At the very start of his presidential term, Donald Trump promised to do what no other US president had done despite all their efforts. He said he would find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem and close "the ultimate deal."
Donald Trump will unveil his new Middle East (ME) peace plan in mid-to-late June after the end of Ramadan. The exact date for its publication is yet to be announced. Select allies are already being briefed on the elements of the plan. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has confirmed that the initiative is being finalized.
The details are not yet known, but it is generally believed that the proposal will suggest recognizing Israel as the Jewish people’s homeland. The Palestinian Authority (PA) will be given limited sovereignty. Its territory will include about half of the West Bank, including the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the entire Gaza Strip, provided that Hamas agrees to disarm. The Jordan Valley will go to Israel, preserving its security presence along the Jordan River. The Old City will also become a part of Israel. Palestine and Jordan will share religious jurisdiction over Jerusalem’s mosques. Abu Dis, located in the eastern part of Jerusalem, will become the capital of the PA. Israel will be responsible for the West Bank and the security of the border crossings. A system for compensating Palestinian refugees will be established and managed by the international community. Their right to return will not be recognized.
The plan will not be presented as a definitive document, but rather as the springboard for generating the momentum to rush into broader negotiations with the leading Arab actors, such as the Persian Gulf states and Egypt. The expectation is that certain mutually acceptable ideas will be discovered that will get the ball rolling.
So the proposal is not a two-state solution, but rather a blueprint offering a smorgasbord of options for further talks.
The plan is expected to be rebuffed by the PA amid signs that the US may slash funding for the West Bank and Gaza. The funds are likely to be reallocated elsewhere. Washington and its allies are looking for prominent Palestinians who would agree to back this plan that is certain to face rejection from the president of the PA. Mahmoud Abbas.
Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track is a must; otherwise it’ll be a tall order to establish an anti-Iranian coalition that includes the leading Arab states. Saudi Arabia and other potential members of such a group cannot openly cooperate with Israel. The Palestinian problem is an obstacle. The US needs to marshal regional support for this plan. We’re going to start seeing some very intensive diplomatic efforts, including behind-the-scenes meetings. The plan will be inevitably rolled out at an international conference, probably hosted by a large Arab nation, such as Egypt for instance.
As mentioned above, many US presidents have tried to find a solution to the ME conflict. Trump’s plan stands out as an initiative not aimed at bringing the two sides to the negotiating table but rather one that exerts pressure to make them accept it. Resolving the Palestinian issue paves the way for uniting a powerful coalition under the US banner. Another hallmark of the plan is the attempt to find an alternative to the current Palestinian leadership. Finding the right people is part of the effort.
The US position in the region was weakened as a result of the decision to move the embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Leading the peace process will get the US back onto the field as the leading player and an indispensable nation in the region.
With an anti-Iranian coalition in place and moves underway to roll back Tehran, China will suffer and find itself growing weaker. The rise in global oil prices will make Chinese commodities more expensive and thus its exports will become less competitive. The growth of its GDP could slow as a result.
Russia has the reputation of being an “honest broker” in the ME and its regional influence is on the rise. Keeping Moscow out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process is one way to contain it.
And in the end, the Palestinians will actually gain nothing. The proposal appears to be highly favorable toward Israel and dismissive of the PA. With Israel retaining control over security almost throughout the Palestinian territory, no full sovereignty is possible. The PA’s borders would not be based on the pre-1967 demarcations as the UN resolutions demand. But Sunni Arab states and others would provide enough economic assistance to the Palestinians to make them pliable.
Donald Trump likes to make “deals.” Perhaps he views the Palestinian problem as essentially an economic issue, not a political one. Because of this perspective he has adopted a “you make concessions to get economic benefits in return” approach. The problem is with the PA’s leadership, which is headed by Mahmoud Abbas, its people, and also the Arab leaders who want a real political settlement instead of a trade deal, because they aren’t going anywhere. It’s really hard to imagine the Palestinians taking any offer of “limited sovereignty” seriously.
The Israeli-PA conflict is not a problem to be tackled by a club of the chosen. Any peace effort requires broad international representation. The Palestinian leadership insists that Russia and a number of other states and organizations take on the role of mediating such a multilateral peace process.
President Trump’ proposal hasn’t even been made public yet. Nothing official has been heard from Washington so far. But some experts believe that the plan is dead on arrival. Perhaps they have a good reason to think so.