03 February 2020

US-Israel- Palestinian Territories. A peace plan or one that aims at winning the elections?

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

The long-awaited peace plan elaborated by the Trump Administration and conceived by its negotiations team following the “take it or leave it, no modifications are allowed” concept, was finally published. Its content is quite similar to what has been speculated, it also has the economic part added after last year’s conference from Bahrain. Predictably, the presentation scene only had two positions, one for president Trump and one for prime-minister Netanyahu, and the Palestinians, who are theoretically the ones to get the chance to create a neighbour-state with Israel, do not have tickets yet to enter the White House meetings.

Image source: Mediafax

The Peace plan- an electoral passport?

Instead, president Trump had separate meetings with the Jerusalem executive, prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and opposition’s representative, Benny Gantz, trying to make sure that there is consensus on the Israeli part in terms of the continuity related to plan’s implementation, regardless of who will be state’s future leader.

The plan was presented on January 28th, on the same day the general attorney of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, has started the impeachment procedures against the prime-minister, following the letter sent a day earlier, from Washington, by which he was giving up the immunity request asked previously to Knesset.

This situation turns Netanyahu into the first Israeli prime-minister to be judged in a corruption, fraud and bribery file. The same situation allows the prime-minister to maximize his electoral chances for March 2nd 2020, the peace plan being, according to most of the analysts, his passport to victoriously get over the electoral process.

The most remarkable political personality of the last two decades in Israel’s history, prime-minister Netanyahu has, again, showed his political survival abilities- indeed, supported by Trump’s Administration- in a quite complicated international environment even in times of complicated internal disputes.

The peace plan, which can also be called the “plan of elections’ attainment, both in Israel/ by Netanyahu, and US/ by Trump”, or the “decision’s postponement plan for four more years”, is the document that joins prime-minister’s electoral platform, enough to get or surpass the 61 mandates’ line, necessary for a new rightist majority.

The same electoral logic exists also when it comes to candidate Trump, as he tries to surpass the impeachment file dispute and, then, attract the conservative American voters who believe that US has an almost biblical mission to defend Israel and the Sacred Places.

The “Peace to Prosperity” Plan, although conceived unilaterally, following the “we know better what is good for the Palestinians”, can get the long-awaited electoral victories to Jerusalem and Washington and, paradoxically, there is also a slight chance to have practice viability because of the four years grace the Palestinians get to decide. Only if Israel decides to postpone also West Bank colonies’ seizure. If not, the chances to be more than a presidential file are close to zero.

However, which are the provisions of this plan, conceived in a 180 pages file, revealed in only 50 pages, at the White House meetings?

Promises and conditions. Plan’s main provisions

According to President Trump, the plan offers a realistic solution, based on the existence of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, which will coexist and bloom. But are these provisions enough reliable to ensure this idyllic perspective? Maybe summarizing them will reveal some of plan’s reliability:

  1. Borders

The plan confirms that Israel is not forced to offer Palestinians 100% of the territory they could claim, according to international agreements. But what they may get could be related to direct and quick connections, passing over/under the Israeli territory, which could make these territories economically reliable. And the territories offered to Palestinians, with the indemnifications from the Negev Desert, could provide Israel safe and recognized/ legitimate borders, with no need to move most of the Israeli colonies.

This way, almost 97% of the Israelis in the Territories could be inside the new Israeli state’s borders, meanwhile 97% of the Palestinians could be in a new state, one of their own, with territorial continuity, provided also through new transport infrastructure projects. Territories’ exchange, assumed by Israel, thus rejected by the Palestinians, could provide this balance, close to the territorial measures before 1967. But meanwhile Israel would take the West Jordan Valley territories, the Palestinians would get two desert enclaves, which would supposedly become economic paradises.

The Palestinian side could integrate also a series of Bedouin villages, which are currently inside the Israeli borders, following the Israeli insertion, which will be annexed by the Israeli state.

