Will Trump’s Peace Plan Matter?
Almost every US administration has come up with a peace plan, and they all have one thing in common — failure. The Trump plan will suffer the same fate. Still, it may be valuable by setting new baselines for negotiations that are in Israel’s favor.
Why will the plan fail?
Besides the historical precedents, we know that the Palestinians have had nothing to do with the US administration and will reject the plan out of hand. We also know from history that no plan will satisfy the current Palestinian leadership and that Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction.
Many people insist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is equally to blame for the current stalemate. First, this ignores the Palestinians’ history of rejectionism, which long predated Netanyahu, and second, people forget that the last Israeli leader to negotiate any withdrawal from the West Bank was Netanyahu during his first term.
The original foundation of peace negotiations was UN Security Council Resolution 242, which established the principle that Israel must concede territory it captured in the 1967 war. What many people leave out when they cite 242 is that it says nothing about the Palestinians, does not require a withdrawal from all the territory, does not mention Jerusalem, and makes any Israeli action contingent on peace. This “land for peace formula” was the basis for negotiations up until 2008.
Israel has already withdrawn from approximately 94 percent of the territory it captured (another fact ignored by Israel’s detractors), and the argument can be made it has fulfilled its obligations, whereas the Arab states — except for Egypt and Jordan — have not.
Netanyahu’s agreement to withdraw came during the Oslo process, during which Israel withdrew from more than 40 percent of the West Bank and handed over control of Gaza and Jericho to the Palestinians. Israel was prepared to withdraw from additional territory, but not to accept a Palestinian state (see Rabin’s last speech) or divide Jerusalem. Oslo ultimately failed because the Palestinians continued to employ terrorism as their preferred means of trying to force Israeli concessions.
The baseline shifted when Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to the Clinton parameters and accepted the ideas of dividing Jerusalem, conceding most of the West Bank, and establishing a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert picked up on this plan, with minor variations, but in both instances, the Palestinians again rejected the offers.
In between, Ariel Sharon was elected in part because of the dissatisfaction with Barak’s plan. Once Israelis saw that Yasser Arafat would not accept a deal that offered nearly everything he said he wanted (ignoring what he told his constituents in Arabic, namely that this was the first stage toward the liberation of Palestine and that Palestinians should engage in a jihad), they moved rightward.
Sharon could also point to the letter he received from President George W. Bush, which explicitly said what Resolution 242 implied, namely that any peace agreement would necessitate modifications from the 1949 armistice line to accommodate Israel’s security needs and to reflect the growth of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria. Bush’s Road Map to peace proved another failure, again largely because the Palestinians never fulfilled their obligation to end terrorism.
More of the Israeli population shifted rightward following the Gaza disengagement and the Palestinians’ violent response. The shattering of the “land for peace” myth was reinforced by Olmert’s failure to convince Mahmoud Abbas to accept his plan in 2008.
Barack Obama dramatically shifted the baseline of negotiations when he pressured Israel to accept a settlement freeze, something the Palestinians had never demanded, and — like others — endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians still refused to negotiate. Meanwhile, the ongoing attacks from Gaza left fewer and fewer Israelis with a desire to give up more land or support the creation of a Palestinian state. Hence, the near disappearance of the “peace camp” and the left-leaning political parties.
Many apologists refuse to acknowledge that Obama killed the peace process. The Palestinians thought Obama would force Israel to capitulate to their demands. He would not and probably could not have done so. Regardless, Abbas refused to negotiate for both his terms and now has avoided face-to-face negotiations with Israel’s prime minister for nearly 12 years.
Trump is re-calibrating expectations again. By recognizing Jerusalem, he has taken one of the most difficult final status issues off the table. By erasing the specious argument that settlements are illegal and refusing to condemn their expansion, he has created the expectation in Israel that there will be no forced removal of tens of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria.
This is the relevance of the ultimate deal. Regardless of its reception, Israelis will not expect to be pressured to accept the terms pushed by Clinton and Obama. The Palestinians will complain and demand their maximalist positions be accepted, but outside the UN and Europe, their protests will fall on deaf ears. Even the Arab states have become fed up with their irredentism and no longer want their own interests to be held hostage by the “Palestinian issue.”
Just as the baseline has changed over the last 50-plus years, it could change again in the unlikely possibility that Abbas will be succeeded by someone who does not want to see the Palestinians remain in limbo indefinitely. That leader will first have to vanquish Hamas, however, which he may be unable or unwilling to do. Even then the possibility of creating a Palestinian state has largely become moot as the Palestinian public has soured on the idea and the number of settlements has made it nearly impossible, if not impossible, to create one.
Similarly, a new administration could alter the calculus. Nearly all the Democratic candidates have expressed a desire to return to a policy similar to Clinton/Obama that favors compromise on Jerusalem, opposes settlements, and favors a Palestinian state. Some have raised Palestinian hopes anew by saying they are prepared to use military aid as a lever to pressure Israel, though Congress is unlikely to go along. A new president, however, is not going to change the Palestinians’ unwillingness to accept a Jewish state coexisting with a Palestinian entity, nor will they alter Israelis’ insistence on peace for security.
Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.