Shadow Government

We Know Peace Plans—This Isn’t One of Them

Here’s why Trump’s latest gambit probably won’t settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

A Palestinian demonstrator points a toy gun at a cartoon drawing depicting U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against his Middle East peace plan on Jan. 27.
A Palestinian demonstrator points a toy gun at a cartoon drawing depicting U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against his Middle East peace plan on Jan. 27. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

As two former members of the U.S. negotiating team on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are deeply skeptical about the peace plan that U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly plans to present to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Coming at a time when Trump needs a distraction from the impeachment proceedings and Netanyahu is himself struggling with corruption charges, the timing of the road map is highly dubious.

Also rendering the plan a farce is that one of the parties to the conflict—the Palestinians—have not been engaged on the substance of the proposal and have, in fact, refused to meet with the Trump administration for over two years. It is nonsensical to expect them to go along with a deal written by someone who tried to give away their capital, closed the 175-year-old U.S. diplomatic mission to their people, closed down the Palestinians’ own mission in Washington, and severed all financial ties. This is not a way to set the grounds for a serious diplomatic process.

Despite our extreme skepticism over the Trump administration’s process, we still believe that there is a pathway to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Any plan, including Trump’s, must contain some fundamental elements that every person in the Holy Land—whether Jewish or Palestinian—can easily understand. And any successful plan must address some key technical points as well.

This plan may do more damage than good and should be quickly thrown into the dustbin of history.

If Trump’s plan contains these elements, it could still help move things in a positive direction. If it does not (and we strongly suspect that it doesn’t), this plan will do more damage than good and should be quickly thrown into the dustbin of history.

Here are the basics.

First, Jews and Palestinians both have deep, unshakable attachments to the Holy Land. Any plan that does not fully recognize this fact is doomed to failure.

Second, both peoples have experienced deep levels of collective and individual trauma that makes their personal safety and collective security vital to their national psyches—the Jewish people, through anti-Semitism through the ages, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the ongoing attacks on Israel since its founding; the Palestinians through 70-plus years of refugeehood and 50-plus years of Israeli military occupation.

Third, any peace agreement needs to recognize that both peoples will vigilantly guard against any encroachment into their personal or collective freedoms.

Fourth, both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim—have passionate attachments to the holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Holy Land, and access to them and accommodation must to be preserved.

Fifth, both peoples have tremendous aspirations and expectations for the prosperity of their children and their societies.

Finally, the international community has been deeply implicated in the Holy Land morass from the outset. It was the United Nations—including the United States—that in 1947 endorsed a plan that called for the creation of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. The State of Israel came into being, and it is now one of the strongest and wealthiest nations on earth. But the State of Palestine was never born, and its people are largely stateless refugees not only in the Holy Land, but also scattered around the Middle East.

The basic parameters are very straightforward. Whatever plan anyone proposes, it can be evaluated based on them. And these principles also point to six technical solutions that will need to be part of any agreement.

First, there will need to be formal mutual recognition of the Jewish people’s attachment to the Land of Israel and the Palestinian people’s attachment to the Land of Palestine. Without that acknowledgement on both sides, neither will truly believe that the other is giving up on the conflict.

Second, an agreement on two states—Israel and Palestine—for two peoples must also include full rights for Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens and any Jewish settlers who choose to stay behind in a sovereign Palestinian state.

Third, the state will need to have clear borders based on the pre-1967 armistice lines that ends Israel’s military occupation. There can be mutually agreed one-for-one land swaps where in exchange for Israel receiving territory inside the West Bank, it gives Palestine unpopulated land on its side of the armistice line. This can allow most Jewish settlers to be incorporated into Israel, but only if the Palestinian state can remain contiguous and viable.

Fourth, any agreement will need to include security arrangements that allow Israel to be able to defend itself and for Palestine to have the measure of security it needs for its own independence and dignity. Annexing the Jordan River Valley, which is where the debate appears to be going in Israel, is entirely inconsistent with this approach and is not necessary. However, we do believe that alternative security solutions that could meet these criteria are possible—many of which were outlined by Marine Gen. John Allen in 2014 when he worked on this problem during the Obama administration and also articulated in a report produced by one of the co-authors of this article.

Fifth, there will need to be two capitals in Jerusalem—one for Israel and one for Palestine—with freedom of access to holy sites for all. This is still entirely possible. One option would be for the Jewish neighborhoods to stay under Israeli control, Arab neighborhoods to be part of Palestine, and a shared arrangement for the Old City. Another would be to simply have one unified shared capital of two states.

Finally there will also need to be a just, agreed, fair, and realistic solution for the millions of Palestinian refugees who live outside the West Bank and Gaza, be it citizenship in their countries of residence, citizenship in the new State of Palestine, compensation, a return of an agreed but likely small number of people to Israel, or third-country resettlement.

These are the elements that should be used to judge the Trump team’s proposal. Whatever Trump does, whatever plan he releases, unless he strives for a measure of equality of freedom, security, and prosperity for Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land and has the political will to bring the parties together toward this end, he—or any future president—is doomed to fail.

Hady Amr served in the Obama administration from 2010 to 2017, most recently as deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations focusing on Gaza and economics.  Twitter: @HadyAmr

Ilan Goldenberg is the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Previously, he served as chief of staff to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to conduct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Twitter: @ilangoldenberg

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