Geopolitics

Trump’s Middle East Peace Bid
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Feb , 2020

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing by his side, US President Donald Trump on January 28 announced his plan for peace in the Middle East – ‘Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People’. Netanyahu described the plan a realistic path to a durable peace and called Trump the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.

Writing in the ‘Washington Examiner’, Paul Bedard claims that some 23 countries including India and seven from West Asia (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar etc) have shown “openness” to the plan. Following Trump’s announcement, India’s response through the MEA spokesperson was measured in stating, “We reiterate our view that the final status issues should be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties and be acceptable to both. We urge the parties to engage with each other, including on the recent proposals put forward by the United States, and find an acceptable two-state solution for peaceful coexistence. We will continue to follow developments in the region and engage with the parties concerned.”

The main architect of the 180-page plan released by Trump is reportedly Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who is also his senior adviser. Unveiling the plan, Trump said Jerusalem “will remain Israel’s undivided capital” and described the initiative as a “historic” and a “giant step” towards peace.

According to the plan, Israel will not have to uproot any settlements, and will incorporate the vast majority of Israeli settlements into contiguous Israeli territory. Also Israeli enclaves located inside contiguous Palestinian territory will become part of the State of Israel and be connected to it through an effective transportation system. While Jerusalem will remain “the sovereign capital of the State of Israel”, the plan says that the capital of Palestine can occupy far-flung eastern neighbourhoods lying beyond the existing security barrier.

The deal offers the Palestine Authority possibility of a US-recognized quasi sovereign state of Palestine that will not have a standing army, will have to give up violent resistance to Israel and ensure disbandment of Hamas, which governs Gaza.

The plan claims “potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years”, and could “fundamentally transform the West Bank and Gaza”; constructing essential infrastructure including “high-speed transportation links” between the West Bank and Gaza, promoting private sector growth, upgrading education, and improving the healthcare sector and the overall quality of Palestinian life – creating one million jobs over 10 years, double the Palestinian economy, cut poverty by half, and reduce unemployment to below 10%,  money for which would be supplied by international donors, chiefly in Arab nations (no guarantees?).

The plan says the Jordan Valley, “which is critical for Israel’s national security, will be under Israeli sovereignty”. It also says that Israelis will observe a four-year land freeze, during which time the Palestinians can reconsider whether to engage in negotiations. However, Netanyahu has said that he would seek cabinet approval to annex the Jordan Valley and all Jewish settlements in the West Bank — a move that will likely be seen by the Palestinians as an escalation and pressure to negotiate under threat of use of force . It may be recalled that the US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (notional capital?) in May 2018 but very few countries recognize it as such.

After presenting the Middle East peace initiative, Trump had reportedly wanted to speak to Mahmoud Abbas but the latter refused to entertain him.  Jared Kushner has fired off a warming of sorts by saying that the Palestinians should stop posturing and fall in line, because it is a big opportunity for them and they have a perfect track record of blowing every opportunity they’ve had in their past. However addressing the Arab League on February 1, 2020 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stated that the Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the US and Israel, including those relating to security after rejecting the Middle East peace plan presented by Trump. . 

This article is not about the merits and demerits of the plan albeit one look at it tells you that the proposed quasi-state of Palestine without any standing army, giving up its claim to Jerusalem (which the Palestinian Authority has consistently said is not for sale) and with Israel retaining all its settlements in the West Bank (recognized as unauthorized by the UN) and control of Gaza and the Jordan Valley, will reduce the proposed toothless state of Palestine to a protectorate of sorts of Israel itself.

The timing of announcement of the Middle East peace plan  is significant in the year of US presidential elections as also for supporting and strengthening Netanyahu who of late been facing problems politically at home even from within his own party. But notably some Israeli commentators have dubbed the Trump-Netanyahu orchestration of the peace plan a crass and blatant intervention in Israel’s political while some right wingers find the idea of even a quasi-Palestine State detestable..

The manner in which Trump went about his plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula (or rather North Korea) is in sharp contrast to the Middle East peace plan announced by him now. In the former case, officials of the Trump administration had  series of meetings with the North Korean regime before Trump arrived on the scene and went about meeting North Korean President Kim Jong-un not once but twice.

The plan was largely under wraps though a non-starter from the beginning since the wise men or not so wise men in Capitol Hill refused to acknowledge that North Korea is a nuclear talon of the Chinese Dragon and Kim Jong-un is one-to-one with Xi jinxing. The plan for denuclearizing North Korea too was being evolved since Trump became president. 

Considering the above, what parleys did the Trump Administration have with the Palestinian Authority over the past three years in evolving the now proposed Middle East peace plan – obviously little or nil. So how does Trump expect this to be accepted when the plan involves two parties, Israel and Palestine, and the latter has been left out?

It does serve the purpose as a geopolitical brownie for Trump’s second presidential bid as also added support from certain lobbies within America (Christian evangelists?) but little beyond that. The Palestinian Authority has cut off relations with US and Israel and their stance will likely harden, Therefore in all probability, Trump’s plan will remain on paper with many calling it a non-starter already. There is also speculation that Hamas and Fatah may join hands increasing the headache for Israel.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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