Opinion

Trump's 'Peace Plan' Is Very Bad. But It's Not Completely Terrible

Trump's one-sided 'vision' to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a serenade to Evangelicals and the Adelsons, and ratifies America's withdrawal from the Middle East. But in it, there remains a thin thread of hope

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with US President Donald Trump, at the launch of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House, Washington, DC. January 28, 2020
AFP

The "Deal of the Century" was a very bad plan, of course. But not completely terrible, and in some ways better than I expected.

That it was a bad plan should have been a surprise to no one, and certainly not to the majority of American Jews. Who would have expected otherwise?

How many "good plans" have emerged from the Trump White House on foreign policy - or on anything else for that matter? Let us imagine that the president were to be given a blank map of the Middle East. I would be willing to make a substantial wager that Mr. Trump could not fill in the names of Israel’s half dozen major neighbors in the correct slots. 

Donald Trump’s reasons for his enthusiastic presentation of the plan have been much discussed, and each contains a measure of truth.  The president was looking to divert attention from the impeachment spectacle, to win the support of Evangelicals and politically conservative Jews for his reelection campaign, and to cement the allegiance of his party’s most generous donors, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. 

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters line-up for an evening Keep America Great Rally at the Wildwood Convention Center on January 28, 2020 in Wildwood, New Jersey
AFP

In addition, of course, this is a president who loves grand, attention-grabbing gestures, especially unilateral ones that involve no American troops and no American money. The brochures were impressive and the maps detailed, but make no mistake. Trump’s "deal" was not an act of commitment to the Middle East but another act of withdrawal. And with the press conference over, the deal is mostly over for him as well.

The president will refer to it when meeting with Evangelical leaders and will offer the occasional veto in the Security Council on Israel’s behalf.  Beyond that, my bet is that he will put the whole affair behind him and quickly move on to other things. 

Despite the hoopla, Mr. Trump remains a cautious, inward-looking President, with no patience for diplomacy and very little readiness to put American lives and resources on the line in matters of foreign relations. The "Deal of the Century," therefore, is a perfect fit for his temperament:  what he sees as a cost-free exercise that, apart from possible electoral impact, he does not care a whole lot about. 

And to his credit, Trump said as much at the press conference.  Referring to the deal, his exact words were: "We’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to have to live with that too." Not exactly a rousing endorsement of his own plan.

Is there any value at all for Israel in this plan? Despite everything said above, the answer is maybe.

An Israeli man watches the televised press conference of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an electronics shop in the Israeli city of Modiin on January 28, 2020
AFP

Most liberal American Jews, and liberal Americans of every sort, have attacked the deal for understandable reasons, most focusing on the absence of Palestinian participation and the failure to focus on the rights and aspirations of both sides to the conflict. The American plan is one-sided, and no one in his right mind could claim otherwise.

Nonetheless, despite my distaste for Trump and my pain at the absence of balance, I am not prepared to simply dismiss the plan, as many have in the liberal camp. For two reasons, I insist on maintaining a thread of hope.

First, as I have indicated, President Trump will quickly lose interest in Israel/Palestine and turn his attention to new press opportunities and other matters that will feed his ego and his Twitter feed. Israel and the countries on her borders will be mostly left alone to find solutions on their own, assuming that solutions of any sort are available.

On balance, as one who has always called for American leadership in the Middle East, I find this to be a positive development. Previous presidents, with better instincts and serious foreign policy teams, had very few Middle East successes. From Trump, with the "Deal of the Century" behind him, nothing whatever can be expected. Let him fade away, and perhaps Israel and her neighbors can stitch together the beginnings of some new understandings.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tyres during a demonstration against a US brokered Middle East peace plan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 29, 2020
AFP

Second, Israel’s sensible centrists, to whom I turn for guidance, have all found value in the Trump plan.

Amos Yadlin, head of the Institute for National Security Studies, wrote in Yediot Ahronot that both major parties should endorse the plan - though he has reservations. Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister and Defense Minister, wrote in Haaretz that the Trump plan offers Israel a significant opportunity. And Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White and Netanyahu’s primary rival for Prime Minister, stated in Washington that he would work to implement the plan in an appropriate way following the election.

Each of these leaders offered a somewhat different rationale, but the point is that all believe in a Jewish and democratic Israel, all despise Netanyahu's criminal corruption, all understand that Israel needs international support and the backing of Diaspora Jews, and all are political pragmatists who are skeptical of Palestinian intentions but open to Palestinian aspirations.

And all believe that on balance, there are elements of the Trump plan that make it worthy of consideration, and despite all its flaws, the possible basis for a negotiated settlement. 

The words of these leaders carry weight with me, and they should carry weight with American Jews as well. The choice, after all, is not between the Clinton parameters and the "Deal of the Century." It is between the Trump plan and the bi-national state that is coming into being and that Bibi and his right-wing and racist coalition partners are shamelessly promoting.

Kachol Lavan party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a news conference in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, after meeting with President Donald Trump
Jose Luis Magana,AP

Of course, the Trump plan can only lead to a Jewish and democratic Israel if it is implemented by a sane and serious leader: A leader who understands that implementation must be done in cooperation with Jordan, Egypt, and the moderate Sunni states; who will scrupulously observe the settlement freeze that the plan calls for; who will reach out to Palestinian leaders, even if those efforts are not reciprocated; who appreciates that European backing for the plan is essential and not impossible to secure; and who, above all, will avoid immediate annexations that will blow up the entire deal, throw the region into chaos and war, and put an end to negotiations before they even begin.

Can Benny Gantz be such a leader? I don’t know for certain, but I believe that he can. 

Can Bibi? Impossible. He is desperate and corrupt, and even at this critical hour, prepared to put his personal interests ahead of those of the State of Israel. 

Bottom line: I am hoping for a Gantz government that will take the Trump plan, build on its strengths, downplay its weaknesses, and move Israel in the direction of separation, democracy, a strong Jewish majority, and understandings - if not peace - with her neighbors.  It is up to the voters of Israel, but it is my fervent wish that they will agree.