Peace in the Middle East has eluded many Arab countries for centuries. It has evaded the Israelis for far longer than the state of Israel has existed, going back even to biblical times. A succession of U.S. presidents has tried and failed to solve the problem of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims in that relatively small region between the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean. Will Donald Trump be the one to succeed? Prospects may not be good. If he does, though, he truly will be the master of the art of the deal.
Standing with besieged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House, Trump unveiled his plan on Jan. 28. “There is nothing tougher than this one,” he said. “We have an obligation to humanity to get it done.”
Carrots and Sticks for the Palestinians
For the Palestinians, there are a few sticks and several carrots. Renouncing terrorism and the practice of paying money to the families of “martyrs” is one of the conditions they must meet. The proposed “future Palestinian state” would be demilitarized, though the Palestinians will be able to maintain police forces. Additionally, the Palestinians would have to accept Israeli sovereignty over already constructed West Bank settlements, as well as over the Jordan Valley.
One of the hardest pills for the Palestinians to swallow, perhaps, will be the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed city of Jerusalem. The proposed capital of the Palestinian state, however, will be in East Jerusalem. The U.S. president even proposed an embassy.
As a result of land swaps, the area under Palestinian control will be virtually doubled, with a contiguous state on the West Bank and a tunnel connecting it to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians also will have two additional regions to the south of Gaza, along the border with Egypt. At the request of Egypt, though, the Israelis will maintain security control of those areas to prevent cross-border terrorist attacks.
“You have charted a brilliant future for Israelis and Palestinians toward a lasting peace,” said Netanyahu, who described previous failed peace plans as lacking the “right balance between Israeli security and Palestinian aspirations.” The Israeli prime minister, who is facing corruption charges, will be up for re-election in early March, though both he and his opponent, Benny Gantz, have pledged to work toward implementation of Trump’s plan.
Historic Moves and Predictable Resistance
“Today, Israel has taken a giant step toward peace,” Trump said. Indeed, this is the first time an Israeli leader has accepted the proposed creation of a Palestinian state with recognized borders. The plan also calls for a four-year freeze on new settlement construction.
It is unclear how much real input the Palestinians had. Even before the announcement of the plan, Palestinian leaders described it as a “conspiracy” that was dead on arrival, according to a report from Al Jazeera. Following Trump’s unveiling of the proposal, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a seemingly emphatic response: “We say a thousand no’s,” he proclaimed in a rambling speech.
Everyone has been here before, of course, though Trump’s plan is more specific than anything that preceded it. Despite the obligatory screams of defiance from Palestinian leaders – uttered only to inflame the loyalties of the Palestinian people – what real chance is there that U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian negotiators will sit down and hammer out the details? That may be determined within a matter of weeks or months since President Trump is likely looking to take a developing and historic Middle East peace proposal on the election campaign trail.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.