Donald Trump peace plan was two years in the making - 'not a sprint'

Dore Gold, who advised the US team, explains how this plan might actually work

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal at the White House Wednesday.  (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal at the White House Wednesday.
(photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – When US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made their joint statement on Tuesday about “Peace to Prosperity,” the latest US plan for Israel and the Palestinians, all the expected players were in the East Room of the White House: Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner; daughter Ivanka Trump; Jason Greenblatt, the former head of the peace team; and US Ambassador David Friedman.
And there were some of Trump’s greatest and most pro-Israel supporters there, as well, like casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and Evangelical Christian leader and founding member of a Trump advisory panel, Dr. Mike Evans.
Among all the usual suspects was a less expected face, that of Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) president Dore Gold.
Gold quietly helped the peace team, but only went public with his involvement when he attended the program’s rollout. He shared details of his work for the first time with The Jerusalem Post hours after Trump presented his plan.
For the past two years, Gold said, he was fielding “dual invitations” from the US and Israel to help hammer out the details of the latest proposal.
Gold, an experienced diplomat and former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, said he worked with his “former boss Netanyahu many times, when he said ‘help the Americans,’ and I advised and gave my opinions to the American team on many occasions, almost on a constant basis.”
A veteran of past US attempts at mediation between Israel and the Palestinians in his many years as an Israeli diplomat, Gold has been involved since the Madrid Conference in the early 1990s, through negotiations over the status of Hebron and the Wye River summit during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister.
Gold found working with the Trump administration’s peace plan team – mostly with Greenblatt but also with Friedman and, at times, Kushner – to be a unique experience compared to his past negotiations, and not just because they served kosher lunches.
“This was not a sprint. It wasn’t two weeks at Camp David. It was two years in the making,” he recounted.
Greenblatt, Gold said, was the main player: “The person who basically typed the whole thing was Jason. I was with Jason many times when he also met with people in the region, and he was constantly filling up notebooks and learning. He may have come in as a real estate lawyer, but he left as a Middle East expert.”
Echoing remarks Netanyahu made about Trump in the White House, Gold said Greenblatt’s background in real estate may have helped: “You need people who are very pragmatic in this business.”
Friedman brought a “special connection” with Trump to the team.
“I’ve seen US ambassadors before, but I’ve never seen a US ambassador who could reach in to the Oval [Office] like Friedman did,” he recounted. “We had the president in the room without him being there.”
And Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who also played a key role in the process, had the same kind of relationship with Netanyahu, “which allowed this to move along.”
Dermer, Gold said, “took this whole initiative as something very personal, as his own.”
As for Kushner, who offered “strong support” to the team, Gold recounted making a presentation to him about Jerusalem, and later finding out that he made sure to read Gold’s book on the capital city. US Vice President Mike Pence read the book as well, he said.
Gold did not work directly with Trump, but said that the relationship between the US president and Israeli prime minister was an important element.
“I remember very clearly that when [former] secretary of state Hillary Clinton negotiated with Netanyahu, she said ‘show me some skin,’ as in, give me something more. She wanted to see a clear idea of what he had in mind. But the trust wasn’t there to have that kind of exchange,” he said.
“Trust was an invaluable component of what made this negotiation work,” Gold stated.
Why did Netanyahu trust Trump?
“He knew him, and it’s how you feel out a person,” Gold responded.
One of the results of that trust, the “skin” Netanyahu could show Trump and not Clinton, is the unprecedented step of a map agreed upon by Israel and the US.
“The trust between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government was so great that it became possible to have a discussion not over a mahogany table, but over maps, which was revolutionary,” Gold said. “Although the maps don’t look particularly dramatic on the Web, working with maps has been one of the most critical aspects of this whole plan.”
The American team showed a unique “readiness to hear our lines and really defend [Israel’s] vital interests while looking for ways to take into account what the Palestinians needed,” Gold said.
Drafting the plan “was a learning experience for both sides,” at the end of which the US was able to understand Israel’s security needs on a deeper level.
