Reading into Trump’s Middle East plan

Ahmed Eleiba , Wednesday 5 Feb 2020

Trump’s Middle East plan

The US plan for peace between Israel and Palestine, entitled “Peace to Prosperity: A vision to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people,” consists of 22 sections covering political, security and economic issues and proposed solutions. Their combined thrust is to grant Israel territorial acquisitions, sovereign rights and security dominance it had never been able to achieve in any previous negotiations or agreements with the Palestinians.

Section I, the introduction, discusses what motivated the presentation of the principles collectively referred to as the “Vision”. It opens with a historical background informed by the US/Israeli narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict and then turns to the Oslo Accords of 1993. In this section, it highlights prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s last speech to the Israeli Knesset, in which he outlined his vision regarding the ultimate resolution of the conflict. Rabin, “envisioned Jerusalem remaining united under Israeli rule, the portions of the West Bank with large Jewish populations and the Jordan Valley being incorporated into Israel, and the remainder of the West Bank, along with Gaza, becoming subject to Palestinian civil autonomy in what he said would be something ‘less than a state’”. This is framed as the essence of Oslo, because it was the basis upon which the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords and because “it was not rejected by the Palestinian leadership at the time.” Clearly, this puts the cart before the horse because the accords marked only the beginning of a negotiating process on the “ultimate solution”, or what were technically known as final status issues (borders, Jerusalem, refugees, etc). The wording then gets slippery as it skirts around what caused final status negotiations to fail, blaming Oslo for not creating a path to avert crises such as “waves of terror and violence”, and conflating efforts to reach a permanent and lasting solution with the quest for an “ultimate deal”, thereby foreshadowing the so-called “deal of the century”.

This brings us to the section titled, “Realistic Two-State Solution.” In the name of “realism” and “pragmatism” the plan jettisons all internationally established principles and resolutions which, from the perspective of its architects, only worked to protract the conflict. But the text is frank about its main driver. “This vision is security-focused,” it writes, and it becomes patently clear that this means exclusively the security of Israel. Under this rubric, the Palestinians will have “all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel”, which “necessarily entails the limitation of certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian areas such as maintenance of Israeli security responsibility and Israeli control of the airspace west of the Jordan River”.

As for Hamas and Palestinian factions in Gaza, they are entirely to blame for the security deterioration and its consequences, and Palestinian leaders in general are entirely to blame for forfeiting opportunities afforded to the Palestinians. The solution here boils down to the formula of rejecting terrorism by recognising Israel as a Jewish state and paving the way for special arrangements that address Israel’s vital security needs.

The regional dimension proceeds from the premise that there is a convergence of interests between the Arabs and Israel with respect to the common threat they face from the radical regime in Iran. “Peace”, as proposed by the “Vision”, would alter the equations with respect to that threat and open the door to economic and security cooperation between Israel and its neighbours, and thereby create a prosperous Middle East.

Section II of the document addresses the “approach” which takes the long, philosophical view of a conflict that seems historically fated even though it does not have to be. As proof of this “fated” character, it speaks of close to 700 UN General Assembly resolutions and over 100 UN Security Council resolutions that have not brought peace. Accordingly, with all due respect to them, they should be discarded because they did not address the “complexities” of the conflict. The “Vision” comes to the rescue by superimposing over these complexities a Western-conceived ethnic identity matrix and proposes a barter: recognition for a “Jewish state” in exchange for recognition of a “Palestinian state”. It then quickly segues back to the “primacy of [Israeli] security”: “No government should be asked to compromise the safety and security of its citizens. This is especially true for the State of Israel... The United States would only ask Israel to make compromises that we believe will make the State of Israel and the people of Israel more secure in the short and long term.”

