After the release of Trump's peace plan: Israel’s fateful week, and year

The next year will be the crucial period for determining whether the core lens through which the conflict is viewed can be readjusted.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump announcing the ‘Deal of the Century.’ (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump announcing the ‘Deal of the Century.’
(photo credit: REUTERS)
February 2020 may be one of the most fateful months in Israeli history. All eyes will be on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – will he move forward swiftly with applying Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria? Or will such a move be ‘killed by committee,’ and ‘temporarily’ shelved (there is a saying in the Israeli government that nothing is more permanent than a temporary decision.)
However, while the media discourse increasingly focuses on the question of annexation, there is a more subtle, but no less groundbreaking, aspect of the “Deal of the Century.” The “Peace to Prosperity” plan seeks to do no less than radically re-frame the basic contours of the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And while the next week may be the crucial time period for the question of annexation, the next year will be the crucial period for determining whether the core lens through which the conflict is viewed can be readjusted.
The peace plan, or “Vision,” as the document refers to itself, reads at times more like a primer on the Israeli-Palestinian arena than a road map. For those long-involved in the debate over the conflict, it is clear that the document is not a hodge-podge of ideas, but a carefully-worded re-framing of the issues at play.
The world-view presented in the “Vision” breaks radically with the so-called “internationally agreed upon” parameters regarding the conflict in several ways.
The first is that it does not take an alleged Palestinian right to all of the territory over the Green Line as its starting point. Rather, it starts with the current reality, an idea which is as obvious as it is revolutionary.
This paradigm shift alters entirely the direction of concessions. Rather than the Palestinians conceding to Israel by agreeing that areas in the West Bank will remain under Israeli sovereignty, the document states “this vision provides for the transfer of sizeable territory by Israel – territory to which Israel has asserted valid legal and historical claims, and which are part of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.” This “must be considered a significant concession” on Israel’s part.
Second, the plan takes as a core assumption an existential truth that the 50 world leaders who gathered in Jerusalem last week for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum should all have realized – that the Israeli public will never agree to a situation in which their basic security is threatened. And in the Middle East, aspirations and hope don’t count as security.
Thus, the document notes that a terrorist regime “controlling the West Bank would pose an existential threat to the State of Israel,” and that Israel must always be able to defend itself by itself.
Parts of the plan reflect the success of more than a decade of efforts by Netanyahu and a broad range of Israeli and pro-Israel actors to emphasize key barriers to peace. For example, the plan notes that “Palestinian Authority controlled media and schools promote a culture of incitement.” The very phrasing here is indicative. The problem is not just individual acts of incitement but a “culture of incitement” and the discussion has finally moved beyond the Oslo-era focus on schools to include also PA media.
These subtle but important changes would seem to reflect the last 10 years of efforts by actors such as the Strategic Affairs Ministry, Palestinian Media Watch and Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs to bring the PA’s culture of incitement to the attention both of Israeli and foreign decision-makers.
The document contains numerous other seemingly obvious but actually paradigm-shifting framings. Examples include the Jewish refugee issue (“The Arab-Israeli conflict created both a Palestinian and Jewish refugee problem”), the source of Gaza’s woes (“as a result of Hamas policies, Gaza is approaching a humanitarian crisis”), and the reversal of the link between normalization with the Arab world and peace (“if more Muslim and Arab countries normalize relations with Israel it will help advance a... resolution to the conflict”).
No less remarkable than the paradigm shifts contained in the plan itself have been the international reaction to it. Actors such as the UK, France, the EU, Gulf States and even Egypt, far from rejecting the plan, expressed cautious optimism or at least a willingness to study it.
This reaction represents the tremendous opportunity and effort that Israel and its supporters must now make in the international arena. The question of applying Israeli sovereignty will likely be determined over the next week or month. However, the question as to whether the US, Israel and its allies can fundamentally shift the international discourse will be determined over the next year.
Over the next year, the Trump administration will work to highlight its initiatives as it gears up for the election, the new EU will seek to define itself, the UK will chart an independent path, and the seismic shifts in parts of the Arab world, particularly the Gulf, will likely continue. It is possible that dramatic changes will take place in the Palestinian arena as well, as Abbas will find it increasingly difficult to cling to power, and authority will be diffused among competing actors.
Thus, while the “Deal of the Century” is unlikely to lead to an Israeli-Palestinian peace in the near future, Israel and its supporters must make a concerted effort to inject its core concepts into the international discourse. While generating such an epistemic shift is a complex effort, it is not amorphous or theoretical. In fact, it has become a highly-developed area of activity for many civil society bodies, strategy consultancies and PR firms, who implement campaigns for shifting the global conversation on their priority issues.
Gradually re-framing the “internationally agreed upon” parameters and what “everybody knows” about the conflict and replacing failed paradigms with a realistic vision, will not only promote Israel’s national rights and security. If successful on both the international and regional levels, it can lay the groundwork for a viable peace.
Asher Fredman is a Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a former Chief of Staff to Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs, and a strategy and communications consultant. Follow him on twitter @fredman_a