- Joshua Roberts/Reuters
- President Donald Trump unveiled his “deal of the century” on Tuesday, outlining what his administration is portraying as a plan to bring peace between Israel and Palestine.
- Palestinians were not involved in the formulation of the plan nor its introduction to the public, and have firmly rejected it.
- With his impeachment trial ongoing in the Senate, Trump unveiled the plan while standing next to recently indicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- Experts say the deal cannot truly qualify as a “peace plan” without the involvement of the Palestinians, and question the timing of its release.
- “There was no meaningful consultation with the Palestinians over the past two years, and the result is a plan that would be very difficult for any Palestinian leader to accept,” a former US ambassador to Israel told Insider.
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In order for something to qualify as a peace plan between two warring parties, both sides have to be involved. That’s not the case for the proposal President Donald Trump unveiled for Israel and Palestine on Tuesday.
Palestinians were not present during the discussions behind the “Deal of the Century,” nor were they in the room for its unveiling – and their president vowed to reject it, calling it “the slap of the century.”
The president said the plan, which was roughly three years in the making, is a “realistic two-state solution” and would pave the way for the creation of a Palestinian state. Trump said Palestine would have a capital in parts of eastern Jerusalem, but also said “Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided capital.”
“Today’s agreement is an historic opportunity for the Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state of their very own,” Trump said, while citing conditions that would have to be met for this to be accomplished, including the “the firm rejection of terrorism.”
But the deal makes clear that Israel’s territory would surround Palestine and it would be barred from having its own military or controlling its airspace, while all of its international agreements would be subject to Israeli approval. Experts noted that would hardly qualify as statehood.
President Trump: "Today's agreement is a historic opportunity for the Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state of their very own…"
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 28, 2020
“This plan looks like the result of a mediator who only spoke to one side of the conflict. And that is exactly what happened. The Trump administration consulted extensively with Israel, and it strongly supports Israeli preferences,” Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel under former President Barack Obama, told Insider.
“There was no meaningful consultation with the Palestinians over the past two years, and the result is a plan that would be very difficult for any Palestinian leader to accept and defend to their people,” Shapiro added. “It is further unlikely that Arab states will put meaningful pressure on Palestinians to engage on the basis of this plan.”
An impeached US president and an indicted Israeli prime minister
With his impeachment trial ongoing in the Senate, Trump introduced the plan standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader was formally indicted on corruption charges just hours before – shortly after withdrawing a controversial request for immunity.
Netanyahu is fighting for his political life, with Israel set to hold its third elections in a year in March. Even Trump did not avoid addressing the elephant in the room, alluding to the political turmoil in Israel early on in his remarks, joking that it’s in the midst of the “longest running election of all time.”
In this context, critics of the plan view it as little more than a publicity stunt for the embattled Israeli prime minister.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is entirely political on the part of both leaders,” Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Insider.
“Trump is facing impeachment, and he gets to pose as the peacemaking statesman and visionary, soaring high above the sordid wrangling in the Senate, at the same time appealing to his hard-core evangelical base. Netanyahu gets to pose as the statesman who can deliver annexation, Greater Israel and freedom from Oslo and the two-state solution at last,” Ibish added, stating that both are not only fighting for political survival but also face “serious potential legal difficulties” if they don’t win.
“Absent these urgent political considerations there is no possible logic to releasing this proposal under the current circumstances,” Ibish said. “The situation could not be worse for getting Palestinian or Arab buy-in, no matter what the Trump administration claims.”
Along these lines, Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that “Middle East peace must be between two peoples, Israel & Palestinian, not between two people, @realDonaldTrump & @IsraeliPM.”
Haas said the “optics” of the two leaders “side-by-side at launch do not help plan’s prospects given its many pro-Israel aspects and that it was negotiated [without] Palestinians.”
