On Tuesday, White House senior advisor and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner unveiled his long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, revealing this administration’s best stab at a problem that has frustrated U.S. efforts for decades.
Kushner’s plan redraws borders in the region and sets up new conditions under which a Palestinian state could be created. The plan does not permit displaced Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes in Israel, allow for the creation of a Palestinian military or provide Palestinians with substantive claim to any part of Jerusalem.
In short, it doesn’t address any Palestinian concerns — not surprising, since no Palestinians were consulted as part of the plan. Experts say that effectively dooms the plan out of the gates, but Kushner placed the blame on Palestinians’ shoulders, telling CNN that if they reject his plan “they’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”
President Trump praised the plan as a triumph in a speech alongside embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “All prior administrations from President Lyndon Johnson have tried and bitterly failed,” Trump said. “But I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems.”
Netanyahu agreed. “I believe that down the decades, and perhaps down the centuries, we will also remember January 28, 2020,” he said. “Because on this day, you became the first world leader to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over areas that are vital to our security and central to our heritage.”
As Netanyahu’s comments make clear, this plan is extremely friendly to Israel’s interests, which is why expert analysts on the region in question are skeptical of its chances.
“The so-called ‘deal of the century’ isn’t a peace plan at all. It is a plan to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu,” Guy Ziv, an Israel expert at American University, told Vox‘s Alex Ward. “If this plan was truly aimed at breaking the diplomatic stalemate, the Palestinians would have been consulted in the plan’s formulation.” As it stands, Palestinian leaders have already rejected the plan.
It’s a complex plan, split into four major proposals. First, Israel keeps the overwhelming majority of Jerusalem. Second, Palestinians are not afforded a “right of return” to their ancestral homelands. Third, the borders between Israel and the West Bank are re-drawn. And finally, Palestine is not allowed to have a sovereign military.
Those are all portentous proposals. When Israel was founded, Jerusalem was split between Jordan and Israel. That lasted for about 20 years until 1967, when Israel annexed East Jerusalem and claimed it as its undivided capital. Most other countries haven’t recognized Israel’s claim and the UN condemned the annexation in a Security Council Resolution. The Trump plan’s recognition of Israel’s claim will obviously please Netanyahu and his allies, but almost certainly renders the entire plan DOA.
Another issue with the plan is that it explicitly states Palestinians are granted no “right of return” to their ancestral homelands. 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by war in 1948. Today, there are some 7 million Palestinian refugees who’ve been demanding justice as part of any peace deal — usually expressed as a “right of return.”
Israel has refused to grant Palestinians a “right of return” since doing so would make Israeli Jews a minority in Israel, effectively ceding democratic control of the region to Palestinians. Trump’s plan instead calls for refugees to be absorbed into a new Palestinian state or one of the other neighboring countries.
Also, the plan gives Israel a large chunk of the West Bank, legitimizing the current Israeli settlements currently considered illegal under intentional law. In exchange, Palestinians would be given two sections of land along the Egyptian border and several other smaller pieces of land throughout the region.
All told, experts almost unanimously agreed that this plan stands about zero chance of surviving, regardless of anyone’s actual feelings about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Trump is hardly the first President to be stymied by the Israel-Palestine conflict. What does make this plan unique is how little attention is paid to Palestinian interests.
This may have been meant as a signal to pro-Israel groups — including the white evangelical base crucial to his re-election hopes — that he’s still on their side. Pro-Israel sentiment has exploded among Republicans over the last thirty years. In 1988, a little less than half of all voters in both parties — 47 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats — took Israel’s side in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In 2019, that percentage is about the same for Democrats, while 76 percent of Republicans say they’re pro-Israel.
The plan itself may be doomed to failure, but it’s still a gift to Netanyahu who’s facing indictment charges for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. It’s also a boon to Trump, facing his own bitter impeachment trial and an uncertain bid for a second term. In other words, the plan doesn’t necessarily have to succeed for it to do what it’s supposed to do.