If anyone doubts President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israel-Palestine peace plan was mainly an election-oriented political document, he shattered those doubts Tuesday.
On the very day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu was indicted for bribery and fraud, and Trump’s impeachment trial was upended by the first-hand evidence he blackmailed Ukraine, the president rolled out his “deal of the century.”
In a stagey production, as he stood beside Netanyahu, the president was clearly pitching his evangelical base for the 2020 election — and pumping for Netanyahu in the tight March 2 Israeli elections. (Bibi’s opponent, Benny Ganz, got a short meeting, whose brevity clearly demonstrated which man the president favored.)
Indeed, Trump’s proposal sticks closely to the very plan Bibi has been touting for years, which the Israeli leader calls “state-minus, autonomy-plus.” That means the Palestinians can have something they can call a state, but without any normal trappings of statehood, other than embassies and passports.
I’ve covered the Israel-Palestine issue for decades and don’t pretend there is any easy solution at this stage. But this plan ignored Palestinian input. And it depended on first-son-in-law Jared Kushner’s naïve belief that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could “deliver” the Palestinians.
The plan claims to affirm the concept of a two-state solution but actually endorses Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza in perpetuity.
Take a close look at the proposal and you will see what I mean.
In theory, it would give Palestinians nominal control over a shrunken portion of the West Bank. But it endorses Israel’s right to extend sovereignty over the entire Jordan Valley (one-third of the West Bank) and more than 120 Jewish settlements and towns that crisscross that territory.
Given the green light by Trump, Netanyahu wants to start annexing those areas soonest, irrespective of any negotiations.
“The idea of annexation adds high stress to this situation,” says David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But Bibi has front-loaded annexation.” Adds the institute’s Ghaith al Omari, a former Palestinian negotiator, “If there is annexation, it would be the coup de grâce of the two-state idea.”
Even the state-minus idea is a joke under the Trump plan.
Palestinian-controlled areas would be divided into a series of cantons separated by Israeli towns, settlements, and roads. These cantons would be connected only by tunnels and bridges, a long-standing vision of the Israeli right. They would be completely surrounded by sovereign Israel territory.
Israel would control all entry to and exit from this state-minus-minus, as well as air space and sea access. (For the foreseeable, the Palestinians would continue to depend on Israeli ports.) In addition, Israel would maintain overall control of security for the Palestinian statelet.
And Israel would also retain almost all of Jerusalem, including the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, with any Palestinian “capital” consigned to far suburbs beyond the Israeli security wall that girds the city. Israel would retain overall control of the holy sites, in Jerusalem’s Old City, which alone guarantees Palestinian rejection.
As for Gaza, the one bright spot is revived proposal to finally connect this sad territory with the West Bank via special rail or road — something that was supposed to have happened decades ago under the Oslo peace plan.
However, the Trump proposal specifies that the whole plan is void unless the Palestinian National Authority disarms the Hamas faction in Gaza and takes full control there. Great idea — but with whose army? (The authority has only a police force that helps the Israeli army keep Hamas down in the West Bank.)
The Gaza proviso practically screams that the whole Kushner plan is designed to fail.
In fact, the plan basically offers Palestinians a dressed-up status quo — sweetened by billions of dollars that will supposedly flow in from the gulf to build a Palestinian Singapore. That, too, is a mirage.
Without real political sovereignty, this state-minus-minus would confront the same economic barriers it does now: Investors don’t want to hassle with complex border crossings and checkpoints that hamper movement of goods and workers. Palestinians don’t even control their bandwidth now and probably wouldn’t under this plan.
As if to illustrate the cynicism of Kushner, the plan’s godfather, it proposes that several Israeli Arab towns that abut the West Bank be transferred to the new Palestinian entity. This idea — to expel tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel — has been roundly rejected in the past by Israeli Arab leaders. But it is the pet dream of right wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman, whose party Netanyahu needs to form a coalition government. So Kushner offered Lieberman an incentive.
This conveys the essence of the Trump-Kushner peace sham — a collection of right-wing Israeli ideas that don’t address core issues but try to legitimize annexation, or continued Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza.