plan’s main driver, following the impeachment of the US president while his ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been charged with corruption. This foreign policy initiative appears aimed at deflecting internal attention – but considering its lack of international support, its future looks far from bright.
An American initiative to unlock the Israel-Palestinian peace process – stuck since President Obama gave up on softening Israeli intransigence – should have been welcome. After all, it’s a tradition in the Middle East. Peace talks initiated or mediated by the United States led to or facilitated UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, the 1991 Madrid Conference, the 1993 Oslo Accords, the 1994 Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel, the 1998 Wye River Memorandum, the 2000 Camp David Summit and Clinton Parameters, the 2003 Quartet Roadmap, the 2007 Annapolis Conference and more. Despite efforts by others such as Russia or the European Union, it has always been clear that only Washington had the power and clout to shape a solution to the protracted conflict.
Questioning existing legal and political parameters
However, in all previous efforts, internationally agreed parameters and attempts to reach a compromise between Israel and the Palestinians – and the Arab world beyond – guided US moves. One of those key parameters was the principle, reaffirmed in UN Security Council Resolution 242, of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. But in the 2020 Vision, Israel is allowed to “apply its laws to” (meaning annex) parts of the West Bank internationally considered as Palestinian, such as the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements built by Israel since 1967. After giving the impression that such annexation could take place immediately, the Trump administration and the US ambassador to Israel introduced some conditions and timeframes. They had anticipated the plan by officially moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and considering the Israeli settlements as consistent with international law. But the green light to unilateral Israeli annexation could only be interpreted as a rejection of the previous negotiations and parameters.
It is true that most previous plans, including the Geneva Initiative negotiated between civil society representatives on both sides, stated that a fairly large share of the Israeli settlements – especially the main blocs around Jerusalem – would be eventually incorporated into the territory of Israel, while the Palestinian State would receive chunks of territory of similar size in exchange. But this excluded the Jordan Valley; and, in any case, such territorial swaps would have resulted from a comprehensive negotiated solution, not a unilateral decision. Moreover, the Trump plan envisages a transfer of populated areas of Israel – meaning Israeli Arab towns – to the future Palestinian State, which is unlikely to be accepted by the relevant populations or the Palestinian Authority. It is also true that, during the four-year negotiation planned with the Palestinians, Israel would have to accept a freeze on settlement construction. But it is unclear where such a freeze would apply. If this refers to the area conceded to the future Palestinian State, there are only 15 settlements there.
A Palestinian “state” void of any substance
Officially, the United States’ Vision remains faithful to the two-state solution, the key principle agreed on by both sides and a key component of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. However, it would take four years to establish such a state, and it would depend on Palestinian acceptance of the most stringent conditions of self-governance demanded by Israel: territory on only 70% of the West Bank; a capital outside East Jerusalem; the Jerusalem holy sites (Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif) under Israeli sovereignty; a fully demilitarised state with Israeli control over terrestrial and sea borders as well as air space, the electromagnetic spectrum and water resources; no right to forge intelligence or security agreements with any state or organisation that would adversely affect Israel's security; the dismantlement of the Hamas-led government in Gaza; the renunciation of the right of return for refugees to Israel and more.
It is thus not surprising that the Israeli prime minister welcomed such a Palestinian State with a “conditional limited sovereignty”. In response to the offer of a $50 billion investment fund, included in the plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated: “Jerusalem is not for sale; all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain.”
A flurry of negative reactions
Apart from the satisfaction expressed by the Israeli government – which confirms the plan’s bias in Israel’s favour – and the Palestinian Authority’s outright rejection of the US vision, it is interesting to note the initial lukewarm reactions by some Gulf States allied with the United States: Saudi Arabia “appreciates President Trump’s efforts” but “will not support any settlement that does not provide for an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital”. For the United Arab Emirates, the plan offers “an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework”. Bahrain thanked the US for its “efforts toward achieving a just and comprehensive solution on the Palestinian issue”. However, on 1 February, the 22 foreign ministers of the League of Arab States, after hearing President Abbas, issued a clear rejection of the plan, saying that the so-called “deal of the century” “would not lead to a just peace between both sides”, and that “the League [would] not cooperate with the US to implement it”. Two days later, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, meeting in Saudi Arabia, stated the plan did not “meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people”, and called on “all member states not to engage with this plan or to cooperate with the US administration in implementing it in any form”.
The European Union (EU) and Russia also voiced frustration about the Trump initiative. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said the plan “challenges many of the internationally agreed parameters” for ending the conflict, throwing into question “the 1967 border, as agreed by both parties, with a State of Israel and an independent, viable State of Palestine living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition”. In Moscow, a Russian spokesman noted that the plan contravenes several United Nations resolutions: “We see the reaction from the Palestinians; we see the reaction of a wide range of Arab states which have sided with the Palestinians in rejecting the plan. This, obviously, makes one think about its feasibility.”
Support from the evangelical lobby
Among the voices supporting the Trump vision, the most enthusiastic came from evangelical Christians, a diverse but powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. Pastor John Hagee, chairman of Christians United for Israel, claimed it was “the best peace proposal any American administration has ever put forth”. Referring to the planned annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel, Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist who heads the Jerusalem Prayer Team, credited Trump for recognising “the Bible as legal”. Indeed, evangelical fundamentalists refer to the Bible’s Book of Genesis, in which God promised the land of Israel to the Jews alone. This is why they have been the staunchest supporters of Israel, in the hope of speeding the Messiah’s return and converting all Jews to Christianity. This is this utmost paradoxical agenda that Israelis often don’t know or realise.
As a Palestinian lawyer who took part in previous negotiations summarised: “Peace requires treating others with equality; it can never be achieved through subjugation.” She called the Trump plan “a recipe for war, not peace”. Stressing the close connection between the future of the plan and both Trump and Netanyahu’s political futures, Robert Satloff, a rather conservative American expert, tweeted: “This plan is premised on a second term for #Trump. If that happens, the political dynamics may force a re-think by some #Arabs/#Palestinians. If it doesn’t happen, I doubt much of this plan survives as US policy.”
DISCLAIMER: This is an Op-ed article. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. The GCSP does not endorse views, opinions or conclusions drawn in this post.