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FRIDAY FEATURE - First Take on the Trump Plan

Friday Feature

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31 Jan 2020
FRIDAY FEATURE - First Take on the Trump Plan

Israel’s third election season in the past year started out fairly blasé in early January, but it was jolted awake this week by two major developments. First, caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dropped his petition in the Knesset for parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution, which means the high-profile trial of the three cases against him could start even before the election takes place. Second, US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited peace plan to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump has been teasing us with the “Deal of the Century” for over two years now, and its release at this time sure smells like election interference, but you don’t hear many Israelis complaining. By inviting both Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz to Washington to discuss the plan, it appears Trump is trying to give Likud and Blue & White something they can coalesce around in a unity government after the elections – finally delivering Israel from its current political impasse. Netanyahu’s legal troubles will still be a major obstacle to that end, but the national ballot on March 2nd is now all about the Trump plan.

Trump’s plan is quite lengthy and complex, and thus requires much study to truly understand its contents and ramifications. Even over recent days, it has quickly emerged that Washington and Jerusalem have different understandings on its annexation provisions and other aspects, in part due to internal contradictions within the plan’s many sections.

As a former practicing attorney, I am still trying to figure out the legal nature of the plan. Most Mideast peace plans to date were proposed outlines which suggested the starting point for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But this appears to be more an adhesion contract – meaning “take it or leave it.” For instance, plan architects Jared Kushner and David Friedman have already chastened both sides for overstepping the plan, which seems to suggest they consider it a deal set in stone and they are already installed as the judges of compliance.

Nevertheless, based on initial media reports and a cursory review of its contents, my initial reaction to the plan is one of cautious receptiveness. This is especially so as the plan continues to demonstrate that Trump is a great friend of Israel, in line with his landmark decisions on Jerusalem, the Golan, and the legality of the settlements.

The plan contains numerous elements which would be very beneficial to Israel, such as full sovereignty over Jerusalem and full security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea plus all air space above. It also dramatically reverses the trend of recent decades whereby the international community has slowly eroded away at Israel’s rights and positions without requiring any Palestinian concessions. It also truly tests, for the first time in the history of the Mideast peace process, the real intentions of the Palestinian leadership, and appears to penalize them for rejecting peace with Israel.

However, if the Trump plan plays out as currently written, it would require Israel to permanently cede its claim to certain God-given territories for a Palestinian state, essentially dividing the Land contrary to Scripture. It also holds out the possibility of statehood to a corrupt Palestinian leadership which remains firmly entrenched in its rejection of Israel and continues to squander the hopes and future of the Palestinian people.

Still, the plan has its merits.

Reversing the Trend

Ever since the Madrid peace conference in October 1991, the international community has been slowly and steadily trying to force Israel back to the pre-1967 lines in order to create a Palestinian state. The Oslo process culminated at Camp David in July 2000 with Ehud Barak’s offer to cede 92% of the West Bank to the Palestinians. After his talks with PLO chief Yasser Arafat collapsed, some of Barak’s peace team continued the talks at Taba in early 2001 and sweetened the offer to 95% of the West Bank. Around the same time, outgoing US president Bill Clinton set forth his suggested parameters for peace which called for negotiations based on the pre-67 lines with minor land swaps so Israel could retain the “consensus” settlement blocs. Eventually, Ehud Olmert upped the Israeli offer to 97% of the West Bank.

Every time, the Palestinians rejected these generous offers and refused to even table a counteroffer, believing all the time that the international community would eventually deliver them 100% of the territory without having to formally end the conflict with Israel. This slow march back to what Abba Eban described as the “borders of Auschwitz” peaked with UN Security Council resolution 2334, which declared that all the West Bank and East Jerusalem were “occupied Palestinian territory.”

But that unproductive trend is now reversed, as Trump’s plan would only give the Palestinians up to 80% of the West Bank, and outlying slivers of eastern Jerusalem, for a Palestinian state. So in that sense, it is a welcome change from what Israelis like to call the “salami process” of the world powers slowly slicing away at their rights and positions.

Humane Approach

The Trump plan also would essentially freeze the status quo in many ways, most importantly by not forcing anyone from their homes, Israelis or Palestinians. No Israeli settlements would be uprooted, and the entire Jordan Valley could be annexed by Israel. There would be 15 isolated Jewish communities in the Shomron and Judean hills, but if the Palestinians fully follow the plan these communities would have a greater peace of mind about their situation than they have now.

Testing Palestinian Intentions

The Palestinians would have a long list of limitations, requirements and conditions in order to receive American recognition of their statehood several years down the road. The Palestinian state would have no army, no security control of their borders or air space, and no right to form mutual defense pacts with Iran or other enemies of Israel. They also would have to end incitement against Israel, as well as pay-for-slay benefits to terrorists in jail and families of terrorist martyrs.

Perhaps the biggest test of whether the Palestinians truly want peace is the requirement that the Palestinian Authority disarm Hamas. Given that Hamas will never voluntarily lay down their arms, this would require a brutal civil war among the Palestinians to meet the Trump requirements for statehood. That is an enormously high, if not unrealistic, threshold for the Palestinians to achieve.

There are other problems with the Trump plan. For instance, Trump seems to have limited coattails when it comes to other nations following his lead. Only a handful of nations are ascending to Jerusalem like the US with their embassies, and no one has endorsed his recognition of the Golan as sovereign Israeli territory. I believe more countries will follow Trump’s lead on these issues if he gets re-elected, but he first needs to win a second term. Otherwise, the plan is dead in the water.

I do not expect the Palestinians to buy into this plan, but will rather wait out Trump’s fate come November. Yet the plan’s architects already have built into its terms some very clever mechanisms to penalize the Palestinians for continuing to reject peace with Israel. But we can also anticipate a number of world leaders coming to their rescue – starting with the European Union and Russia.

Meanwhile, Israeli leaders will need to utilize the Trump plan to solidify their hold on as much of the disputed territories as possible, even if it never gets fully implemented. Trump’s team anticipated as much and thus it is the most pro-Israel peace plan ever offered since UN Security Council resolution 242 was passed in the wake of Israel’s capture of these areas in June 1967.

David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

 

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