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Features of the Trump Peace Plan

by Mitchell Bard

Israel’s Borders
Security
Jerusalem
Refugees
Conditions
Reactions
Annexation
Opening or Closing the Door to Negotiations

The “ultimate deal” proposed by President Trump recognizes the principal of two states for two people. It would create a demilitarized Palestinian state in all of Gaza, approximately 70% of the West Bank and, as compensation for the area annexed to Israel, “reasonably comparable” territorial swaps. Palestine would not be contiguous and surrounded by Israel (except for Gaza, which also borders Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea).

A passage – perhaps a tunnel or nonstop railway – will be created to connect the West Bank and Gaza. Ironically, while Palestinians and their supporters complain about the non-contiguity of the Palestinian state, they ignore two geographic facts: first, Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous and, second, creating a link between those areas interrupts the contiguity of Israel. Meanwhile, Israelis are concerned this passage could allow terrorists to easily move from one area to the other unless they can monitor the entry and exit points.

The plan also envisions the possibility of Israel exchanging three Arab cities in the Galilee for that West Bank land. The Israeli Arab inhabitants, however, have repeatedly objected to becoming part of a Palestinian state.

Palestine would have access to the ports of Haifa and Ashdod and an “artificial island” off Gaza’s coast is proposed to serve as a Palestinian port and airport. This is an idea that has been under consideration in Israel but blocked in part by the unremitting terror attacks by Hamas and PIJ.

The Palestinian Authority already governs 98% of the Palestinian people in the disputed territories. Palestinians would be given citizenship and continue to have the right to vote and maintain a separate community life.

Israel’s Borders

The plan allows Israel to retain about 30% of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and expects Israel to cede parcels of land twice the size of Gaza, mostly in the Negev near the Egyptian border, to the Palestinian state. Israel will also be allowed to annex all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

In 2004, President George W. Bush acknowledged in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that “in light of new realities on the ground,” Israel would be allowed to annex some of these communities and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” President Barack Obama rejected Bush’s position. Now, Trump has returned to Bush’s formulation and taken it a step further by expressing the willingness to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the settlements in the West Bank.

In exchange for recognition of Israeli sovereignty, the administration expects Israel to freeze construction for four years in the area designated for the future Palestinian state, where no settlements currently exist, and in fifteen isolated settlements: Hermesh, Mevo Dotan, Elon More, Tel Hayyim (Itamar), Berakha, Yizhar, Ateret, Maale Amos, Asfar, Karme Zur, Telem, Adorah, Negohot, Bet Haggai, Otniel. Amb. David Friedman said the freeze would apply to the 50% of Area C that will be part of Palestine.

Though many Israelis object to the creation of a Palestinian state, the Trump plan erases the fear of others who believed Israel might annex the entire West Bank and create the conundrum of how to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy.

Security

Israel will not have to withdraw its forces from the West Bank, allowing it to remain in control of security for the entire area and all international crossings as well as to ensure that Palestine remains demilitarized. Israel will be responsible for security in the Israeli “enclaves” within the territory allotted for Palestine, retain control over the “airspace and electromagnetic spectrum west of the Jordan River,” have a veto over zoning and planning in border areas between Israel and Palestine based on its security requirements and be allowed to conduct operations inside Palestine to ensure it “remains demilitarized and non-threatening.” Palestine would also be barred from signing any military, security or intelligence agreements that adversely affect Israel’s security. The Palestinians will primarily be responsible for internal security in Palestine.

In past negotiations, the Palestinians accepted the idea of demilitarization but insisted on a timetable for Israel to end its security presences in Palestine. Not surprisingly, the Palestinians wanted a far shorter one than the Israelis.

Jerusalem

The Palestinians will be able to claim their capital is in Jerusalem as it will be in the suburb of Abu Dis, just outside the Israeli security barrier, which will serve as a border. This is where Mahmoud Abbas agreed to create the seat of the Palestinian government in 1995 and where a Palestinian parliament building was erected. The United States would open an embassy in the Palestinian capital.

Besides some other Arab areas in East Jerusalem that will be part of Palestine, the rest of the city, including the Old City, will remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty. The policies toward the holy places will remain the same, including Jordan retaining its role as custodian of Muslim shrines. One contradiction, however, is the provision that “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount,” which would end current restrictions on Jews doing so.

Refugees

The plan would allow a limited number of refugees to settle in Palestine at a rate that does not overwhelm the State of Palestine nor “increase security risks to the State of Israel.” Israel is not required to take in any refugees and will have a veto over the admission of anyone it deems hostile. Palestinians would subsequently cease to be regarded as refugees and UNRWA’s responsibilities would be “transitioned to relevant governments.”

Many refugees are expected to be settled where they are today, and member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are expected to accept up to 5,000 refugees a year for ten years.

Israel has always been willing to allow a small number of refugees into Israel but rejected the idea of giving refugees a “right to return,” viewing the idea of potentially allowing millions of Palestinians to enter Israel as suicide. Publicly, Palestinians have demanded that refugees have the right to return to Israel, but, privately, acknowledged this was unrealistic and were willing to accept some limited repatriation, though in far larger numbers than Isarel was prepared to accept.

