Palestinians bitterly reject the plan, for understandable reasons. It ratifies their defeat. It demands concessions now in return for quasi-statehood later. It endorses most of Israel’s historic demands and almost none of the Palestinians'.
The plan does include a “conceptual” map of a future Palestinian state, but it’s shorn of the west bank of the Jordan River and dotted with Israeli settlements — with Israeli control of water rights, air space and other usual essentials of statehood. For a people who prize dignity, this proposal is inescapably a mark of shame.
“We say a thousand no’s to this deal,” said Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority. He reversed Trump’s hyperbolic promises by calling the plan “the slap of the century.”
Palestinian antagonism is understandable, but what alternative would they and their supporters propose? That’s an urgent question for Israelis, Americans and Arabs who fear, as I do, that Trump’s attempt to impose a settlement favorable to Israel against the will of the Palestinians will set the stage for more bloodshed and bitterness. If we think this won’t fly, what’s the alternative?
Trump’s leverage is that many leading Arab states are giving what’s close to tacit support to the proposal and its promise of eventual normalization between the Arabs and Israel. If Arab leaders begin taking additional steps, such as inviting Israeli trade or cultural delegations, the pace of normalization will accelerate — deepening the dilemma for the Palestinians.
Here’s how one Trump administration supporter of the plan puts it: “If the Palestinians reject it, the Arabs may just say: ‘These guys are crazy. Let’s move forward.’ ”
The United Arab Emirates released a supportive statement Tuesday, saying that it “appreciates continued US efforts to reach a Palestine-Israel peace agreement” and calling the plan “a serious initiative that addresses many issues raised over the years.” The UAE described the proposal as “an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework.” Not exactly a “no.”
Saudi Arabia was less emphatic, but a supportive statement from Riyadh said “the Kingdom reiterates its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause.” Egypt and Jordan already have peace agreements with Israel. And given today’s reconfigured Middle East, it’s worth noting that Israel has a deepening diplomatic and intelligence relationship with Russia.
Though it has Trump’s name on it, the plan is entirely the work of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who has been toiling in this vineyard for three years. Whatever the merits or demerits of the plan, it’s remarkable that Kushner has managed to keep secret details of what traditionally has been the most leak-prone project in diplomacy.
Kushner didn’t get many concessions from Israel, but he got a few. Israel would stop building new settlements during negotiations; East Jerusalem (or at least, its far eastern suburbs) would be the eventual Palestinian capital; the Palestinians would get duty-free port facilities at Haifa and Ashdod; economic assistance would double Palestinian gross domestic product over the next 10 years and reduce poverty by 50 percent, and “Palestine” would absorb 10 Arab towns along the border (though most Israelis would probably welcome this reduction in their Arab population).
Two details symbolized for me the regional ploy Kushner is attempting: He proposes a “regional security committee” that would include the United States, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That sounds like a Middle East version of NATO, an outlandish pipe dream, you might think, but maybe not in today’s anti-Iran mobilization. Kushner also proposes to throw money around a region that needs it: $27.8 billion for the West Bank and Gaza, $7.4 billion for Jordan, $9.1 billion for Egypt, $6.3 billion for Lebanon.
The bottom line for the Trump peace plan, like so many other issues these days, is that it all depends on the November presidential election. The Palestinians won’t sit at Trump’s negotiating table for now. But what would they do if he were reelected, and an Israeli cultural mission was sitting in Riyadh?
The peace plan is a squeeze play, and like everything about Trump, it’s ultimately about raw political power.