Deciphering the Trump Peace Plan

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
Photo: Reuters
La Jornada Maya

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Since the Six Day War in June, 1967, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 have been the legal framework for peace negotiations based on a “land-for-peace” formula to date. These resolutions called for an Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders and the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

As Security Council Resolutions, they have the force of international law. They set the stage for “facts on the books” as I call the period between 1967 and the Trump Peace Plan unveiled by the U.S. President on January 28. Indeed, the Oslo Peace Talks in 1993 were considered to be the apex of the philosophy of “land for peace” set out in both U.N. resolutions. However, the Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat rejected the plan even though it would have returned some 95 percent of the West Bank to an independent Palestinian state.

In 2009, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed annexing at least 6.3 percent of Palestinian territory in exchange for 5.8 percent of Israeli land. Palestinians would be given alternative land in the Negev, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, as well as territorial link between Gaza and the West Bank. Israel insisted, however, on retaining an armed presence in the future Palestinian state.

Once again, the plan fell through due to divisions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

In 1967, then Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban noted that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. In 1993 and 2009, the Palestinians lived up to this observation and the resulting stalemate has lasted until today.

Enter President Trump.

His government’s peace plan is a fundamental shift in negotiating paradigms – from negotiations based on “facts on the books” (international law) to “facts on the ground” (based on current realities in the region).

What are these facts on the ground?

The first fact is that, since the Arab Spring in 2011, the focus of major Arab states has been on containing popular uprisings and threats to current rulers. While many around the world hoped that these revolutions would lead to a growth in democratic governance throughout the Arab world, the reality is that, with the possible exception of Tunisia, the Arab world has reverted to its previous state, with vicious civil wars breaking out in Syria and Yemen, and democracy thwarted in Egypt by the military.

The Arab Spring put the Palestinian issue on the back burner for most of the Arab world. Indeed, the only two strong supporters for Palestinian independence now appear to be Syria (governed by a Shiite/Alawite government) and Iran, a non-Arab Shiite state.

The second fact on the ground is the emergence of Iran as a major threat to the Sunni Arab world. This has created a dialogue between Israelis and many Arab states, with all considering Iran as a common threat to their existence. This coming together of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, and their enhanced security cooperation with Israel, has also made Israel the indispensable partner for conservative Arab states. By extension, this new alliance of sorts has made the Palestinian cause secondary.

The third fact on the ground is Israel’s shift to the right. The strength of Israel’s extreme right-wing parties and their critical support for any government to survive will never permit an Israeli government to pull out of occupied territories and allow a return to the pre-1967 borders. The Trump administration has used this reality as the basis for its paradigm-shifting peace plan proposal.

The fourth fact on the ground is that the Palestinian leadership remains as divided as always. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in his eighties, and no leader capable of uniting all Palestinian factions appears to exist. Hamas and the other Palestinian groups have different objectives, with Hamas continuing to vehemently oppose any agreement with Israel. Hamas’s continuing rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians precludes any desire for the Israelis to negotiate with this group, considered by many to be a terrorist organization.

The fifth fact on the ground is the changed political landscape in Washington. Past administrations supported the U.N. resolutions as the basis for negotiation. President Trump’s political base has at its root evangelical Christians, who believe that an integral Jewish state in what is now Israel and the West Bank is an essential condition for the Second Coming. Trump will never go against his base, especially in an election year. Hence, absent U.S. support, the U.N. resolutions may well have lost their relevance, especially if Trump is reelected in November.

Indeed, an independent Palestinian entity would depend heavily on U.S. and moderate Arab funding in order to consolidate its power and develop the country. This will not be forthcoming as long as Palestinians continue to hold out for their traditional objectives.

A number of Ambassadors to Washington from moderate Arab states attended the unveiling of the peace plan at the White House – a strong indication of their governments’ support for this new negotiating paradigm. The region appears to have moved on, leaving the Palestinians with little option but to move forward with it.

A major question is whether the average Palestinian is fatigued enough with seventy years of futile negotiations and wars and can be seduced by the promise of a better economic life at the cost of an independent state within 1967 borders. The Trump administration is banking on this, and looks to both pressure from below from the average Palestinian together with pressure from the Palestinian Authority’s main financial backers to lead Palestinians into a negotiation of sorts with Israel based on the terms outlined in the plan.

All parties will have to get used to the paradigm shift proposed by the plan as well as the fundamental realities that it underscores.

Israelis will have to ask themselves if the alternative -- a unitary state that contains many Palestinian Arabs with fewer or no political rights -- contributes to the survival of a Jewish democracy.

As is his habit, Trump has been tweeting about his plan – and going over the heads of the Palestinian leadership directly to the Palestinian street. Will his message reach the average Palestinian?

Palestinians will have to ask themselves if they wish to retain the status quo for the foreseeable future, or whether they want to give the Trump plan a chance. While it will not give Palestinians the state that they have so long sought, the funding will provide the education, health, and infrastructure necessary to develop their society and make it competitive in today’s globalized economy.

In addition, the Palestinians have to ask themselves if they wish to cast their lot with a depleted Syria and a pariah Iran or whether they want to join a Middle East that is no longer their prime base of support but is willing to contribute billions of dollars together with the U.S. to their economic and social development.

As a former Canadian diplomat and United Nations official, I have always had the utmost respect for international law and Canadian foreign policy. I have constantly supported the two-state solution outlined in the relevant United Nations resolutions that call for a viable and independent Palestinian state coexisting side by side with a secure Israel.

However, after decades of fruitless negotiations that have led to the current and continuing impasse, and after analyzing the facts on the ground and the ever-evolving global context, I am left to wonder if the old paradigm holds any realistic hope for a short- or long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.

Indeed, I wonder if I am alone, or if others are also questioning the old paradigm.

Sometimes, reality trumps international law.

Sometimes, common sense and a shift towards thinking outside of the box are required in order to achieve solutions to what appear to be intractable problems.

And, sometimes, people must realize when they have been beaten on the battlefield and in the international arena, and accept the best that they can realistically achieve.

Is this one of those times?

Let’s see.