The Trump Administration revealed its “Peace Plan” today. No one thinks that it will welcomed by the Palestinians who have already called it “Dead on Arrival” and refuse even to speak with the President. The plan is really more of an attempt to alter the dynamic of the discussions. At the start of the Oslo Peace Process, there were two entirely different sets of premises for negotiations.
The Israelis wanted to create a state for Palestinians that removed the vast majority of Arabs who were hostile to Israel’s existence living in territories occupied since 1967 from living under Israeli rule. The assumption was that not only would it be bad for Israel to be forced to continue to govern millions of hostile people, but that there would be a growing demographic threat and Israel could potentially cease to be a Jewish state. The goal was to create something that had not previously existed, a state for the Palestinians separate from the state created for the Jews, that would allow Israelis and Palestinians each to live in peace and prosperity with an agreed upon end to hostilities. Negotiations were seen as a process to achieve a lasting peace between the peoples.
The Palestinian side, on the other hand, operated with the understanding that Palestinians were entitled to all of the territory controlled by Jordan prior to 1967, including all of the Old City of Jerusalem, it’s center, north, east, and south, and this was often presented as a temporary compromise to the fact that they were truly entitled to all of British Mandatory Palestine. They argued for the creation of a state for the Palestinians and for the return of “refugees” to Israel proper that would have essentially turned Israel into another Palestinian state. Negotiations were seen as a way to first win the 1967 war and then 1948 war by other means. When negotiations failed, Palestinians would turn to international institutions hoping for the imposition on Israel of this result.
You need no more information than the above to understand why negotiations have failed, but there is much more. Not only did the Palestinians reject and not even deign to counter the 2000 agreement, but they launched an intifada of which they then lost control. Once Hamas took over Gaza, the situation was largely unrecoverable. Hamas’ demonstrated use of mass rocket fire against Israel significantly increased the potential risk of harm to Israel of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank. The Arab Spring with the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt followed by the coup that brought al Sissi to power in Egypt and the entrenchment of the Israeli center and right with the total collapse of the Israeli left in Israeli politics moved the dynamic far away from what it was in the 1990s. With American regional policy changes during the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration, Arab nations came to no longer trust that America would side with them and have become strategic allies of Israel with a strong Israel as indispensable.
Palestinian intransigence in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now seen as an Arab problem and Sunni Arab support has weakened significantly. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman were represented at the reveal of the Trump plan. Saudi Arabia assuredly involved as well.
In 2019, the Palestinian Arabs are in four major territories involved in the conflict: Gaza, the Northern West Bank (Samaria), the Southern West Bank (Judah), and Israel. Gaza is ruled by Hamas which is hostile to both the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Northern West Bank is economically prosperous and is dominated and controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The Southern West Bank is less prosperous and has more support for Hamas than the north, but is under the control of the PA. Palestinian Arabs in Israel are Israelis, increasingly content living under Israeli rule, though they may not agree with the policies of its leadership, and while still supportive of an independent Palestinian state, they are less likely to jeopardize what they have to achieve one.
It is unlikely that Gaza will be functionally reconnected with the Palestinian Authority any time soon. If Hamas is disarmed, who would replace it and how? How would Hamas be disarmed in the first place? One, perhaps likely, possible concession from the start may well be that the Palestinian Authority will deal with Israel without including Gaza and Hamas at all in negotiations. That may even have been the intent of stating that Hamas would have to be disarmed. The inclusion of Hamas or attempting to negotiate for Gaza as if Hamas doesn’t control it are both ways to undermine negotiations from the start.
Regarding Jerusalem, Israel is in complete control. While it may be possible to separate certain parts of the city, there is no driving need to do so on the part of the Israelis. At this point, the questions are of what the Palestinians could control in Jerusalem and how to make that happen rather than what they would like to control. The Old City and Holy Basin are out of the question at this point because securing them if they were not completely under Israeli control would be impossible and the consequences for failure dire.
There is simply no possibility of even joint control of the Jordanian border. Neither Israel, nor Jordan would trust anyone but Israel to control it and the consequences of any major failure there would be catastrophic and might even lead to war.
Palestinian control of the Temple Mount itself is no longer guaranteed. Not only is Jordan interested in maintaining control, but Turkey is trying to assert itself as a potential governor of the site based on its role during the Ottoman Empire. And more, problematically for all three of them, the Saudis are making a strong argument that they should oversee Al Aqsa, just as they oversee the sites in Saudi Arabia. With the Saudis as a growing ally of Israel and with all three of the others offering Israel problems, this is far from a remote possibility, if the Palestinians do not agree to a resolution with Israel in the near term.
Finally, the Palestinians are a recognized observer state that officially controls territory. The Israelis need not recognize any dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, need not reclaim the territory granted it, nor would they be obligated to accept any of its citizens as their own. The dissolution of the Palestinian Authority would simply result in chaos and violence within those territories and harm to its citizens. It will not change that dynamic. Accepting Observer State status painted the Palestinians into a corner. One cannot unmake a state by one’s own choice. The Palestinians are and will be then stuck in an interim semi-state, if they don’t move forward.
The new framework being put forward would allow the Palestinians to negotiate for more territory and the creation of a contiguous territory in the West Bank, it would give them the opportunity for a greatly improved economy, and it would allow for the conflict to finally be settled with the Palestinians granted full state status. It is better than the status quo and is far better than what could be the status quo a decade or two down the road.
The purpose here seems to be to force negotiations and concessions. It’s clear that nothing can move forward including Gaza, if Hamas is in charge. Maybe the process moves forward without including Gaza. The Palestinians currently have a capital in Ramallah. Would Abu Dis not be better? Think improvement over the status quo rather than meeting longtime goals.
This framework recognizes that Israel has won. The war is over. Now it is time to move forward and if that opportunity is not taken, what the Palestinians currently have may well be what they are left with for the foreseeable future, the possibilities for improvement ever weakening with time. What was delivered today was not really a peace plan, but a peace ultimatum. Act now, or suffer the consequences of time and the changes that failure will bring. So far, they have been pretty bad for the Palestinians and that is likely to worsen.
For a description of what a realistic resolution might look like, please see my article on a Current Reasonable Resolution to the Conflict, which changes with the changing circumstances and was updated in 2019. The President’s peace plan aligns well with it.
The PA and Mahmoud Abbas have not, cannot and will not go near the Trump peace plan on pain of finally being overthrown and/or assassinated. For so long they have assimilated an anti-Israel, anti-peace agreement of any ilk that they simply cannot accept what Trump is offering to both sides. As futile, wasteful, and destructive as it would be, the Palestinians are far more likely to start a third intifada than they are to come to negotiations which would involve their establishing a state. State establishment, ironically, would be a declaration of defeat. This would fly in the face of the Arab long view that over time Israel would crumble at their feet and they would be able to reclaim what they have never ceded over these past seventy two years and more.