the Palestinians Reject Trump’s Peace Plan, Then What?
April 10, right after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu won reelection, U.S.
national security advisor John Bolton remarked that President Trump’s plan for
Israeli-Palestinian peace would be made public “in the very near future.” A
week later, presidential advisor Jared Kushner, the plan’s overseer,
reportedly told diplomats at Blair House to expect its release in early June,
once Ramadan is over and the new Israeli government is presumably in place.
Barring some new wild card, then, the Trump plan will soon see the light of day.
goes against the advice of some of the best American experts on the region, who
just the failure of the plan but a dangerous backlash against it. The first
step in this chain reaction is almost certain to be an immediate official
Palestinian rejection of the U.S. proposals once they are revealed. Even
Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, half-jokingly told White House
official Jason Greenblatt this week, “They say that the key to peace is low
expectations. So I think you are well underway.”
the Palestinian Authority has already preemptively rejected the still-secret
plan. Based on a series of cryptic but telling hints from Washington, PA
officials strongly suspect that the plan will not posit or even offer to
negotiate a sovereign Palestinian state with a political foothold in Jerusalem. Newly
installed PA prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has declared that the plan
will be “born dead,” while President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly suggested a
summit with Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin in Moscow as an alternative to any
talks on the U.S. proposal.
Trump may well go ahead and release the plan in the coming weeks. It is
therefore time to consider how all of the players might react to its release and
the expected Palestinian dismissal.
Washington, officials have forewarned the PA that there will be
“consequences” if they reject the plan. One consequence reportedly under
consideration is for the United States to accept Israeli annexation of some West
Bank settlements, echoing Trump’s recent recognition of Israeli sovereignty
over the Golan Heights. Asked on April 12 if he thought West Bank annexations
would negate the peace plan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo replied, “No, I
don’t.” Given the informality of this comment and the administration’s
frequent reversals, it is far from clear that support for annexation is now
official U.S. policy. Still, the implied threat of such action seems quite
what would annexation, even of just a few Israeli settlement blocs, actually
accomplish? It would almost certainly not, as some maximalists contend, convince
the Palestinians to negotiate for fear of losing still more if they continue to
boycott the United States. What it would do is alienate the Arab, European, and
Asian governments on whom the economic aspects of Trump’s plan will probably
depend—while angering many Americans as well.
that reason, the administration should make clear that this “consequence” is
not an option, ideally by renouncing the idea of unilateral annexations in the
text of the plan itself. A more effective penalty for Palestinian rejection
would be to simply move forward on diplomatic discussions with Israel and others
about the plan, which would put pressure on the PA to reengage.
in turn would give Netanyahu sufficient
reason to refrain from such a provocative and useless step as annexation.
True, he will still face internal political pressure to move in that direction.
Yet some of the most extreme right-wing supporters of annexation—Naftali
Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Moshe Feiglin, and their small splinter parties—failed
to garner enough votes in this month’s elections and will not hold seats in
the next Knesset. True, Netanyahu will likely need the members of the
pro-annexation United Right coalition to form his next government, but their
leverage will be limited by their relatively small numbers (five seats).
for the pending corruption indictments against him, Netanyahu has other
political deals at his disposal besides annexation to ward off legal troubles.
For example, a simple majority or even committee vote in the Knesset is all that
would be required to retain the immunity from prosecution he already enjoys as
an elected member of parliament.
to consider is the new Israeli opposition led by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White
Party, which scored an impressive 35 out of 120 Knesset seats in its first try,
almost matching Netanyahu’s venerable Likud Party. Regardless of how the prime
minister reacts to Trump’s plan, Gantz and his partners will likely give it a
statesmanlike welcome. The notion of using the plan to promote a broader
“national unity” government faded with the decisive election returns, but a
courteous nod from Gantz once it is released would cast Israel’s mainstream
opposition in a positive light with key audiences in both countries.
for the American “opposition,” Democrats will naturally be tempted to decry
any Trump plan, especially one that falls short of previous U.S. and Israeli
peace offers. But that would achieve nothing diplomatically, while sadly
increasing the destructive partisan polarization of America’s politics,
society, and relationship with Israel. Further, assuming that Gantz and other
Israeli moderates give the plan a good reception, a Democratic overreaction
would risk abandoning the half of Israel’s electorate that just voted against
the right-wing camp.
more useful Democratic response would be to reserve judgment and adopt a “wait
and see” posture toward the plan—provided that neither Trump nor Israel
reacts to Palestinian objections with draconian punitive measures. In this
context, it would be helpful to present the plan (to use one of its
architects’ words) as a “vision” for the next phase of Arab-Israeli
relations rather than the sole permanent peace settlement that the
administration would ever endorse.
for Arab governments, their wisest, most realistic short-term response to the
Trump plan would be to simply note that it merits more careful consideration,
even in the face of immediate Palestinian rejection. To be sure, some Arab
leaders may flatly turn it down depending on its contents, especially if it does
not rule out Israeli annexations in the West Bank. They are unlikely, however,
to act against the plan in any tangible way, mainly because the Palestinian
issue is no longer their top priority (except perhaps in a rhetorical sense).
Arab governments will be inclined to use the plan as leverage, as in, “We’ll
give your peace proposals some diplomatic or economic support if you sell us
more weapons or offer us even freer rein to act as we like at home and
abroad.” Such a stance would badly overplay their hand, however. They need
U.S. backing on other regional challenges much more than Washington needs their
marginal value added for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Thus, the risk of such
drastic Arab overreactions, while real, is probably small.
and most directly at stake, are the Palestinians themselves. Their leadership is
reflexively opposed to any Trump peace plan, but they deserve better than that,
and they know it. Public
opinion polls indicate that most Palestinians view the diplomatic
boycott of the United States as a mistake. They also seem to be prepared for
compromises with Israel that their leaders have long refused, to no good end. In
particular, for the two million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, most
want Israeli jobs, not Hamas mobs.
present, neither the PA government in the West Bank nor the Hamas regime in Gaza
is democratic, so the Palestinian people will be hard pressed to moderate their
leaders’ intransigence. Yet they can certainly make their voices heard. Even a
few brave calls to talk about the Trump plan rather than just trash it might
mitigate the administration’s anger at Palestinian authorities and keep the
door open for future dialogue, which remains the best long-term option.
least some of the players will likely ignore the preceding advice, but that is
no reason to give them a veto over it. On the contrary, each party would benefit
from following these suggestions, even (or perhaps especially) if the others do
not. That at least would clarify who is really for progress toward Arab-Israeli
peace and who is against it.