Analysis

Trump’s Peace Plan Will Fail – but Its Vision Could Still Endure

Netanyahu finally has his lifelong goal within his grasp: the end of any rival claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in the White House with U.S. President Donald Trump just behind him, January 28, 2020.
AFP

The list of reasons why the Trump peace plan is destined to fail is long and practically writes itself. For starters, the plan unveiled Tuesday is ostensibly aimed at solving one of the most intractable conflicts in history. Previous plans by serious professional diplomats have failed. This one, coming from the most inept and amateurish administration in history, surely hasn’t a chance.

There are the murky circumstances of its rollout – suddenly, at a time seemingly designed to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his internal political and legal problems, not to bring peace to the region.

And of course, there’s the minor detail that one side to the conflict, the Palestinians, is not even invited to the unveiling and hasn’t had any meaningful engagement with the Trump administration for over two years.

The list goes on. This plan is a nonstarter. It is dead on arrival.

But perhaps it is wrong to judge Trump’s peace plan as you would any other diplomatic blueprint. This isn’t Bill Clinton’s “parameters” or George W. Bush’s “road map.” With President Donald Trump, it’s never the details of the deal that are important; it’s the idea he’s selling, the aspiration. That’s always been Trump’s genius: to match the dream to those who want to buy into it.

The key to understanding Trump’s plan is knowing who he’s selling it to.

Previous peace plans were aimed at both Israelis and Palestinians – specifically to more moderate and compromise-minded sections of those two peoples. Trump’s plan is intended for an entirely different clientele: right-wing Israelis, right-wing American Jews and, particularly, Trump’s base of evangelicals.

They can be expected to be extremely pleased with the deal. As far as customer satisfaction goes, this may well be the most successful peace plan ever, as it recognizes Israeli sovereignty over most of East Jerusalem, and annexation of the Jordan Valley and all settlements.

But that’s not all: the Trump plan offers something even more worthwhile for its prime audience. After all, the chances of actually delivering on de facto annexation are slim. Netanyahu or Trump may not be in power long enough to implement any of the plan. They may not even want to, but instead just virtue signal the “deal of the century.”

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Netanyahu is in no rush to annex. Just like the Likud prime ministers who preceded him, what was important was preserving the status quo of Israel’s control of the territories and preventing any substantial move to end that control. Over the past four decades, with Likud in power most of that time, the de facto annexation of parts of the West Bank progressed steadily without the need for Trump’s plan.

On the other hand, Likud leaders’ attempts to neutralize rival claims to the territory were less successful. They failed to prevent the creation of an international consensus around the idea of Palestinian statehood. Over the course of half a century, Yasser Arafat went from being a terror chieftain to the president of a Palestinian state-in-waiting. Even Trump himself is now notionally promising the Palestinians a state.

A Palestinian man placing a shoe on a television screen broadcasting the announcement of Mideast peace plan by U.S. President Donald Trump, in a coffee shop in Hebron, January 28, 2020.
MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

But there was an interesting caveat to his plan. Not only did he set eight conditions for statehood, but he warned that this could be the Palestinians’ “last chance” for a state. He went on to refer to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinian rejection of the UN Partition Plan in 1948. The meaning was clear: Don’t make the same mistake again, you won’t get another chance.

And this is what Netanyahu is relying on. He knows the Palestinians will persist in their rejection of the Trump plan, which is why he is embracing it – even the bits he and his far-right base find unpalatable. That is because he knows he finally has his lifelong goal within his grasp: the end of any rival claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

And this is now a realistic goal. In the past decade, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has gone from the status he inherited from Arafat to being little more than the mayor of Ramallah. The world has given up on the Palestinians, and their cause is no longer fashionable beyond the far-left fringe in the West. Even the Arab states barely pay lip service to it anymore.

The Trump plan will never work – but it isn’t meant to, as far as Netanyahu is concerned. It is there to drive a stake through the heart of the Palestinian national movement and open the way to the transformation of the Palestinians to a people, like the Tibetans or the Kurds, without a realistic hope of ever having a state of their own.

That is the vision behind the Trump plan. And it could work.