The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Even if the Palestinians reject Trump’s peace plan, it still serves their long-term interests. False, undeliverable expectations – based on the assumption that “everybody knows” what Israel will be forced to concede – eventually need to give way to a more realistic paradigm, which in turn may lead to a better life for both sides.

In the immediate and intermediate future, the detailed plan and map put forward by President Trump will be rejected out of hand by the Palestinian leadership. For them it is indeed “dead on arrival.” Both Fatah and Hamas joined the choir of condemnation. Some violence may ensue, although Mahmud ‘Abbas speaks of “popular” rather than terrorist pressure. And yet the plan is of great importance, for the future of the Palestinians as well as for Israel: it is an experiment in breaking the bonds of past perceptions and offering both sides from the opportunity to shake off the effects of their illusions.

Israelis who thought that there was a “free trump lunch” are being disabused of the expectation that he will herald a messianic era, in which all will be given to us and none to the Palestinians. There is nothing to validate the claim, made by some, that a firm Israeli stand would have secured American consent for a total annexation. Trump sees himself as a deal maker – not as an Israeli enforcer.

On the Palestinian side, the problem runs deeper. For years, specifically since the Annapolis process and even more so since the days of the Obama Administration, they have built up expectations based on what may be called the “EKP” – “Everybody Knows” Paradigm. The latter is focused mainly on the territorial dimension: A full return to the 1967 Armistice lines with minor swaps and a partition of Jerusalem, alongside some (symbolic?) concessions on the Right of Return, etc.

“Everybody” – except the broad range of Israelis who find the EKP objectionable and impractical. Well beyond the settler communities and the vocal minority who reject any concessions to the Palestinians, many Israelis find fault with the ideas enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2334 for several good reasons:

To begin with, the great majority of Israelis feel strongly that Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided capital – give or take some of the outlying neighborhoods beyond the security barrier. Moreover, the idea of another round of violent displacement of tens of thousands of Jews, from their homes in their homeland, raises traumatic memories of the sad summer of 2005 and the disengagement from Gaza.

The notion that Israel will be safe, even without a permanent military presence on the Jordan river and firm control of our eastern approaches, became less and less persuasive as chaotic events engulfed the entire region and the danger of destabilization became more acute.

Moreover, the experience in Lebanon since 2006 provided proof positive that it would be a deadly mistake to rely on some UN-mandated foreign military forces in the Jordan Valley (or elsewhere): UNIFIL’s record in apprehending Hizbullah weapons or curbing Hizbullah’s huge arsenal is outright dismal.

Thus, those in Europe, in American progressive circles, and among the Israeli Left who still advocate acceptance of the EKP (rather than the Trump baseline) are actually doing the Palestinians no favor. They help lock the leadership in Ramallah, and the Palestinian political class, into a set of specific expectations that cannot be delivered upon: and thus perpetuate a deadlock they may be of use to ‘Abbas or to Hamas but does little to ameliorate the conditions of people in the West Bank or in Gaza.

The Trump team, on the other hand, offers a novel approach – putting forward a very detailed plan, map included, not as a bridging proposal but as a new paradigm. It certainly falls well short of Palestinian demands – but requires significant modifications of the Israeli position as well, including significant swaps of land from sovereign Israeli territory.

Perhaps it’s most problematic aspect would be the creation of enclaves on both sides: True, there are such geographic anomalies in France (a Spanish enclave), Switzerland (Italian and German), The Netherlands (Belgian) and a few dozen more around the globe; but these do not carry with them the memories of recent violence and the practical problems which attend it. Still, a systemic effort has been made to generate a plan that answers basic needs on both sides – Israeli security, Palestinian sovereignty – without reverting to massive human dislocation.

Nothing about the plan, or the map, is sacrosanct: essentially, this is still an invitation to negotiations, once the Palestinians respond – or even begin to respond – to the attached code of conduct (which in harsher language can be described as a list of preconditions). Will they at some point realize that their interest lies in coming to the table – presumably, only after November 2020, or any point in time in which they may realize that the offer will not be reversed in their favor by the next American Administration?  Much depends, in this respect, on two external factors:

The response of the Arab world, which has so far been rather muted (except for the “usual suspects” associated with Iran). Beyond the participation of three Gulf Ambassadors in the roll-out event, the fact that Egypt called for serious consideration of the plan and for US-sponsored negotiations is highly significant, and is likely, as usual, to set the tone for the Arab League. Bereft, again, of the Arab “firestorm” and the “volcano of anger” – as was also the case when Trump moved the Embassy to Jerusalem – the Palestinians may eventually need to reconsider their options.

Much the same may be true for Europe. Britain – alas, no longer a player in Brussels – has already given the plan a guarded nod. Others in Europe may be more critical: but given the attentive ear to Israeli political dynamics, and with significant countries in South-Eastern and Eastern Europe now closer to Israel than ever, the EU reaction (which needs to be adopted by consensus) is not likely to measure up to Abbas’ expectations.

Meanwhile, in Israel – although it is quite early to judge – a broad and cohesive base of support seems to be emerging, despite the complex internal situation and the lingering suspicion that the timing, if not the substance of the plan, constitutes an intervention in Israeli politics.

Instead of a left-right cleavage,  this response – and the fact that Netanyahu’s challenger was also invited to Washington, and has spoken in support of the plan – may generate a three-way division – those who reject a Palestinian state on any terms; those who support a Palestinian state on Palestinian terms; and in the middle, those who support conditional negotiations to create a Palestinian state based on the plan’s “ToR”, terms of reference. It is with this new fact of Israeli political life that the Palestinians would ultimately have to come to terms.

Published in Israel Hayom 30.01.2020

JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

photo: The White House from Washington, DC [Public domain]