It was the understatement of the new year.
Benjamin Netanyahu described U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace proposal, unveiled in Washington, D.C. on January 28, as a “great plan for Israel.”
As he sang its praises, he called Trump “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”
Netanyahu, the caretaker Israeli prime minister after two inconclusive general elections in 2018, had reason to be exultant. Trump’s “vision of peace,” the so-called “deal of the century,” favors Israel by a wide margin. It enables Israel to annex the Jordan Valley, the northern portion of the Dead Sea, and all the settlements and outposts in the West Bank, with virtually all their Jewish residents.
At a press conference, Netanyahu announced he would recommend the formal annexation of the Jordan Valley at the next cabinet meeting this Sunday. On January 29, however, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin disclosed that the cabinet will not discuss this matter on February 2 due to bureaucratic problems.
Minutes after the plan was released, David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and an ardent supporter of the settlement movement, said that Israel was free to annex West Bank settlements immediately. A day later, he changed his tune, saying that Israel should not go ahead with annexation until an Israeli-American committee can discuss the issue.
Trump presented his plan as his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, the third in American history, unfolded, and after Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity from prosecution on corruption charges. Shortly afterwards, Netanyahu was formally indicted by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. It is a dubious distinction. He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be criminally charged.
Three years in the making, the plan was devised by Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, Friedman — Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer — and Jason Greenblatt, who retired recently. It is so tilted toward Israel that it might well have been drawn up by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, which faces a new Israeli election on March 2. As Netanyahu candidly said, “This is something we’ve longed to have.”
It is not Trump’s first concession to Israel. Three years ago, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there. Last year, he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. And most recently, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decreed that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories do not contravene international law.
Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party, has come out in support of the plan, calling it “a significant milestone that defines the path down which the various parties to the conflict can walk to a regional and historic agreement.”
Hailed by Trump as a “realistic solution,” a “big step forward toward peace” and a “historic breakthrough” that requires “significant territorial compromise” from Israel, it gives the Palestinians the power “to govern themselves, but not the power to threaten Israel.”
It is built, in part, on precedents created by two previous U.S. presidents. In 2004, George W. Bush said that “changing realities on the ground” should be taken into account in redrawing Israel’s boundary with the West Bank. And in 2000, Bill Clinton endorsed Israel’s retention of settlement blocs near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Paying lip service to the principle of a two-state solution, the plan will not be implemented unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and accept Israel’s overall security/military control of the West Bank, even in areas ceded to the Palestinians. Here, Israel cannot build new settlements, expand existing ones or advance plans to construct new neighborhoods for the next four years.
In exchange for U.S. recognition of a demilitarized and emasculated Palestinian state whose border crossings would be controlled by Israel, the Palestinian Authority would also be expected to expand security cooperation with Israel and, in effect, to seize the Gaza Strip from Hamas and disarm it. This is an objective realistically beyond the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas, too, would have to recognize Israel’s existence and renounce terrorism, which is extremely unlikely.
Calling for mutual land swaps, the plan would require Israel to cede to the Palestinians pockets of Israeli territory near the Egyptian border so that the size of the Palestinian state would be as approximately large as the West Bank and Gaza before the 1967 Six Day War.
Israeli Arab towns in the Little Triangle, such as Umm al-Fahm and Kafr Qara, could be incorporated into a Palestinian state, an idea that Avigdor Liberman, the former defence minister, has championed.
Judging by a map that accompanies the plan, the Palestinian state would be a “Swiss cheese” state consisting of a patchwork of non-contiguous units, surrounded by Israeli settlements and army camps, and comprising about 70 percent of the land mass of the West Bank. These disconnected archipelagos would be linked by roads, rail lines, tunnels and bridges, and the Palestinians would have access to the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod.
Jerusalem, including its western and eastern parts, would be Israel’s united capital. The Palestinian capital, Al Quds, would be located in areas east and north of Israel’s existing security barrier, in distant Arab neighborhoods like Abu Dis and Shuafat. Israel would continue to safeguard the holy places, and the status quo would prevail at the Temple Mount.
Under the plan, Palestinian refugees would not be granted the “right of return” to Israel and would be absorbed by the Palestinian state and Arab countries.
The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization would not have the right to join global organizations like the International Criminal Court or Interpol without Israel’s consent. Nor could they sign military, intelligence or security agreements that could adversely affect Israel. The Palestinian Authority would have to stop the flow of payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and remove school texts that incite hatred or antagonism against Israel.
The economic dimension of the plan, regarded as a sweetner, envisions international investments to the tune of $50 billion to flow into Palestine. These developments could double the Palestinians’ gross domestic product in 10 years, generate more than one million jobs, cut the unemployment rate to under 10 percent, reduce the poverty rate by 50 percent, and increase life expectancy from 74 to 80.
To no one’s surprise, Trump’s plan was utterly rejected by the Palestinians.
“We say a thousand times over — no, no, no,” declared Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, denouncing it as a “conspiracy deal” unworthy of the slightest consideration. The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Muhammad Shtayyeh, condemned it as a scheme “to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
Realizing that his one-sided plan would be denounced by the Palestinians, Trump acknowledged it could not bear fruit unless the Palestinians embrace it. “Without them (the Palestinians), we don’t do the deal,” he said in a candid admission.
The Palestinians have been given four years to join it, but in all probability their jaundiced appraisal of it will remain firmly intact. It is fair to say, therefore, that this is a stillborn plan that will wither on the vine, but will allow Israel to maintain its occupation of the West Bank.
Netanyahu, of course, was full of praise for it.
Describing it as a blueprint for immediate U.S. recognition of Israel’s right to sovereignty in the entire Jordan Valley and all settlements, he noted that even unauthorized outposts would be annexed. “Tel Aviv will be treated like Itamar,” he said in reference to a settlement deep in the West Bank.
The United States he added, has also given Israel a green light to annex “additional areas” in the West Bank adjacent to settlements. Israel will apply sovereignty there further down the road, he said.
Netanyahu made it clear that Trump’s plan “buries the notion of a return to the 1967 lines … and the idea of a Palestinian right of return.” As he put it, “Not even one refugee will enter Israel.”
“This is a revolutionary change from previous peace proposals,” he said in an allusion to the 1993 Oslo peace process, the 2002 Arab League plan and the 2003 “roadmap to peace” proposal. “Instead of pressuring Israel into making concessions, the U.S. is now making demands of the Palestinians.”