As for the compromises the US might expect Israel to make, they would include “significant” territorial compromises. There follows a juggling act with facts and figures. “It must be recognised that the State of Israel has already withdrawn from at least 88 per cent of the territory it captured in 1967.” Left unsaid is the fact that this 88 per cent was Sinai, which it returned to Egypt after the 1973 War and the Camp David agreement of 1979. But the conflict in question, here, is with the Palestinians and Israel has not withdrawn an inch from the Palestinian territories that are the subject of the “Vision”.

Although the plan acknowledges that territorial compromise is needed “to enable the Palestinians to have a viable state, respect their dignity and address their legitimate national aspirations”, in practical terms it withholds essential conditions for viable statehood. All the key components of sovereignty will be in Israeli hands while the territory itself will not be contiguous but rather a hodgepodge of separate Palestinian enclaves connected only by Israeli controlled ring roads and security checkpoints. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements and enclaves in the West Bank will be joined together and annexed to Israel. Again, the “primacy” of Israeli security is the pretext and the frequent pegging of Palestinians as the source of terrorism is used to justify that pretext.

The question of Palestinian refugees can be remedied materially, by integrating them into host countries or by the acceptance of a number of Palestinian refugees per year by member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Israel, in the opinion of the framers of the “Vision”, has no onus to bear in this regard because a “similar number of Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands shortly after the creation of the State of Israel”. Once again, we are confronted with a misleading conflation of issues that overlooks important facts and realities, not least of which is the role of the Jewish Agency’s chapters in Egypt, Yemen, Morocco and elsewhere in stimulating and boosting the migration of Jewish communities in those countries to Israel.

Not surprisingly, Washington’s plan is one hundred per cent behind the Israeli position on the question of Jerusalem: It is Israel’s capital and should not be divided. It even referred to actions Washington took to pre-empt alternatives, such as the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. As the “sovereign capital of the State of Palestine” the plan proposes a “section of East Jerusalem located in areas east and north of the existing security barrier, including Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis, [which] could be named Al-Quds or another name as determined by the State of Palestine”. The framers of the “Vision” implicitly trust Israel to remain a “good custodian” of Jerusalem and its holy sites, and to keep Jerusalem open to all faiths, and secure.

Gaza is a security problem that threatens peace and Israel. There can be no negotiating with Israel over the economic status and development of Gaza until the current leadership there is dismantled. Yet, the call for the reversion of Gaza to the full control of the Palestinian Authority, “or another national or international body acceptable to the State of Israel”, is mystifying. Perhaps it is a way of saying that under the new situation, the Palestinian Authority created under Oslo will evolve into “another body”, one that will spare the need to use the terms “authority” or “government”.

On the question of borders, the “Vision” proposes a “conceptual map” based on a number of principles, foremost among which are the security requirements of Israel and Israel’s “valid legal and historical claims”. There is no acknowledgement of Palestinian legal and historical claims. In fact, the plan ignores all considerations related to Palestinian history and culture.

In the opinion of the architects, neither the US nor Israel feel legally bound to commit to the pre-1967 boundaries, but they hint at the possibility of land swaps that would provide the Palestinians with “territory reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967”. Whatever swaps occur, they will be worked out to ensure the more important end: that Israel “will not have to uproot any settlements, and will incorporate the vast majority of Israeli settlements into contiguous Israeli territory”, and that “Israeli enclaves located inside contiguous Palestinian territory will become part of the State of Israel.”

If the parties accept the plan, during negotiations Israel will be required to cease settlement construction and expansion and destruction of any structures in occupied territories. The Palestinians will be required to refrain from any attempt to join an international organisation without Israel’s consent and to refrain from or suspend all legal actions against Israel, the US or any of their citizens in international courts, arbitrating bodies, other tribunals or international law enforcement bodies.

But perhaps the most crucial point about the “Vision” is that Israel has already obtained everything it promises in advance. Washington has already recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, Israel’s annexation of West Bank settlements and its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. Almost all the security provisions for the Israelis are already in place. Meanwhile, the “rewards” the plan offers the Palestinians are only realisable in the long-term, and there are no guarantees that these promises, however one weighs them, will be met.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Trump’s Middle East plan

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