The Israeli settlement Neve Yaakov, which straddles East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled its long-awaited peace plan for its ally Israel and the Palestinian people. Dubbed the “Deal of the Century,” the blueprint effectively grants the Israeli government a green light to annex even the most isolated settlements in the Palestinian territories, and offers the Palestinians a state in name only. 

Launched by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony in Washington on Tuesday, the plan reads like something written by pro-Israel lobbyists. It will allow Israel to immediately annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank, and it has the full support of the Israeli government. 

Palestinian officials were absent, having boycotted attempts by the Trump administration to resolve the conflict since the US embassy in Israel was moved to Jerusalem – their desired future capital.

In front of a crowd hooting as if they were at a college football game, the president introduced the plan as one that will lead to a “a realistic two-state solution” and one which was built on mutual recognition of “the State of Palestine as the nation state of the Palestinian people and the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”

The Trump administration is calling for four years of negotiations before a final peace agreement will be signed. However, it is very specific in its prescription for the most important issues at hand.

Tel Aviv to Itamar

The most dramatic element was the complete transformation of American policy toward Israeli settlements, previously in step with the United Nations labelling them illegal. The plan calls for a settlement freeze during negotiations, but, far more significantly, offers US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over areas of the West Bank which Netanyahu calls “of importance to our security and heritage.”

The plan does not call for the evacuation of any Israeli settlements whatsoever, even the most isolated settlements, which under the plan will be grouped into 15 enclaves and annexed to Israel.

The Trump administration states in the plan that Israel “will not have to uproot any settlements, and will incorporate the vast majority of Israeli settlements into contiguous Israeli territory. Israeli enclaves located inside contiguous Palestinian territory will become part of the State of Israel and be connected to it through an effective transportation system.”

A statement by Netanyahu’s office announced the cabinet will meet to discuss the annexation of all settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley on Sunday.

The vote will call for the end of the military governorship of the territory which has stood since 1967 and its replacement with Israeli civil law. The prime minister later told Israeli reporters that “the fate of Itamar [a particularly isolated settlement] is the same as Tel Aviv.”

Netanyahu currently runs a caretaker government which may not have the legal competence for such a far-reaching move. Nonetheless, the significance of this goes beyond his government. The Trump administration has clearly given full approval to this move.

“Israel does not have to wait at all to annex the settlements,” US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman confirmed.

What’s at stake?

Israeli settled areas account for nearly one-third of the West Bank, leaving less than three-quarters of the occupied territory for a Palestinian State. This is 20-25% less than previous offers the Palestinians have rejected.

Although Trump claims the territory will be contiguous, the plan indicates otherwise, exclaiming that “enclaves that remain inside contiguous Israeli territory but that are part of the State of Palestine shall become citizens of the State of Palestine and shall have the option to remain in place unless they choose otherwise.”

As another punch to the gut for the Palestinians, even when they obtain independence under this plan, they will not enjoy security sovereignty. Trump envisions that “Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility for the State of Palestine, with the aspiration that the Palestinians will be responsible for as much of their internal security as possible.” This allows a path for Israel to maintain the military occupation of all parts of the West Bank even after Palestinian “independence.”

One of the sorest issues for the Palestinians historically has been the fate of the refugees who either left or were physically expelled in the early stages of the 1948 War. The Palestinian have long advocated the right of return to their homes. However, this long held claim is categorically denied in the deal. The new position of the United States is that “there shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the State of Israel.”

The plan proposes Palestinian refugees rely on their “Arab brothers … to integrate them into their countries as the Jews were integrated into the State of Israel.” The plan puts forward a possible yearly quota of refugees to be allowed to resettle in states belonging to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

A limited number may be allowed into the newly-defined Palestine if Israel were to consent. This position is designed to effectively dash the dreams of generations of Palestinians, many of whom have kept keys to homes lost decades ago.

Two Jerusalems

The contentious issue of Jerusalem was also addressed with surprising specificity, despite seemingly conflicting visions.

In his speech, Trump reassured Israel by saying Jerusalem will remain “undivided.” However, the plan also determines that the future Palestinian capital would be in East Jerusalem. The plan places it “in the section of East Jerusalem located in all areas east and north of the existing security barrier, including Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis.” This area is separated from the city itself by a wall Israel built for security purposes which has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. Therefore, claims Jerusalem will remain undivided ring hollow.

From the perspective of the Palestinians the plan in its entirety is tantamount to a slap in the face. The various factions, normally agreeing on nothing, were utterly unanimous in their condemnation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded, “Trump, Jerusalem is not for sale. Our rights are not for sale. Your conspiracy deal will not pass.” 

In what is a rare and significant development, members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are attending speeches and rallies together and declaring a united front against Israel and the United States. Neither a unity Palestinian government including all the factions nor a coordinated violent uprising are out of the question.

The Palestinian Authority will now focus on gaining wide Arab condemnation and rejection of the plan. It is unclear to what extent this will be possible. The ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain were present at the unveiling and this may indicate some degree of pre-coordinated support for the plan. However, there was a notable lack of representatives from Jordan or Egypt, Israel’s neighbors, and the only Arab states with peace treaties with Israel. There was no Saudi representative present.

One of the most immediate concerns is the effect this will have on Israeli-Jordanian relations. Amman has warned that Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley may lead to the cancellation of the bilateral peace agreement signed in 1994. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi stated after the deal was published that unilateral annexation of parts of West Bank by Israel will have dangerous consequences for the region.

There has been a great deal of speculation that the deal is designed more to serve the domestic political needs of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu than to actually resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The same day as the plan was announced, Netanyahu waived his request for parliamentary immunity, accepting being served with multiple indictments

The announcement of the plan and the historic opportunity to annex the settlements will serve to distract Israeli voters from the corruption charges and emphasize the prime minister’s reputation as a world-class diplomatic maneuverer. The US president can also benefit from a major diplomatic achievement to distract from the impeachment trial currently taking place in the Senate.

Whatever the motivation, the plan is a non-starter. The Palestinians will never be able to accept the clearly pro-Israeli slant of the plan and the Netanyahu government has no interest in creating a Palestinian state.

However, contrary to much speculation, this plan appears to be monumentally significant. It facilitates Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank and the Netanyahu government seems poised to act on that immediately.

This is a rude wakeup call for the Palestinians. As they realize time is not on their side, they may wish to resist Israeli moves towards annexation by all means necessary.

Also read: Palestinian elections will only make things worse

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