The Trump plan's legacy is the failure of the Right

Ambassador David Friedman gave America’s blessing to annexation within a day of the plan’s release. Ten days later, he did a full about-face.

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)
The “Deal of the Century” has finally been released, and it’s a divisive document. Israeli national discourse is roiling with arguments about the merits of the plan, how it will affect local elections or Israel’s relations with Arab states, and more. There is one conclusion, however, so obvious that no-one on the Left, Right, or center bothers to dispute it: The plan will not bring peace.
This was clear long before it was published. The US severely impaired its credibility as a good faith mediator by moving its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, and burned multiple bridges with the Palestinians in subsequent diplomatic decisions. The content of the plan requires Palestinian leadership to violate every red line they have ever set in previous negotiations.
According to a Palestinian Center for Policy and Research (PSR) poll conducted immediately after the plan’s release, 94% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip oppose the deal. The past, present and future of the Trump plan is a story of rejection.
So why publish when the minimum requirements for restarting negotiations were not present? What does the plan actually accomplish? There has been one word on everyone’s lips, from Peace Now protesters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: annexation. The American proposal legitimizes application of Israeli sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank. There has never been a better time for the ideological Right to make their dream of a greater – that is, a territorially larger – State of Israel official. This is their moment.
Except, it isn’t.
Since the 20th Knesset took session in 2015, there have been 31 legislative proposals introduced that contain direct measures for annexing parts of the West Bank. Not a single one has been enacted into law.
Ambassador David Friedman gave America’s blessing to annexation within a day of the plan’s release. Ten days later, he did a full about-face, announcing that unilateral annexation “endangers the plan & American recognition.” What Likud leaders have termed the most “pro-Israel” administration in the history of US-Israel relations has refused to approve a move that is in line with its own proposal.
This is the real legacy of the Trump plan; not, as the peace camp initially claimed, the acceptance by the Israeli Right of a two-state solution (by any reasonable standard, the future Palestinian entity outlined by the “Vision” would possess neither statehood nor sovereignty), but rather the failure of the Right to implement their darling project.
Netanyahu has had almost 11 years to annex portions of the West Bank. For eight of those, he could (and did) blame the Obama administration’s anti-settlement position. For the last three, he has had no such excuse. Why, then, have all of the annexation efforts made in the Knesset during the Trump presidency failed?
THERE ARE a few possible reasons.
• Reason number one (and this is a very hopeful one that assumes our elected officials feel a responsibility to represent their society as a whole): Israeli public opinion doesn’t support it. A March Haaretz poll showed that 42% of Israelis back annexation. However, broken down into its parts, this support includes 11% who want a one-state solution with equal rights for Arab citizens, and 16% who support full annexation of the West Bank without equal political rights for Palestinians. Both are minority opinions in Israeli society, generally labeled “extremist” by the center (and of course by the other extreme).
A recent Walla poll on annexing the Jordan Valley showed that less than 50% of self-identifying right-wing Israelis support such a move. There is no majority consensus on annexation.
• Reason number two: annexation threatens Israeli security. Former high-ranking IDF officials have repeatedly warned against the consequences of annexation. With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to end security cooperation, Trump cutting funding for Palestinian security forces, and a recent uptick in violence in the wake of the plan, the fears of these officials are not difficult to parse.
The PSR poll shows an increase in the percentage of Palestinians who think that resorting to armed struggle is the most effective way to end the occupation. When people lose hope in the possibility of a just and lasting peace – and the Trump plan fails to meet either of these criteria – they turn away from diplomacy.
• Reason number three: There isn’t any international backing for such a move. The United States has already reneged on its offer of recognition. Russia and the EU oppose it. The Arab League condemns it. The international argument against annexation is double-edged; it stands as an obstacle out of realpolitik as well as moral considerations. After World War II, the West attempted to build a world order where the strong do not rule, divide and conquer merely by virtue of their strength.
In this new order, justice and self-determination were principles to be respected by all nations. While there have been several significant challenges to this liberal world order in the last half century, it is not clear that Israel has the diplomatic power to pose one. Unilateral annexation of the West Bank would put Israel on the same side of history as Russia invading the Crimea, without the natural resources, diplomatic muscle and regional alliances of the much stronger nation. Self-interest and moral principle are united on this issue.
There may be more annexation attempts. Some of them may even succeed. However, as the current American and Israeli administrations have just proven with their offer to transfer outlying east Jerusalem neighborhoods to Palestinian control, annexation is reversible.
What is irreversible are the deaths, losses and traumas that Israelis and Palestinians will undergo as their leaders avoid taking steps toward what the American Plan so dramatically fails to deliver: a realistic two-state solution.
The writer is operations coordinator at the Geneva Initiative.