Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan Isn’t New. It Plagiarized a 40-Year-Old Israeli Initiative.
The White House likes to pretend it’s breaking with tradition. In fact, it’s recycling old maps and ideas.
A portion of the 1979 Drobles Plan map. Foreign Policy illustration/Drobles Plan
U.S. President Donald Trump and his top aides pride themselves on thinking outside the box and boldly challenging conventional wisdom. “We’ve taken an unconventional approach,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the architect of the recently released U.S. Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, boasted of his work. “If people focus on the old, traditional talking points, we will never make progress,” he argued.
But the Trump plan is actually as traditional as it gets. In fact, it bears striking resemblance to another plan published more than 40 years ago. In 1979, the World Zionist Organization released a plan titled “Master Plan for the Development of Settlements in Judea and Samaria, 1979–1983,” written by Matityahu Drobles, a former member of the Knesset for the Herut-Liberal Bloc—a precursor to today’s Likud party—and the head of the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, the body responsible for planning and building settlements.
His plan was basically a detailed attempt to execute the then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for settlement expansion—a task that successive Israeli governments carried out with great zeal over the following four decades, placing 640,000 settlers in key areas throughout the West Bank. Trump’s vision is actually Drobles 2.0.
1979 Drobles Plan vs. 2020 Trump Plan
Left: The author’s recreation of the Israeli-Palestinian map included in the Drobles plan.
Right: The map included in the Trump plan.
Trump’s and Drobles’s plans share a conviction that there should never be any true Palestinian sovereignty over the land. Trump’s plan admits that it “necessarily entails the limitations of certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian areas.” Or as Drobles put it, “it is now important to emphasize, primarily through action, that the autonomy [being negotiated as part of the Camp David Accords] does not and will not apply to the territories but rather to the Arab population alone.” In other words, Trump, like Drobles 40 years ago, insists on absolute Israeli control over land, while outsourcing administration of the non-Jewish residents of that territory. Palestinian control over land has never been on the table.
Beyond the issue of territorial sovereignty, both plans agree on permanent Israeli control over the West Bank. As Trump and Kushner put it, “the State of Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility for the State of Palestine.” Or in Drobles’s words, “There cannot be any shadow of a doubt about our intention to maintain perpetual control over the territory of Judea and Samaria.”
In discussing the importance of Israel’s eastern border along the Jordan River, Trump and Kushner’s plan justifies perpetual Israeli control over the Jordan Valley: “the Jordan Valley provides a steep, approximately 4,600 foot physical barrier against an external attack from the east. Israeli forces deployed along the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge could hold off a numerically superior army until the State of Israel completed its reserve mobilization.”
The same discussion about Israel’s eastern border appears in Israeli planning documents as early as the July 1967 Allon Plan—a plan created by then-Labor Minister Yigal Allon that recommended the annexation of the Jordan Valley in order to move Israel’s eastern border to the Jordan River and to create a buffer zone between Palestinians in the West Bank and Jordan. Drobles took this idea and ran with it, referring to the settlements of the Jordan Valley as “our first defensive wall in the east.” While Trump and Kushner like to present their work as groundbreaking, the groundwork for the Jordan Valley’s annexation was in place decades ago.
The similarities expressed in both plans show the extent to which Trump’s plan is an extension of decades of Israeli policy. This is nowhere clearer than in Trump’s promise that Israel “will not have to uproot any settlements.” This assertion is nothing but an entrenching of the status quo, making the splintering of Palestinian territory permanent. The reality that Trump wants to enact is a fully fractured Palestine—more of an archipelago than a state.
But this has always been the intention of the settlement enterprise. It is important, Drobles wrote in 1979, “to settle the land between the [Arab] minority population centers and their surroundings, in order to minimize the danger of the development of an additional Arab state in this territory. Since it will be cut off by Jewish settlements, it will be hard for the minority population to create territorial contiguity and political unity.” Now, four decades later, Drobles’s dream has almost become a reality if Trump’s plan becomes a vision for the future.
Yet there is one difference between Drobles and Trump. Drobles was honest enough to admit what he was doing; he was explicit that what his map described was not a Palestinian state but the means to prevent one. Trump and Kushner support the exact same line of thinking, yet they call this collection of bantustans a plan for “two states.”
Kushner claims to want new ideas, but the Trump plan has nothing new to offer. The plan ensures there will never be a Palestinian state in the West Bank, which has been the core principle underlying Israeli policy since 1967. What is new is the audacity of calling the leftover bits and pieces of land not taken up by settlements a state.
If the international community does not see beyond this facade, the untenable plan they have laid out will become the baseline for future negotiations. The Arab League and other leaders who haven’t yet abandoned any hope of negotiated peace in the region must therefore come together in rejecting their plan, refusing to join Trump in swapping out Drobles’s talk of “permanent control” for the words “State of Palestine.”
This is the only way to halt the Trump administration’s trampling of international law and its effort to grant Washington’s stamp of approval for advancing annexation and apartheid in the West Bank.
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