The international community should say no to the Trump plan

Dr. Nimrod Goren January 2020

President Donald Trump’s Israel-Palestinian blueprint is neither a peace plan nor “best for Israel” (as some in Israel have claimed). On the contrary, it reportedly runs counter to previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and understandings on core issues of the conflict: borders, settlements, Jerusalem, and even refugees. It serves a right-wing political ideology and electoral goals, while distancing peace.

As such, the “Deal of the Century” endangers Israel’s future in the Middle East rather than improves it. The international community, which stepped aside from the Israeli-Palestinian issue once Trump took office three years ago, must now make itself heard with a resounding “No.” The same goes for Israeli politicians who still seek to advance peace.

Since Trump first coined the term “Deal of the Century” in 2017, the international community has vacated the arena, even when it became apparent that the moves of the US president were encumbering resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. International actors failed to adopt any significant initiative of their own, and mostly kept silent.

Diplomats and politicians from around the world, including those who in the past expressed commitment to peace, explained their inaction using various excuses: There is no alternative to US leadership on this issue, they said. We are trying behind the scenes to influence the contents of the US plan, they claimed. We will not judge the plan before we see it, they insisted. Once the plan is revealed, we will look at the half full glass and try to move forward, they promised.

They subsequently argued that there was no point in picking a fight with Trump over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as it was irrelevant or because the US plan might not even be published. And that is how we arrived at the point that over 40 world leaders convened in Israel for the World Holocaust Forum while ignoring the heated Israeli discourse on annexing parts of the West Bank that was taking place the very same time.

Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not have asked for better conditions to unveil the plan. From their perspective, their hard work of recent years had paid off.

The Netanyahu government was successful in distancing the international community from the Palestinian issue. It attacked international (and Israeli) players critical of its policy, portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian issue as no longer of interest to the world, and took steps to distance the feasibility of a Palestinian state. The Israeli opposition did not challenge the government effectively on this.

The ideological opposition (left-wing parties) gradually diminished, choosing to focus on social-economic issues rather than on foreign policy and national security ones; the non-ideological opposition (centrist parties) refrained from significantly diverging from Netanyahu’s policies, in a bid to appeal to right-wing voters. Israeli public opinion has been affected accordingly – according to the Mitvim Institute’s recent poll, support for the two-state solution is declining, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not perceived as a partner for negotiations, and promoting peace is ranked low in the public’s priorities.

THE TRUMP administration worked toward similar goals, not only by formulating the plan behind the scenes and deliberately obfuscating its publication date. The administration adopted a series of measures that affected the situation on the ground and, in fact, promoted the principles of the plan even before its publication.

Trump refrained from acknowledging previous US commitments to the two-state solution; changed the traditional US stand on Jerusalem and claimed the city’s fate was no longer on the negotiating table; was harshly critical of the Palestinian leadership and tried to delegitimize it; cut funds for Palestinian institutions, peace organizations and international bodies; gave the nod to Israel’s settlement enterprise; convened discussions and summits from which the Palestinian Authority was excluded; and neutralized the Quartet (comprised of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN).

The US lost touch with the Palestinian side and in so doing forfeited its role as an honest broker.

Other international players found it hard to counter these trends, or deliberately avoided doing so. The EU’s internal divisions made it hard for Brussels to act on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and implement decisions already adopted (such as labeling products made in the settlements). EU member states chose to invest in more burning issues such as Brexit, refugees, etc.

Key Arab states engaged in advancing their relations with Israel, albeit under the limitations imposed by the freeze in the peace process, but in a manner that signaled willingness to cooperate with Trump’s moves and generated tensions with the PA. Russia and China, to which the PA appealed to join the mediation efforts, were not keen to agree. UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov became the most significant non-American player in the arena.

He voiced clear opposition to Israeli annexation as well as firm views about the principles of a final-status Israeli-Palestinian agreement and the implications of developments on the ground. He also effectively mediated to avert war with Gaza. Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, which adopted a strategic decision several years ago to conduct their national struggle in the diplomatic arena rather than on the military battleground, were left without significant allies in the world and devoid of achievements.

Under these circumstances, Trump and Netanyahu were able to concoct the plan they wanted. However, its unveiling must effectuate change. International supporters of peace can no longer hide behind the smoke screen of an impending, effective US plan. They must clearly voice their stand against the unilateral plan, present alternative parameters that could truly advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, coordinate among states and bodies committed to peace and willing to invest in its advancement, and join those in Israel and the PA who refuse to accept Trump’s dictates.

The next US president, perhaps a new one, will be sworn in one year from now. Until that time, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the annexation ideas included in the Trump plan do not become reality.

The writer is founder and head of Mitvim-The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

(originally published in the Jerusalem Post)

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