“There were many times I had to refute assumptions coming from past American negotiations,” he added.
THERE ARE many historic elements to the Trump plan, but for Gold, the biggest win for Israel in the peace plan is support for Israel applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley.
The former diplomat said Israel has long maintained that it must retain the Jordan Valley. He pointed out that former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said in his final speech to the Knesset that Israel cannot give up the Jordan Valley.
Gold recounted being present in a cabinet meeting with Netanyahu in 1997, in which, at the behest of then-minister Natan Sharansky, he asked the IDF to prepare a map of Israel’s vital interests across Judea and Samaria.
“The prime minister leaned over to me and said, ‘We’ve got to show this map to president [Bill] Clinton,’ and within a couple of weeks I was flying to the US with an English translation and went to the map room in the White House and showed our vital security interests.”
“Clinton was poker-faced,” he recounted. “[Clinton was] a true believer in the Oslo process, and it was hard to walk him back to a more robust security concept.
“At that time, the Jordan Valley stood out as the most vital security interests we need to maintain, and that has stayed with me for many years, with prime minister [Ariel] Sharon as well,” he said.
At the JCPA, Gold launched a Defensible Borders for Israel program with top Israeli military experts that put out a series of studies, which served him in his advisory role to the latest peace team.
Something Gold has had to explain to many teams of American negotiators is why territory – like the Jordan Valley – still matters in a missile age.
In the past, American negotiators doubted Israel’s need for a physical presence in the Jordan Valley, and thought about technical solutions instead.
Gold quipped that past US teams acted like they were shopping at The Sharper Image, “like what they wanted was a security gadget store.”
“Missiles are just another form of firepower, like artillery,” he said, “but what decides wars is the movement of ground armies. As long as that is the case, then the conditions affecting land warfare, like topography, terrain and strategic depth, are part of the requirements for Israel’s national security.
“When you’re talking to a superpower living in a world of push-button warfare... a lot of this sounds antiquated, but it isn’t,” he added.
Those studies also describe what makes the specific territory “Jordan Valley,” in the broadest sense of the term, so important to Israeli security.
Gold explained: “The Jordan Valley isn’t just an area adjacent to the river. It’s the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge, coming down from the Alon Road. If you actually look at the Jordan Valley, it’s an area in which the river coming down to the Dead Sea is around 1,200 feet below sea level, but the hilltops reach 3,000 feet above sea level. It’s a 4,200 incline in a narrow distance, which is a natural defense for a numerically inferior army. Israel has to call up reserves. Conditions on the ground allow for territorial defense of Israel until reserve mobilizations are complete.”
This way, Israel could hold off an attack from the east along its longest border despite the IDF’s “quantitative inferiority to its neighbors.”
GOLD SAID that he had always been “concerned that if you wanted to keep the Saudis and others inside the tent,” supporting a US peace effort, “it would require Israel to make more concessions in the future, but ultimately the US stood with Israel when Israel made cogent arguments.”
The plan also presents a more humane solution than past proposals, in that it scraps the idea of population transfers and allows everyone to stay where they are living, he said.
“It’s more in line with international human rights than the previous model,” he said. “Reality on the ground is complicated. You need to have maps that propose various jurisdictions for a complex situation, unless you’re trying to erase whole areas and move Israelis and move Palestinians. That would be inhumane.
“It’s important to remember, while moving clauses here and pens there, that we’re talking about human dignity, and that is something we need for peace to work longer-term. All you can do is talk to the Palestinians like people and do your best,” Gold stated.
In the end, Gold said, the US put together a plan that could let the “Palestinians feel they are getting adequate self-government, without undermining Israel’s requirements for a defensible border.”
Gold said of the Trump plan: “Even if politics change, I think we have secured Israel’s future in ways we haven’t done before.”
When he sat in the audience as Trump and Netanyahu made their remarks about the plan, Gold recounted, “there were a couple of moments there, where a tear came out of my eye. I felt we were involved in a huge historical achievement.”•