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Trump, if You Really Love Israel - Let Your Peace Plan Go

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Counter-demonstrators hold an Israel flag with a Trump sticker at a pro-Palestinian rally in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2018.
Counter-demonstrators hold an Israel flag with a Trump sticker at a pro-Palestinian rally in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2018.Credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/ REUTERS
Ori Nir
Ori Nir

An impending U.S. diplomatic initiative to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict used to make big headlines. Now, the Trump administration says its on the verge of issuing an "ultimate deal" plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and hardly anyone seems to care.

Should we care? Absolutely. Not because the plan has a serious chance to succeed. It doesn’t. But because of the potentially catastrophic repercussions that a severely flawed plan would have.  

What we know so far about this administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian question does not bode well for an effective peace plan.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands behind as U.S. President Donald Trump shows the proclamation he signed that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, December 6, 2017Credit: Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

Trump and his aides have been trying to take Jerusalem "off the table," as the president put it, by recognizing the disputed city as exclusively Israel’s capital, without recognizing Palestinian claims to it.

Trump and his aides have humiliated, punished, and marginalized the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, Israel’s partner to negotiations.

They have taken measures to punish Palestinian refugees in what seems like an absurd attempt to take this contested issue "off the table" as well.

They have refused to commit to a two-state solution, the only viable solution to the conflict.

And, in public statements, they prioritize economic measures ("bettering the lives of the Palestinian people," in the words of Trump aide Jared Kushner) over tackling core components of the conflict such as borders, security, sovereignty, and refugees.

Common logic is that because the prospective plan is likely to be severely flawed, it will be dead-on-arrival. And, a DOA plan, so goes this logic, will be thrown to the dustbin of history and have no long-term consequences.

This logic is wrong.

A defective presidential plan might be more consequential than any U.S. diplomatic initiative on Israel-Palestine in recent memory.

A Palestinian boy sits on a chair with a national flag as Israeli authorities demolish a school site in the the West Bank village of Yatta, south of Hebron. July 11 2018Credit: AFP

The new plan will be the first official comprehensive iteration of Donald Trump’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All indications are that it will dramatically divert from core policy positions of past U.S. administrations – Democratic and Republican – in the past 20-25 years.

Now, one may say that many of Trump’s policies on foreign affairs are unorthodox and intentionally tilt the pendulum away from the policies of the Obama administration, and even those that preceded it.

But the point is that unlike other Trump foreign policies, his policy on Israel-Palestine will be much more difficult to reverse. Powerful lobbying organizations and powerful individuals – in Israel, on Capitol Hill, and beyond – will do whatever they can to prevent the pendulum from tilting back. They will try to codify the new policies into law. They will add teeth to their legislation and make any future attempt to change Trump’s Netanyahu-inspired policies irreversible. They can do that very effectively.

A Trump plan that provides no credible political horizon for the Palestinians, a plan that for Palestinians means the death of their dream of national determination, independence and freedom, is likely to have devastating consequences in the short run as well. Despair spawns violence, and violence deepens enmity which begets more violence.

But in the long run, a DOA Trump "peace plan" could kill prospects for future peace. The window of opportunity to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to reach a lasting resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will shut sooner rather than later.

A view of the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis, West Bank, built during the heyday of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the 1990s, now lies decrepit. June 24, 2018Credit: Dusan Vranic/AP

Past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, brokered by the U.S., have brought Israelis and Palestinians close to an agreement. And while these gap-bridging achievements have been significantly eroded under Netanyahu, once Israelis elect a peace-seeking prime minister, past incremental achievements could serve as a valuable foundation for a future peace agreement.

Without a two-state agreement, the Zionist dream will collapse because Israel would not be able to reconcile its Jewish character with its democratic underpinnings.

Trump’s "peace plan," therefore, has the potential of being much more consequential than many seem to believe.

Trump and his pro-settler aides are now signaling that they may shelve the plan. But they may very well also decide to release it to establish policy facts on the ground and to appease Trump’s Evangelical base.

If Trump cares at all about Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish state, he should not wreck the foundation for peace that past administrations have laid in concert with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. If he cares about Israel, he’d better keep his plan on the shelf.

Ori Nir, a former Washington correspondent of Haaretz and The Forward, works for Americans for Peace Now, the sister-organization of Israel’s Peace Now movement.

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