Sometime next month, the United States will unveil the peace plan it has been working on amid great hype, hope and attention ever since President Donald Trump moved into the Oval Office in 2017.
What the plan contains is a closely guarded secret in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah. Three people hold the keys: Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner, Mideast Envoy Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Each of these men has a small staff that is also familiar with the plan, and to their credit very little has leaked out until now.
Here is what we know: As first reported in The Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago, the plan will be unveiled sometime in June. At first the administration had seriously considered releasing its plan immediately after last month’s elections in Israel but before the establishment of a new government. In the end, though, that idea was shelved after the Americans understood that such a move would be perceived as interfering in Israel’s post-election governmental process.
So why June? Because that will be after a new government has been formed in Jerusalem, after Israel’s Independence Day and Remembrance Day, and after Ramadan. There will be no more excuses – for Israel or the Palestinians – why the plan cannot come out.
On the US side, June is pretty much the last date to try to build some momentum to give the plan a chance. After Labor Day, in the beginning of September, the president and his staff will completely shift their focus to the 2020 race. Their ability to invest time, energy and other resources in trying to mediate a peace deal in the Middle East will be severely limited, and if the past has shown anything – without buy-in from the president himself, there is almost no chance a plan can succeed.
While the plan is not yet public, based on conversations I have had in recent months with Israeli, European and US officials, it seems we can expect the so-called “deal of the century” to be the most sympathetic (or pro-Israel) plan unveiled to date.
First, it seems that the plan will not call for the evacuation of Israeli settlements. All, or at least the vast majority (including isolated ones), will be allowed to remain.
Second, the plan apparently has some interesting things to say about the IDF’s continued presence in the West Bank, and particularly the Jordan Valley.
Third, while it seems the Palestinians will get some sort of presence in Jerusalem, it will be minimal and in areas which 99.9% of Israelis have never visited.
Such a plan breaks a lot of conventional wisdom when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian peace. The continued presence of settlements and the IDF in the West Bank are enough to keep the Palestinians far away from the negotiating table.
This is where the plan potentially gets interesting, and the issue on which American officials are quietest: How will they entice the Palestinians to engage? This is especially complicated at a time when the Trump administration is almost completely boycotted by Ramallah, and when PA President Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t miss an opportunity to publicly attack the president.
Here the strategy seems to be split into four: First there are the Gulf states, countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates that Trump has been trying to woo to his side to help pressure the Palestinians to not immediately reject the plan.
Second is to drop a large amount of money on the table, enough to force the Palestinian leadership to think twice before rejecting.
Third is what seems to be a strategy on the part of the administration to use the plan to reach out directly to young Palestinians. The message will be something along the lines of: We are trying to help improve your lives but your leadership is stopping us. The hope will then be that pressure from the Palestinian street will get Abbas to join the negotiations.
Fourth is a declaration by the administration that it supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, which while it might not have an army or even full control of its borders, would still be able to call itself a state. While this might not seem like much, the administration has until now refrained from endorsing a state.
What will come of this? It is difficult to know. On one side there is Abbas, who seems dead set on rejecting any proposal Trump and his staff put on the table.
On the other side is Netanyahu, who is in the midst of negotiating the establishment of his fifth coalition with a partner – Union of Right-Wing Parties – that is adamantly opposed to any concession to the Palestinians, even if some small steps translate into big gains for Israel. This is without talking about Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, which has strengthened its far-right branch in recent years. There, too, it would be difficult to authorize a Palestinian state.
THE QUESTION I wonder about, though, is, why does Israel even need this American plan? Why doesn’t it simply decide for itself and by itself what it wants and then implement that vision? Why does Israel – a country known for its amazing innovation and courage – need a foreign sovereign power to draft a secret plan that will one day be dropped on it? Does it not have the ability to decide what it wants on its own?
Next week, Israel will celebrate 71 years of statehood and independence. This is an amazing achievement. From a nation of refugees, we have become a military and economic superpower. Do we not know how to decide how to end our conflicts and work toward peace?
If he only wanted, Netanyahu could decide to do whatever he wants when it comes to the Palestinians. Now in the midst of coalition talks, he could form his next government around this issue: If he were to decide suddenly tomorrow morning to negotiate a two-state solution, he’d likely be able to bring Blue and White into his government; and if he were to decide to annex all of the West Bank, he could already do that with his outgoing government as well as the one he seems bent on establishing in the coming weeks.
So why doesn’t he decide? Because indecision is sometimes easier than decision. Having to decide what to do with the Palestinians will determine Netanyahu’s legacy forever. Why do something if there is no reason to? This recent election season was a case example – no party spoke about “peace” or gave a detailed vision of how the conflict with the Palestinians could be resolved.
Sovereign nations, though, determine their fates on their own. They don’t wait for foreign powers – no matter how supportive or friendly they might be – to tell them what to do.
In so many different areas, Israel knows how to take the initiative. It is a culture Netanyahu knows well. The motto of Sayeret Matkal, the IDF commando unit in which he and his late hero brother Yoni served has a motto: “Who dares, wins.”
It is time we see that dare again, and not only when it comes to political survival. Change was once Israel’s story. It still can be.
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