WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both spoke about a peace plan on Tuesday at the White House. Trump went further and announced that the plan will include a Palestinian state. But when the details of the plan are examined, it is clear that no Palestinian state will be established. Instead, it will lead to Israel gradually taking full control over the entire West Bank.
The plan allows Israel to take the immediate step of annexing all the settlements that are spread throughout the West Bank, in addition to the vast area of the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu, hours after the corruption indictment against him was filed in Jerusalem, declared on Tuesday that the interim government he heads will vote on this step early next week. For the first time since 1967, Israel will annex settlements that are located in-between cities and villages that are home to more than 2.5 million Palestinians. (However, the person who oversaw the peace plan, Jared Kushner, later said he did not believe Israel would hold an annexation vote next Sunday.)
If the government does approve the move on Sunday, these settlements will become like the rest of Israel under Israeli law. But the Palestinian areas that surround them will still have a different status – living under military occupation – and be subject to a totally different set of laws than those that apply to the Jewish settlements.
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The solution that the Trump plan offers to this situation is the creation of a Palestinian “state” that could potentially be established four years from now, in the areas of the West Bank that will not be annexed by Israel. This future state, however, will have none of the actual characteristics of a state. The streets of all of its cities, towns and villages, as well as the roads connecting them, will be under the full control of the military of another state – Israel. It will have no control over its borders, which will also be controlled by Israel.
In addition, this state, despite Trump’s claim that it will have territorial continuity, will in fact be dissected by Israeli settlements that will remain as “enclaves” inside its territory and will be under full Israeli sovereignty. This means that Palestinian citizens of the future “state” could still stand at Israeli checkpoints – not at the border points between their state and Israel, but well inside their own state, between one town and the next. The official reason for these checkpoints could easily be given as the need to protect the Israeli communities located within Palestinian territory.
The chance that any Palestinian leader agrees to accept such a “state” under these conditions is nonexistent. What the Trump plan is offering the Palestinians is basically to take the existing reality – living under Israeli military occupation, with settlements spread in-between their cities, towns and villages – and to enshrine it by labeling it as a state. For the Palestinian citizen, this would still mean living in a territory that is fully controlled by Israel – but one where one group of the population enjoys all the rights and benefits that come with Israeli citizenship, while the other, larger group is under military control.
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If this is not enough to ensure Palestinian rejection of the plan, it also sets conditions for the creation of a Palestinian state that no Palestinian leader could accept. For example, one of the conditions is that the Palestinians refrain from any complaints against Israel to the International Criminal Court. But the plan doesn’t offer the Palestinians any alternative way to complain about abuses of their rights.
What would the Palestinians do if a future, right-wing government in Israel decided to destroy an entire Palestinian village in retaliation for a terror attack committed by one resident? Who would they appeal to in such a scenario? No Palestinian leader will agree both to the permanent presence of Israeli soldiers inside their state, and to giving up the only way to deter a future Israeli government from using that military in problematic ways.
Another reason why any Palestinian leader will reject the plan is a call to examine a “population swap” between Israel and the future “state.” The Trump plan endorses the idea that large Arab towns in central Israel, clustered in an area known as “the Triangle,” will become part of the future Palestinian state, because many of the Arab Israeli citizens who live there define themselves as Palestinians. Meanwhile, settlers living in-between Palestinian villages and towns within the future Palestinian “state,” and who define themselves as Israelis, will not face a similar fate.
This idea, which was first proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and has now been adopted for the first time ever by a U.S. administration, is a complete nonstarter for the Palestinian leadership. It again creates two sets of rules – one for Israeli Jews (who can live in “enclaves” inside the Palestinian “state” and remain Israeli citizens) and one for Israeli Arabs (who will lose their Israeli citizenship). This is another reason the Palestinians will surely reject the plan.
The only part of the Trump plan that will assuredly be implemented is the annexation bit. All the other parts of the plan will be contingent on Palestinian acceptance of a plan that, as previously written in Haaretz, was written with the clear intention of getting the Palestinians to reject it. This means that as a result of the plan, Israel will continue to control the entire West Bank and no Palestinian state will be established. As for the fate of the Palestinians living there – that would likely be left for the next U.S. administration to consider.