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Trump’s Middle East Plan

Photo via Michael Reynolds/ Shutterstock

Trump’s Middle East Plan: Trump unveiled a new plan in response to tensions in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel. The plan has largely been rejected by the Palestinian side who did not attend the unveiling ceremony. The plan is the brainchild of Jared Kushner and long a selling point in Trump’s campaign, but will anything actually come of it?

Trump’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ Plan;

Reflections on Changing U.S Foreign Policy

The U.S has long involved itself in the affairs of the Israeli state. With origins in using Israel as a buffer against Soviet influence in the Middle East, the close relationship has come to be a cornerstone in U.S relations within the region. Despite criticism of the Obama administration’s approach to Iran during a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the new administration has renewed these close ties while altering the backbone of U.S foreign policy towards Israel. Back in December 2017 President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; the first country to do so amid world criticism. This involvement culminated in a new Middle East plan in January of 2020 with a goal to broker peace between Palestinians and Israelis. 

The 181-page plan created under the supervision of Jared Kushner is officially named Peace to Prosperity but coined as Trump’s Middle East Plan. While it presented a way to break the logjam, a recent article from Foreign Policy actually argues that the plan derives its ideas from a 1979 plan by the World Zionist Organization. The latter introduces a political and economic framework to solve the conflicts and includes, among other directives, stipulations for the following:

  • Calls for large areas of the West Bank to be connected in chunks of Israeli territory encircling Palestinian areas; thus legalizing Isreali settlements in the West Bank viewed as illegitimate by the rest of the world. 
  • Cementation of Isreali control over Jerusalem as its capital
  • The creation of a demilitarized State of Palestine– “The State of Palestine will not be able to develop military or paramilitary capabilities inside or outside of the State of Palestine.” 
  • Calls for the State of Israel to handle all security. This comes in the form of “security at all international crossings into the State of Palestine” as well as airspace.
  • $50 billion in international investment to build the new Palestinian territory
  • The establishment of the Palestinian state capital in Abu Dis, a Palestinian settlement outside of Jeruselum. 
  • The plan does not immediately create a sovereign Palestinain state. Instead, only following the implementation of an array of stipulations, including clamping down on all programs that serve to incite any violence against neighboring territories, will the the Palestinian State be allowed to form. 

For those Arab residents currently living as permanent residents in Jerusalem, the plan would also allow them to choose to become citizens of Israel, Palestine, or to remain in their current status. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the plan? There was no Palestinian input. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had already denounced the plan before its publishment. Ties between Washington and the Palestinian Authority had been cut when President Trump first recognized Jeruselum. Instead of a brokered peace between the two sides, the pursuit of a Washington drawn plan conversely establishes a compromise where if the Palestinian side inevitably rejects, it becomes indicative of their reservations over compromise instead of injustice over a skewed solution. The deal does allow for a four-year window for the Palestinian side to resume talks and during this time, Israel would refrain from building more settlements, but only into the areas designated for the Palestinians in the plan. At the White House ceremony, during which only Prime Minister Netanyahu was present, President Trump stated, 

“My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.” 

Shifting Priorities 

This plan moves away from previous U.S foreign policy endorsing a two-state solution; in the process, it dismantles years of work towards mutual cooperation between both sides. Within the region, the Arab League rejected the plan on February 1 based on a number of caveats, because “it does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.” Arab states insisted that a two-state solution be put into place with borders before the 1967 war. They also argued for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. In a similar vein, Jordan reestablished its commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state with borders aligning with the 1967 ones. 

Though a lack of support from some key players in the region could hinder the one-sided plan, underestimating other U.S allies’ support could prove dangerous. Ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman were all present for the presentation of the plan in Washington D.C. Egypt made a statement calling for Israelis and Palestinians to review the plan. For countries previously supportive of the Palestinian cause, greater acceptance of the plan seems to indicate changing priorities with greater regional threats such as Iran. Without support for a compromise from one of the two parties involved in the conflict, a settlement seems unlikely for now.

U.S Influence

The timing of the announcement, when the impeachment trials loomed, worked to shift some of the focus away from Trump and more to brand himself as a peacemaker. For Israel, the plan comes at a key moment. On March 2, Israel will hold its elections. Prime Minister Netanyahu will seek reelection for the third time in less than a year, only a few months after first being indicted on charges of breach of trust, fraud, and accepting bribes. While attempting to divert media attention away from his impending trial and towards the so-called “Deal of the Century”, the U.S stymied these efforts. 

 The plan offered up a solution to satisfy Netanyahu’s right-wing base and show U.S recognition of Israel’s movements towards annexation in the region. During his time in Washington D.C, the Prime Minister even vowed to annex the Jordan Valley. However, as world criticism mounted following the Peace to Prosperity plan, Washington announced that it would wait to discuss any annexation of land in the West Bank until following the March elections. As a parliamentary democracy, his party Likud must gain a majority in the upcoming elections to cement his position. According to preliminary polls compiled by Haaretz, there looks to be yet another deadlock between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White political alliance. While the plan could have helped initially, the U.S backtracking on its initial support for annexation weakens the campaign impact. At a time of supposed receding U.S leadership on the international stage, the impact of the U.S as a peacemaker seems stunted.