David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, told reporters the deal allows for the immediate annexation of settlements envisioned as Israeli territory in the occupied West Bank. Shortly after, it was reported Netanyahu had called on his Cabinet to move toward a vote on annexation by Sunday.
Israeli settlements are among the most divisive issues in foreign affairs, and have long been considered illegal by the international community and among the biggest obstacles to a two-state solution. The move is popular with Netanyahu’s political allies as well as congressional Republicans. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, hailed the plan as advancing “the cause of peace.”
The plan would effectively create a Palestinian territory surrounded by Israel, with the Israeli government in full control of security.
4. Here is the map they are proposing that supposedly allows for “contiguity.” Biggest problem is that by taking the entire Jordan River Valley the new Palestinian “State” is entirely surrounded by Israel pic.twitter.com/WKEy57j68F
— Ilan Goldenberg (@ilangoldenberg) January 28, 2020
By greenlighting Israeli settlements in historically Palestinian-held areas, Trump’s peace plan may actually make peace much harder to attain.
“When it becomes clear the plan cannot be implemented, Israel will proceed – with Trump’s blessing – with unilateral actions, such as annexation of significant portions of the West Bank,” said Shapiro, the former US ambassador. He said this could happen as early as next month, before the upcoming election, adding that it will “accelerate the end of the pursuit of a two-state solution.”
‘The slap of the century’
Trump attempted to reach out to Palestine in his Tuesday remarks, stating that he has “a lot” to do for the Palestinians. But within hours, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear there’s no chance he will accept the plan.
“Trump, Jerusalem is not for sale. Our rights are not for sale. Your conspiracy deal will not pass,” Abbas said in a speech, going on to say that the president “declared the slap of the century, not the deal.”
“We will respond with slaps,” Abbas said. “The deal was made according to policy set by Israel.”
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, is also rejecting the plan.
“We are certain that our Palestinian people will not let these conspiracies pass. So, all options are open. The occupation and the US administration will bear the responsibility for what they did,” senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said, while participating in a protest in Gaza, the Associated Press reported.
- REUTERS/Ammar Awad
‘This isn’t a plan for peace’
Trump has built a close relationship with Netanyahu throughout his presidency by taking steps such as moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move that supports Israel’s claim to the disputed capital. In the process, Trump has broken from decades of US policy and further alienated Palestinians, which helps explain why the peace proposal was preemptively rejected by Palestinian leaders.
The plan was crafted Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Kushner and Friedman on Tuesday morning before the president unveiled the plan.
“…Quite frankly, this isn’t a plan for peace. It’s an abandonment of decades of US and multilateral work to create a two-state solution in the Middle East, and it seems to be guided by political, not policy, objectives,” Murphy said in a statement.
Murphy went on to say that it “makes no sense” to introduce a plan without an Israeli government firmly in place and “after no consultations with the Palestinians.”
“It’s also no coincidence this plan supports recognizing illegal settlements and unilateral Israeli annexation, while discarding any notion of a two-state solution,” Murphy added. “There is no way there can be a real negotiation and peace agreement in the Middle East without both Palestinians and Israelis at the table and an even-handed negotiator.”
Similarly, Ibish said that the biggest problem with the plan is that “it guarantees future conflict because no people in the world would ever accept such an arrangement.”
“It will make matters worse, not least because it invites Israeli annexation and destroys the existing agreed-upon peace framework,” Ibish said. “So a lot of people are likely to die as a consequence and a lot of blood may be spilled because of this disastrous nonsense.”
Shapiro said the plan is a “missed opportunity.”
“The plan could have helped steer the Palestinians toward more reasonable positions than they have previously taken on issues such as Israel’s security need, recognizing its legitimacy as a Jewish state, and ending all support for violence and terror,” Shapiro said.
But, he added, “diminishing what Palestinian leaders could say” and offering a plan that would make Palestine a “non-contiguous, barely sovereign state with no meaningful presence in Jerusalem” means “they are unlikely to engage on it at all.”