February 27, 2020

Deal of the Century: First Take on Next Week’s Drama

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - DECEMBER 9: President-elect Donald Trump looks on during a rally at the DeltaPlex Arena, December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. President-elect Donald Trump is continuing his victory tour across the country. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Trump administration is slated to publicize its peace plan for the Middle East as early as tomorrow. Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to see the President next week alongside Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz.

Many details are still murky, but there are things we already know and expect.

There is no reason to suspect that the timing was selected because of a growing sense that the region is ready for peace. In fact, the region is tense and is getting ready for a possible confrontation (for details, listen to our discussion with General Amos Gilad).

So why now? It is probably a combination of three reasons. 1. The Americans lost patience. They want to release the plan and are tired of waiting for the right diplomatic moment. 2. It is good for Trump. The Senate will debate his manners and competence, and he will seem like a world leader. 3. It is good for Netanyahu. On the eve of another election, the plan could be the trap from which Blue and White cannot escape. Unity government in support of the plan could become the obvious option when the election dust settles down.

The news about the coming announcement leaked when Vice President Pence was visiting the Western Wall this week. Two years ago, he was the first VP to pay such a visit to the holy site; on Thursday he did it again. That is to say: Israel’s hope to see a plan that it can accept is not unrealistic. The exact details are not yet publicized, but the Trump administration doesn’t seem to expect Israel to cave to all Palestinian demands.

These will be important things to look at:

Is there a hint of any Right of Return for Palestinians? Is there a need to evacuate Israeli settlements, and how many? Is the 1967 line the reference for a future border? Does the plan let Israel keep the Jordan Valley? What does the plan say about Gaza? What does it say about the involvement of Arab countries in the peace process?

First Details
In the hours following the first report on the coming Washington meeting, there is a barrage of leaks, some more reliable, some less, of supposed details of the plan. Ministers were ordered by the PM’s office not to give any interviews about the plan, and yet some give background information on the things they know, or think they know, about the plan. I am going to share some of these details with a caveat. The Netanyahu men have a clear interest in presenting the plan as a huge opportunity, and a remarkable break from the past. So I’ll advise to defer final judgment until we see the actual plan. 

And yet: 

According to certain reports (Amit Segal from Ch12 News was the most daring in making this argument), all settlements can stay. Only a dozen or so settlements will be surrounded by Palestinian territory. Other settlements will be connected to Israel by roads under Israeli jurisdiction.

Old Jerusalem will be a part of Israel’s capital.  

The Jordan Valley will remain under Israeli jurisdiction, and the Palestinians will have no border with countries other than Israel (and Egypt in Gaza). 

The Palestinians are expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. 

What do the Palestinians get? Some territory in the Negev (Israel’s south) to compensate for other land. A Palestinians State – demilitarized, if and when they accept the plan and its terms. 

They will, in all likelihood, reject the plan outright and wait to see if Trump gets a second term.

Will it say they can have a state? Two years ago, I wrote a cover story for the Jewish Journal on the plan – that was basically ready – and answered this question in the following words:

“It could lead to a Palestinian state. And yet, Netanyahu seems confident that the plan is compatible with the concept of “letting them rule themselves without the ability to harm Israel.” In other words: Ask not will they have a ‘state’ — ask what you mean by a ‘state.’ Call it a ‘state,’ call it a ‘giraffe’ or a ‘tiara,’ Israel does not much care as long as it preserves its ability to defend the border and prevent it from becoming another Palestinian enclave of terrorism such as Gaza. The Palestinians want a flag? They can have a flag. They can have a government, a border, a president, they can make decisions, develop their towns, grow their economy, maintain internal security. They can have a lot more than they have now. All this is in the plan, but for a price the Palestinians don’t seem willing to pay.”

Israel will accept the plan. If Netanyahu gets his way, the parties that oppose the plan (Yamina, and possibly the left) will not get a seat at the table in the next coalition.

We should not expect peace to follow the Trump-Netanyahu summit. And yet, a plan has a life of its own. Much like the decision by Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and to recognize Israel’s jurisdiction over the Golan Heights, for Israel, the Trump Plan will become a reference point for future bargaining. For the Palestinians it could serve as a sign that time might not be on their side. For the international community, it will pose a dilemma: Do you oppose a plan aimed at advancing peace? Do you pressure the Palestinians to begin negotiations based on the plan (without accepting it in full)?

At least now, the game is on.