Trump Peace Deal
Trump has presented his long-awaited Middle East peace plan, promising to keep Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital Image Credit: Reuters

It was a surreal ceremony. President Donald Trump, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his side, released his Middle East peace plan at the White House on Tuesday. No Palestinian official was in attendance. If that was not enough to discredit the plan then what is?

After three and half years of preparation, Trump’s team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, finally unveiled what the president had promised to be the “deal of the century”, with the aim of ending decades of conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.

Disgraced at home, Netanyahu called it the “opportunity of the century” and for a good reason. The plan fulfils Israel’s far-right aspirations while ignoring the most basic of Palestinian demands. Trump himself said earlier that the Palestinians may not like it and that if they were not on board then life goes on.

In Trump’s own words life will go on if the Palestinians reject the plan. The alternative will be to give Israel the political cover to go ahead with annexation. Under Trump’s presidency there will be no more mediation between Israel and the Palestinians. The latter will be blamed for failing to grab a historic opportunity.

- Osama Al Sharif

Deal between two men

This was basically a deal between two men; Trump and Netanyahu. The timing of the unveiling was meant to help Netanyahu win a historic fifth term as prime minister in March’s elections. Ironically, Israeli courts formally charged Netanyahu with corruption, bribery and breach of trust on the same day that Trump released his plan.

Not surprisingly President Mahmoud Abbas had rejected the plan even before seeing it. After all, the Palestinians were never consulted and contacts between the US and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had been cut off since Trump took [occupied] Jerusalem off the table more than two years ago by recognising the city as Israel’s united capital.

The plan is detailed and proposes the creation of a Palestinian state along 70 per cent of the West Bank after the annexation of Jewish colonies by Israel and only after meeting certain conditions over a period of time. It suggests land swaps but leaves the Jordan Valley under Israel’s control. It denies the demilitarised Palestinian state of sovereign rights and demands that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Ironically, even Israeli law does not recognise sovereignty over the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

Illegal under international law

By rejecting the plan the Palestinians give both the US and Israel the chance to take further unilateral, not to mention illegal under international law, steps. But what else can the Palestinians do? Netanyahu, on the other hand, will take the Palestinian rejection as a signal to carry out the annexation of most Jewish colonies as well as the Jordan Valley depending on the outcome of the general elections in March.

But Israel itself is divided over the plan. The Left believes it is unrealistic and will not end the conflict while the far-right, as a matter of principle, does not want to see a Palestinian state in the West Bank. President Trump invited Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, to the White House to discuss the plan. Gantz was not as welcoming as Netanyahu. He vowed to implement the plan after forming a government and not before discussing it with the Palestinians and Jordan.

Even Israel’s conservative media warned against adopting the plan that not only buries the classical two-state solution but takes Israel closer into becoming a bi-national state or worse: an apartheid entity. The plan ignores UN resolutions, Oslo accord and successive agreements with the Palestinians.

For the Arabs, the plan fails to meet the criteria set in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API). Realistically speaking the plan would not end the Israel-Palestinian conflict nor would it pave the way for normalising ties with the Arab world.

Middle East peace plan
A smiling Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu stood along with Trump as details of the 181-page plan were read out amidst cheers and applause Image Credit: Reuters

Election season

So why propose it now? An embattled Netanyahu needed Trump’s help to boost his chances of winning the next elections. And Trump, facing impeachment charges and a tough re-election race in November needed a distraction. Gantz and other Israeli politicians saw Trump’s move as a gross intervention in the upcoming elections.

Even the most hawkish Israeli players believe that the plan was designed to fail. Instead of offering the Palestinians incentives to get on board, it neglected their most basic demands, especially where Jerusalem and borders are concerned.

In Trump’s own words life will go on if the Palestinians reject the plan. The alternative will be to give Israel the political cover to go ahead with annexation. Under Trump’s presidency there will be no more mediation between Israel and the Palestinians. The latter will be blamed for failing to grab a historic opportunity.

Political gains

But while Trump and Netanyahu may be coordinating their moves — each for his own political gains — the fact is that the most destabilising conflict in the region will remain unresolved. The plan damages the credibility of the United States as an honest broker. It also creates a dangerous vacuum where the reality of occupation continues in the West Bank while life deteriorates in Gaza, amid international ineptitude and paralysis.

With the region so polarised by the US-Iran showdown, the Palestinian question is not viewed as a priority in the region currently. The safest path would be to welcome US efforts while reiterating previous positions on the conflict. Many capitals will be hoping that the Trump administration would soon get busy with the upcoming presidential elections and that the plan would be shelved.

That leaves the Palestinians with few and difficult choices. The plan effectively abrogates the Oslo Accords and threatens the future of the PNA. Abbas must move beyond the usual denunciations and threats to restore Palestinian unity. Hamas must rise to the occasion.

The people must be allowed to show discontent. Disbanding the PNA, perilous as it is, would raise the cost of occupation for Israel and derail its immediate plans for annexation. Abbas has limited choices but the moment requires brave decisions.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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