Opinion

And What if the Trump Plan Should Work After All?

For the authors of the plan, success would be removing the Palestinians and their predicament from the international agenda at the lowest price possible

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner smiles as he watches U.S. President Donald Trump talk with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019.
\ Carlos Barria/ REUTERS

We’ve been so busy rubbishing the Trump peace plan, which for now at least seems to be materializing as the “peace to prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain next month, that we haven’t asked ourselves an important question. What if the Trump peace plan actually works?

I don’t mean what happens if the plan proves to be the deal of the century and brings about the great breakthrough which will lead to a historic peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. No one except Donald Trump, who hasn’t even read the plan and probably never will, believes that is possible. Not even the plan’s actual authors, Jared Kushner and David Friedman, think that. But that isn’t what they would call success anyway.

As far as the authors of the plan are concerned, it’s not about delivering a just and equitable solution for the Palestinians. Success for them would be removing the Palestinians and their predicament from the international agenda at the lowest price possible. That price is a series of semi-autonomous enclaves in Gaza and, at the most, half the territory of the West Bank, and as much Saudi, Emirati and Qatari cash as it will take to keep them quiet.

Kushner and Friedman aren’t fools. They probably know that the chances of the Palestinians accepting this price are nil. But that isn’t their aim.

They’re not even trying to get the Palestinians interested. The Bahrain workshop was convened without even consulting them. They just got their invitations, and, as expected, turned them down.

There’s been much talk of “economic peace,” trying to “buy off” the Palestinians, and “bribing” them to give up on their national aspirations.

But that’s a misreading of the Kushner-Friedman strategy. They couldn’t care less what the Palestinians accept. They’re trying to buy off the Arab world, at least the parts of it they care about – the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. They already know from the meetings they’ve had over the past two years that the Arab kings and dictators have little interest in the Palestinian cause, beyond paying it lip service. 

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Their aim is to capitalize on that and, by way of promising an enhanced alliance with the United States, make the abandonment of the Palestinians a fait accompli.

The success of the Trump plan relies on the Arab leaders acquiescing, because if they do, even by remaining silent in public, then it doesn’t matter what the Palestinians do or say. They could blow themselves up with a third Intifada, but if they don’t have the support of the main Sunni Arab regimes, the Trump team reckons no one else will care either. No one else that matters, that is.

You might say this is impossible. That the world will never agree to such an injustice being perpetuated. That five million Palestinians stuck under various degrees of military occupation and without basic civil rights won’t wash in the 21st century, and that the long arc of the moral universe will eventually bend toward justice.

Well yes, eventually. But meanwhile, have you seen what the world outside looks like just now?

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If the Arab leaders sign off on a plan which offers the Palestinians semi-autonomy and a multibillion-dollar economic package but not statehood, who exactly is going to stick up for them? The European Union, where nationalist-populist parties that see Benjamin Netanyahu as a father figure are about to make big gains in this weekend’s European Parliament election? Vladimir Putin, whose air force is currently pummeling the last enclave of Syrian rebels? Bibi’s just-reelected best friend, Narendra Modi of India?

Impossible, you say?

Kushner and Friedman reckon that they are getting closer to consigning the Palestinians to the category of the Kurds, Tibetans and Tamils, to name but a few of the stateless nations for which the world doesn’t really care. That is, if they can get the Arab regimes to go along with their plan.

Impossible you say? Well in a week and a half Israel will be celebrating Jerusalem Day, also known as the anniversary of the occupation. That’s 52 years now and Israel has never been under less pressure to end it.

The odds are still against the Kushner-Friedman plan working, but it’s far from inconceivable that it will. Which raises the question: When the world at large gives up on the Palestinians, who will still be by their side?

Of course, the Palestinians will still have Iran, Turkey, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as the human rights organizations and shrinking parts of the Western media. Along with increasingly irrelevant votes in various United Nations forums, just for old time’s sake. But they’ll have one more, rather more relevant ally. You got it – liberal, left-leaning Jews, a few in Israel and many more in the diaspora, mainly in the U.S.

If Trump’s team pulls it off, liberal Jews, the majority among American Jewry, will find that their role has been reversed. Israel will no longer want their support, while they will still feel they need to save Israel from itself.

Indeed, Netanyahu is already convinced he doesn’t need them and much prefers the uncritical support of his Christian evangelical fans. But there will be no pretenses anymore. Instead, they may find themselves the only significant group of critics of Israel in the West. Of all the indignities American Jews have suffered at the hands of Donald Trump, transforming them from Israel’s base to its main critics may be the biggest.