Trump Plan: Peace vision or annexation plan? - analysis

The Trump administration has approached the peace plan with a level of humility lacking in Israeli politicians.

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Trump Administration has approached the Israel-Palestinian issue with a great deal of humility, US Ambassador David Friedman said on Sunday during a speech on the “Deal of the Century” at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Humility, he said, “based on the fact that we are not smart enough to know what is going to happen in this region tomorrow, a year from now or 10 years from now.”
This humility, however, is not something that has rubbed off on some Israeli politicians urging annexation now, before the March 2 election, regardless of the cost with the US Administration.
In a Kan Bet radio interview on Monday, Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked said the government should go ahead and extend Israeli sovereignty over the settlements and the Jordan Valley despite the US Administration's clear request to wait until the committee called for under the deal meets, does its work and draws up the lines where the sovereignty could be extended.
US President Donald Trump clearly made reference to this when he rolled out his vision for peace two weeks ago in the White House. “We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved,” he said.
Immediately, that is to say, after the committee completes its work, something that it was not realistic to believe would happen in the five weeks that then remained before Israel's March 2 elections.
But Shaked does not want to wait for the work of the committee, fearful that if the sovereignty is not extended now, it will not be extended ever.
Regarding that pesky little fact that the US is expressly asking for Israel to wait and go through the process as outlined in the plan, Shaked - again not showing an abundance of humility – intimated that the administration would fall into line behind Israel because Trump's Evangelical base likes the settlements and thinks that the Land of Israel belongs to State of Israel.
Her unstated message: the Trump administration – which she acknowledged could not be better for Israel – will agree to an Israeli sovereignty declaration now to please its Evangelical base.   
But the notion that the Evangelicals are just waiting to see what happens on the settlements before deciding to what degree to support Trump is an extremely Israel-centric view of the world; as if it is not the US economy, or issues like gun laws, abortion and conservative judges that are of keen interest to Trump's Evangelical voters, only Israeli sovereignty over the settlements; as if were sovereignty not extended over the next three weeks, then all those Evangelical voters will ditch Trump and either vote for a Democratic candidate –Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders – or stay home?
Talk about a lack of humility.
In all the brouhaha over whether sovereignty should be extended over the settlements before or after Israel's election, what has been lost in looking at the US plan is that the date that is important for the Trump team is less Israel's election in March, and more the US election in November.
The Trump team, by no means certain that it's boss will be returned to the White House in November, wants to see concrete steps on the plan taken before that date, partly because if concrete steps are taken, it will be more difficult – though by no means impossible – for a Trump Democratic successor to reverse them.
But those steps must be taken carefully and deliberately. Trump himself, as well as some of the key members of his Mideast team have, spent much of their adult lives in real estate. These are people who would not put money down on a property within 30 days of first seeing it without doing due diligence.
The Trump vision was laid out, and the American-Isarel committee stipulated in the plan is the body that Washington wants to conduct the due diligence.
Why? Because the process, if it is to be sold internationally, needs credibility, and extending sovereignty quickly and on the eve of an election undermines that credibility.
Furthermore, if sovereignty is extended, the actions of the world and the Palestinians will not be limited to angry statements on Twitter feeds. Steps will be taken at the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, in the UN Security Council and at the UN General Assembly.
To deflect those challenges, the map must be drawn up carefully and with careful thought, a process that will also allow both sides to draw up articulate arguments that can be used to deflect blow-back to the plan.
The Administration also wants to ensure that the substance of the plan is elevated about local Israeli politics. If there is a rush to annex now prior to the elections, before there is the necessary planning for all the eventual scenarios – both internationally and in terms of the security challenges this could pose  Israel – it will appear that America's political purpose was to promote a narrow political agenda, not a wider vision.
And that is not the perception Washington wants out there as it embarks on an effort to market the plan.  In saying “no” to efforts by Yamina and some settlement heads to push the extension of sovereignty over the settlements now, the US is trying to send the following message: this is wider vision for peace, not a narrow plan for annexation.