AMMAN – U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled a sweeping Middle East peace plan that his administration claims will end decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict by offering concessions to both sides. But even the optics of the announcement — with Trump standing beside Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and no Palestinian anywhere to be seen — revealed just how disingenuous that claim is.
Effective peace negotiations require a perfectly calibrated interchange between process and content. In the case of Trump’s peace plan, the process was clearly a sham. It is not just that no Palestinian leader attended the announcement; none has been invited to the White House since Trump — the leader of the most pro-Israeli U.S. administration in history — moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, in May 2018.
By contrast, Netanyahu has made five trips to the United States since Trump took office, including to seize this latest opportunity to gloat. Underscoring his contempt for the group with whom he supposedly wants to make peace, Netanyahu refused so much as to utter the word “Palestinians” during the initial Oval Office meeting.
But Netanyahu does not need to be nearby for the Trump administration to work in his interests and those of his right-wing backers. Within the U.S., the supposed “peace process” has been directed by Christian Zionists, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Jewish Zionists — most notably Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and, until last September, former Trump Organization lawyer Jason Greenblatt. All of these figures — as well as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — publicly support Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and violations of Palestinian human rights, such as the right to self-determination.
So biased was the process that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the deal sight unseen. His instincts were right: The plan’s content shamelessly advances Israeli interests and goals at the expense of the Palestinians.
The Trump administration’s plan would establish a disjointed Palestinian para-state surrounded largely by Israel, which would be permitted to annex all of the settlements it has built since the June 1967 war, as well as the Jordan Valley — a step for which it is already laying the groundwork. Jerusalem would remain Israel’s undivided capital, with the Palestinian capital located in the suburbs east of the city.
Far from the “deal of the century” that Trump has repeatedly promised, this is — in Abbas’s words — the “slap of the century.” It ignores decades of negotiations, as well as concerted efforts by Arab neighbors such as Jordan and Egypt, to encourage moderation.
But the Palestinians are not the only losers from Trump’s kowtowing to Israel. It is hard to see how this approach benefits the U.S. Already, the Trump administration has handed one political gift after another to Israel, including moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ordering the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and declaring that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. It has also defunded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (dedicated to supporting and advocating for Palestinians displaced by Israel’s creation in 1948), and suspended support for hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide critical care to Palestinians.
And what has the U.S. gotten in return for all of this? Absolutely nothing. As the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested, Trump seems to be little more than Netanyahu’s “chump.”
The unveiling of the new peace deal was surely intended to consolidate Trump’s right-wing Christian Zionist base, giving him a political boost as his impeachment trial unfolds in the Senate. And it will do the same for Netanyahu, who has endured two deadlocked elections and three failed attempts at forming a government in recent months — and was formally indicted on corruption charges just hours before the White House event.
Make no mistake: what the Trump administration has put forward is not a courageous plan for permanent peace but a shameless ploy to violate international law, Palestinian human rights and basic principles of fairness. Yes, this may deliver a short-term political boost to Trump and Netanyahu. But Palestinians will never accept it.
The plan’s supporters will try to portray Palestinians’ rejection of Trump’s plan as tantamount to a rejection of peace. We must not let them. Palestinians, along with Arab countries, remain committed to a two-state solution along the 1967 borders and a just resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem. That is a viable basis for a just, honestly negotiated and mutually acceptable peace settlement. Trump’s plan is a sham.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former professor of journalism at Princeton University. © Project Syndicate, 2020