White House plan is a seal of approval for Netanyahu’s longtime vision

Some famous Netanyahu phrases, like “if they give, they’ll get, if they don’t give they won’t get,” and “Palestinian state-minus,” are reflected in the plan.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020
WASHINGTON – Hearing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describe the contours of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, one could easily feel a sense of déjà vu.
The broader ideas of the plan are similar to ones Netanyahu has long touted. But there are key differences, most importantly that the White House is behind his vision this time.
“If they give, they’ll get. If they don’t give, they won’t get,” was a famous slogan from Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, meant to describe his key principle in negotiations with the Palestinians. Today, it’s easy to imagine Trump saying something just like that. Something about its simplicity and the impression it gives of being a tough negotiator suit the US president.
And it is reflected in his peace plan, as well. The plan gives the Palestinians four years to prepare for statehood and sets conditions for the US to recognize their state. Among the conditions are demilitarization, including holding the Palestinians responsible for making Hamas and Islamic Jihad lay down their arms; recognizing Israel as a Jewish state; stopping incitement against Israel; and withdrawing its petition against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
If the Palestinians “give” by meeting those conditions, then “they’ll get” a state with major US support, both diplomatically and in the form of a $50 billion investment in their economic prosperity.
The Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump plan also looks a lot like something Netanyahu described in the past.
Back in 2009, Netanyahu famously gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he presented his vision for Israel’s future with its Palestinian neighbors. The Palestinians would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and their state would be fully demilitarized, while Israel would retain defensible borders and Jerusalem would be Israel’s united capital.
That address was given when Netanyahu was under pressure from former US president Barack Obama’s administration to negotiate a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines. It was Netanyahu’s way of trying to satisfy the Obama administration by saying he would support Palestinian statehood while maintaining what he felt was necessary for Israel’s security.
In light of Palestinian reticence to come to the negotiating table and the near-total opposition of the Israeli Right, Netanyahu eventually abandoned the Bar-Ilan speech entirely, or so it seemed, considering that he has repeatedly said in recent years that there won’t be a Palestinian state on his watch.
It turns out, though, that the doctrine Netanyahu outlined in 2009 remained his vision for the future. In fact, as late as 2017, Netanyahu talked about being willing to recognize a “Palestinian state-minus.” And now in 2020, the US plan that Netanyahu has called historic and the best-ever for Israel offers just that.
Netanyahu and others involved in drafting the new US plan have said that Israel laid out its security needs, and that the Trump plan meets them completely, while paving a pathway to Palestinian statehood.
The Palestinian state envisioned in the Trump plan has “significant limitations on its sovereignty,” Netanyahu said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
In fact, the Palestinian state according to the Trump plan will not have control over land borders, nor its own airspace, nor the sea, nor electromagnetic fields, as Netanyahu specified in the briefing.
In addition, the IDF will continue to protect Israelis in the West Bank, including in enclaves that are surrounded by Palestinians.
There’s a story Netanyahu has told in recent years to brush off the accusation that he supports a Palestinian state. In 2009, after Netanyahu called for a demilitarized Palestinian state while Israel maintains a broad presence in the West Bank, he spoke with then-vice president of the US and current Democratic primary candidate Joe Biden. Biden, as Netanyahu tells it, said to the prime minister that he doesn’t know what that thing is that was described in the speech, but it’s not a state.
Now, Netanyahu has flipped the story.
According to a senior diplomatic source, when the Trump administration began working on its peace plan, the president asked Netanyahu for his vision for a final settlement. Trump calls what Netanyahu described a Palestinian state, the source said, and Netanyahu thinks Trump can call it whatever he wants, as long as the substance remains.
Trump administration sources have given all kinds of examples of why a Palestinian state with less sovereignty is still a state, from Japan after World War II to the US maintaining military bases in places like Germany and South Korea, to the EU putting limitations on member states.
In the end, regardless of what name it is given, the Palestinian state as described in the Trump plan will have limited sovereign rights, and the Palestinians will have to make concessions in order to get it.
Netanyahu’s perseverance paid off, and his vision for Israel’s future borders has gone from a poorly received speech to having the powerful seal of approval of the president of the United States.