The Announcement & Reaction
On Tuesday 28 January 2020, President Donald Trump standing alongside PM Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House, announced the anticipated US plan for a solution to the Palestine conflict. In summary, the plan envisages a Palestinian state, in exchange for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed West Bank settlements. While Jerusalem would remain Israel’s capital, a village in East Jerusalem (Abu Dis) was designated to become the future Palestinian capital. The Palestinians have been given a time of four years, to accept the offer, which President ominously suggested could be, ‘…the last opportunity for the Palestinians’.
President Mohamed Abbas (84) has rejected the plan, calling it a ‘conspiracy deal’ and said that, ‘Jerusalem was not for sale’. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza Strip protested the plan, in what was called, a ‘day of rage’. When forced for a comment, the UN said the world body remains committed to the two-state solution; with boundaries based on pre-1967 alignments and before Israel seized the West Bank to include Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, amongst other territories.
The blueprint, which aspires to solve one of the world's longest-running conflicts, was drafted by Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, who is a senior advisor in the White House. Jared Kushner was raised in a modern orthodox Jewish family, and his grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Surprisingly, no Palestinian representative was consulted in making the plan.
Israel has settled approximately 400,000 Jews in occupied West Bank, in addition to 200,000 Jews in Jerusalem. Reports suggest that PM Benjamin Netanyahu, now empowered with US approval, is likely to press (Knesset) for a further 30% annexation of West Bank. In the eyes of international law, all the Israeli settlements are illegal.
President Donald Trump's Israel-Palestine Peace Plan is one-sided. It is, in essence, a ‘take it or leave it!’ offer to Palestinians that should shock experienced negotiators, who have been trying to resolve the conflict, for decades. The plan marks a sharp departure from decades of US policy and none of the major world powers or even US Arab allies, have endorsed the plan, so far.
What are the Challenges in the Conflict?
The Israel – Palestinian conflict can be broken down into four major challenges. Firstly, the alignment of borders of the proposed Palestinian state, which most negotiators suggest should conform to the pre-Arab-Israel war of 1967 demarcation. Secondly is the status of Jerusalem. Since both Israel and Palestine have staked claim upon it, the UN General Assembly voted (Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947) with more than two-thirds majority, for it to become an international city. Thirdly, Israeli settlements in West Bank, considered illegal by the international community, including the US, until this peace proposal. And fourthly, the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees, which is guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is also a party.
In the peace plan, proposed by President Donald Trump and enthusiastically supported by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, all four challenges were decided in Israel's favor. The truncated portion of West Bank that could form the Palestinian state will be completely surrounded by Israel. Jerusalem, including its' three iconic religious sites, the Dome of Rock (Muslims), the Wailing Wall (Jewish) and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Christian), will all be a part of Israel's undivided capital. Israeli settlements, till now considered illegal by successive US governments, has been legitimized by this plan. Most significantly, there is no mention of the ‘Right to Return’, of Palestinian refugees.
Could there have been some other Motive?
The US Senate is in the middle of President Trump's impeachment trial. The Republican Party holds a 53 to 47 majority, in the 100-member Senate. Impeachment motion would require a 2/3 majority.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu faces trials for three independent corruption charges and is also seeking re-election, on 02 March 2020. In the last year, Israel had two General Elections (April and September 2019), in which no party was able to form the Government. Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) belongs to the Likud Party (Right) and has been PM for ten years; he is seeking a record fifth re-election. His challenger is Benny Gantz, a former Chief of General Staff of the IDF, who is the head of the Blue & White Political Alliance (Center – Left). The Alliance is politically committed to removing tainted politicians from office and hence are not prepared to participate in any government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
in the September election, Likud won 32 seats, and Blue & White won 33 seats, in the 120-member Knesset. Though Benjamin Netanyahu was prepared to form a government with the Blue & White Alliance, the latter refused. In the end, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz failed to form governments and hence the 3rd General Election, on 02 March 2020.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu is already using the Israel – Palestine Peace Plan, to project his ability to win US approval, for contentious Israeli projects like West Bank settlements, annexing of Jordan Valley and establishing Jerusalem as Israel capital city. President Trump’s Israel – Palestine Peace Plan, will also be popular amongst his evangelic and pro-Israeli supporters. As an influential US group, they could give him a boost, when the US Senate, weighs to remove him from office, in the next few weeks.
Notwithstanding, possible political benefits to President Trump and PM Netanyahu, there is the larger question about the continued viability of the ‘two-state solution’, in the Israel – Palestine conflict. For more than 70 years, the UN with the backing of the US and other powers advocated the 'two-state solution'; the establishment of the Arab state of Palestine alongside the Jewish state of Israel. If the Israeli settlements in West Bank, hither-to-fore considered illegal are now legitimized, it may no longer be viable to have a Palestine state, based on demographic segregation. Would Israel and Palestine be prepared to consider a single-state solution?
There are an estimated five million Palestine refugees, who fled Israel and the occupied territories, on account of wars. The main exoduses followed the 1948 and 1967 wars. Successive UN resolutions have upheld their right to return, which is guaranteed both in the Vienna Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So far, despite being signatories to both documents, Israel has denied the refugees the right to return. As in 2020, only 74% of Israel's 9.1 million population is Jewish. The balance 26% comprises Arabs (21%) and Christian & other denominations (4%). If the refugees are allowed to return to the single state, Israel will evolve into a secular state.
At the time of India’s Independence, the former British colony was forced to partition into a religious entity (Pakistan) and a secular entity (India). As a model for all-round progress, there is little dispute that the secular entity performed much better. Perhaps, Israel and Palestine would benefit, if they adopted India’s secular model.
Immediately after the (peace) plan was reported, it became plainly evident this was not a Trump plan but a Bibi-Trump plot!
- Ben Dror Yemini