In the past, the expectation was that individual refugees would receive compensation; however, Trump’s plan would provide compensation only to Jordan for hosting the largest number of refugees. Palestinians, including the refugees, are expected instead to benefit from the economic prosperity plan.

Conditions

To gain U.S. recognition of their independence, the Palestinian Authority must meet several conditions over the next four years. These include ceasing incitement and payments to terrorists, and democratic reforms such as rooting out corruption, establishing transparent financial institutions, respecting human rights, and guaranteeing freedom of the press and religion. In addition, Hamas and Islamic Jihad must disarm and recognize Israel, commit to nonviolence, release all Israeli hostages, and accept previous agreements with Israel to be eligible to enter the government; otherwise, the PA or some other body acceptable to Israel would have to come to power.

If the Palestinians accept the plan, the United States foresees the creation of an international fund of $50 billion paid to the Palestinians over ten years to develop their state.

In addition to the terms of the plan, the approach represents a dramatic change from past initiatives which focused on pressuring Israel to make concessions in the hope the Palestinians would reciprocate. Now, however, the Palestinians are expected to first prove they are committed to peace before Israel cedes any territory or permits the establishment of a Palestinian state. If they remain recalcitrant, Israel will control an even larger area than it does today without having to accept a Palestinian state on its doorstep.

Reactions

Immediately after the announcement of the peace plan, Mahmoud Abbas denounced it, threatened to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, vowed to end cooperation with Israel’s security forces and called for mass demonstrations.

Abbas has routinely talked about dismantling the PA, but that would mean he would lose his power. He also must cooperate with Israel’s security forces, which share his concern that Hamas would oust him from power as it did in Gaza.

Most Palestinians may not have liked the terms of the peace plan, but the PA was unable to motivate them to show much opposition. To mobilize a demonstration, the PA closed all the government offices and schools and bused people to Ramallah. Other small sporadic protests quickly fizzled out. Palestinians told Al Jazeera they could not get too excited over the plan because nothing had changed. “It’s already our reality,” one said.

Unlike most other U.S. peace plans, the Trump plan won rhetorical support from most of America’s Arab allies – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt – despite condemnation by the Arab League. In fact, the ambassadors from Bahrain, Oman and the UAE attended the White House launch of the plan.

Annexation

In February 2020, a U.S.-Israeli committee was established to start work on converting the conceptual map in the Trump plan into what the President described as “a more detailed and calibrated rendering” so that recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements can be “immediately achieved.”

The U.S. team is led by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, his advisor Arieh Lightstone, and Scott Leith, who is responsible for Israeli-Palestinian affairs in the US National Security Council. The Israeli team includes Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, Yariv Levin and Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ronen Peretz.

After first suggesting that Israel annex the settlements immediately, Friedman was contradicted by Jared Kushner, the peace plan’s chief author, who said the White House expected Israel to delay annexing any areas until the bilateral committee completes its work. The reversal also appeared to be an attempt to avoid the appearance of helping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. The new map was not expected to be completed until after the March 2, 2020, election.

Opening or Closing the Door to Negotiations

The Trump administration has stated the plan can be the starting point for negotiations. It need not be a fait accompli unless the Palestinians choose, as they have for the last 12 years, to refuse direct talks with Israel’s prime minister. Moreover, even if Israel begins to implement the terms of the plan, nothing prevents the Palestinians from proposing changes should they decide to negotiate in the future.


Sources: “Jared Kushner says his Middle East peace plan will be a ‘good starting point,’” CNBC, (May 2, 2019);
David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, “Trump Plan’s First Result: Israel Will Claim Sovereignty Over Part of West Bank,” New York Times, (January 28, 2020);
“Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu of the State of Israel in Joint Statements,” The White House, (January 28, 2020);
Dion Nissenbaum, “Arab Leaders’ Support for Mideast Peace Plan Marks a Regional Shift,” Wall Street Journal, (January 29, 2020);
Rami Ayyub, “Trump’s Mideast plan: What’s in it?” Reuters, (January 29, 2020);
Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, “Trump’s peace plan won’t have a chance unless Israel shows restraint on annexation,” Washington Post, (January 29, 2020);
Arwa Ibrahim, “Anger in Palestine over Trump plan, but protests see low turnout,” Al Jazeera, (January 29, 2020);
Simon Henderson, “Trump peace plan attracts some Gulf states, but not consensus backing,” The Hill, (January 29, 2020);
Dennis Ross, “A Steep Uphill Climb: Why Trump’s New Mideast Peace Plan Will Likely Harden the Israeli-Palestinian Divide,” New York Daily News, (February 2, 2020);
Ghaith al-Omari, “Continuity vs. Overreach in the Trump Peace Plan (Part 2): Security, Refugees, and Narratives,” Washington Institute, (February 4, 2020);
Robert Satloff, “We Need a Corrective to Old Catechisms on Peace. Trump’s Plan Isn’t It,” Washington Institute, (February 5, 2020);
Ma’an, (February 11, 2020);
“US-Israeli mapping committee for Trump peace plan said finalized,” Times of Israel, (February 16, 2020),
Michael Herzog, “Trump’s Mideast Plan Represents a Deep Paradigm Shift. What Should Israel Do Next?” Haaretz, (February 21, 2020).