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A Mideast peace plan without the Palestinians?

Wesley Rahn
January 28, 2020

As the Trump administration prepares to release its Israeli-Palestinian peace blueprint, DW speaks with a Middle East expert who fears the plan will ignore the Palestinians at the expense of lasting peace.

Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip
Image: picture-alliance/A. Alrahman Alkahlout

US President Donald Trump is set to unveil his administration's long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday, amid criticism that the administration has overtly embraced Israel's position while alienating the Palestinians at the expense of lasting peace in the region.

Trump called the plan the "deal of the century" even though the Palestinians have already rejected it, saying they were never included in putting it together. 

However, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday, Trump said he was confident that the Palestinians would eventually support his administration's plan, adding that it was "very good for them."

"They probably won't want it initially," he said. "I think in the end they will."

Read moreTrump hosts Netanyahu, Gantz ahead of peace plan unveiling

On Monday, Netanyahu praised Trump as "the greatest friend that Israel's had in the White House," and also described the peace plan as "the deal of the century."

Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump
Trump and Netanyahu have both praised Trump's peace plan Image: Reuters/K. Lamarque

Major US policy reversals that have antagonized the Palestinians include moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel's claims to the Golan Heights and declining to endorse a two-state solution.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, told DW that the Trump administration is continuing to follow a pro-Israel ideological agenda that it has made abundantly clear since it took office.

DW: Is there a political motive for the US or Israel to roll out the plan now?

Lara Friedman
Friedman says the plan is a 'kosher stamp for Israel to retain control' over the West Bank Image: FMEP

Lara Friedman: There are many different political agendas served by the timing. Some of them are Trump's, but I actually think more of them are Netanyahu's.

However, the bottom line is that the Trump administration came into office with a clearly articulated agenda and objective on Israel. That objective was not negotiating a two-state solution. In fact, every single policy from this administration points toward a single objective: permanent Israeli control between the river and the sea — and the administration is pretty open about that. What's baffling is people's shock and surprise as they get a sense of what will probably be issued this week. I think people want to disbelieve what this administration says about itself.

What has the Trump administration revealed about its intentions on Israel?

This is an ideologically motivated administration. This has never been about a geopolitical calculation of what Europe will put up with or what the administration can defend at the United Nations; this is an ideological project. Whatever the details are, we know more or less that this plan is going to be a kosher stamp for Israel to retain control over the West Bank.

Read moreIs Israel ready for fundamental political change?

If the Palestinians do not agree to the deal, then what good is it?

The fact that it's being presented to two Israelis and not to the Palestinians is consistent with the fact that the Palestinians are not the audience for this. The Palestinian role is either to say "we will accept whatever you do to us, as we have no power," or to reject the deal, and by rejecting it, prove that they aren't allowed to have agency in their own lives.

And to be clear again, this has been laid out by people in this administration from day one. [US Ambassador to Israel] David Friedman is on the record before Trump took office saying that the Palestinians shouldn't be treated like a state and has rejected the idea of an equal negotiation between sides with equal stakes.

A 2018 map of Israeli settlements in the West Bank

What is the strategy, if not a negotiated peace?

There has been an idea out there propagated by various organizations called "peace through Israeli victory." The idea being: "We impose absolute defeat on the Palestinians, and when they realize they are utterly defeated, then they will accept whatever is given to them, and everyone can go and have a better life." That is the best description of where we are now. 

Is this idea reflected in Trump's comments on Monday that the Palestinians will eventually accept the plan?

I don't think the Palestinians are in any way relevant in Trump's thinking on Israel. For believers of the administration's ideology on Israel who say Palestinians have to be recognized as human beings living there, Palestinians are "generic Arabs." They don't have the right to national self-determination. 

Read moreJared Kushner's plan for Palestinians: What's (not) in it?

So if the US plan is aimed only at Israeli interests, could that unleash more conflict in the region?

It depends on what is implemented on the ground and how quickly it changes. In the West Bank, if the Palestinian Authority looks at this deal and decides that they can't even maintain the pretense of a process, they may conclude that they no longer know how to maintain the Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. And it is that security cooperation with the Palestinians has kept the West Bank quiet.

The idea was for Israel to have the opportunity to prove to Palestinians that they can change their lives without using violence. That idea has been challenged, as the Palestinians see that negotiation and diplomacy do not make their lives better. When you have cut off every possible option for nonviolent protest, I fear you are going to see more violence.

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) and has been working in the Middle East foreign policy arena for more than 25 years.

Peace plan to be unveiled

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