The security limit between Israel and the Palestinian Territories will be reshaped to follow the new borders. The individual properties of the new field will be recognized, regardless on which side of the border it will be placed.

      2. Jerusalem issue

The most difficult and complex part of these two sides’ conflict is addressed in a separate chapter, trying to come up with solutions for the political, religious and territorial issues.

But meanwhile in terms of religion, the plan asks for tolerance and all pious people’s access to Haram al Sharif Temple (where now the Jewish are not allowed to pray), politically speaking, there are still physical security barriers between these two communities. They are already dividing the Palestinian Eastern districts from the Western Israeli ones, including the Old City, this way turning it into the future border. The plan suggests the Palestinians that they could create their own capital in the Southern and Northern suburbs of Jerusalem, a proposal that comes after they have firmly and permanently asked for Jerusalem to be their capital.

The US embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem, but if the Palestinians will agree and sign the proposed peace plan, US will open an embassy in the new Palestinian capital, called, maybe, A-Quds.

     3. Providing security

Plan’s objective is getting mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine. Although each state will be able to independently manage its internal infrastructure development, Israel will continue to be responsible with border’s adjacent areas, including the limitation area between both capitals.

Palestine will be demilitarized and will stay this way. Palestine will have security forces able to act internally and prevent terrorist attacks against Israel, Egypt and Jordan. A common coordination committee will have representatives from Israel, Palestine and US.

       4. What happens with the refugees?

The plan foresees three options for the Palestinian refugees who want to clarify their status and the alternative of a permanent residence place:

  • Integration in Palestine (with some limits presented in the document);
  • Integration in states on whose territories they are now (with their approval);
  • The transfer of maximum 5.000 refugees per year, for 10 years, in countries part of the Islamic Cooperation Organization (with the individual agreement of these states).

        5. Conditions for Palestine State

The plan foresees the mutual statehood recognition. Palestine State will be demilitarized. The Palestinian National Authority or any other organization accepted by Israel will have full control in Gaza. Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, other terrorist groups and militias will be disarmed, and Gaza will be demilitarized. After signing the Peace Agreement, all Israeli prisoners will be returned, and the mortal remains which are in the possession of the Palestinian side will be transferred to Israel. If Hamas wants to have a political role in the future Palestinian leadership, it must come to/declare peace to Israel.

The improvements for the Gaza situation are limited by an armistice with Israel, territory’s full demilitarization, the governance assumption by an internationally recognized structure, to allow investments’ processes.

The Palestinians will have to give up all education programs, including those integrated in the scholar curricula, promoting hate and confrontation with neighbours or promoting violence.

Among the provisions, there are also some which represent a kind of behaviour for the Palestinian National Authority, during the four years wherein the US proposal is available:

-PNA will not ask for the membership to any international organization, without asking Israel first;

- PNA will not act against Israel or US, their citizens and will stop the developing processes from the international court justices;

- PNA will immediately stop paying the Palestinian prisoners (salaries, incentives) from the Israeli prisons, accused for terrorism;

       6. Conditions for Israel

After signing the Peace Agreement, Israel will free the Palestinian prisoners who are now in Israeli prisons, except for a) those accused for crimes, b) those accused for subornation to crime/ terrorist actions, c) those who are Israeli citizens.

There are some provisions related to Israel about the way the situation in territories to be, if the agreement will be signed, outside Israel’s borders will be managed (some are part of today’s Israel State);

  • Israel will not build new colonies, will not enlarge the existent ones;
  • Israel will not destroy any existent infrastructure construction when the plan is revealed;

These provisions are important because if the Palestinians will refuse the plan, the insertions will be stopped for four years.

Asymmetries, unbalances and paradoxes

As it is premature to make any conclusions- in fact, the Palestinian relocation can be made in four years and anything can happen during all this time- we can only present some reactions and perspectives related to Trump’s Administration plan:

  • Most of the analysts, including from Israel, are noticing the similarity between the perspectives of the supposedly mediator (US) and one of the sides (Israel) in terms of plan’s solutions. These parts’ coordination is obvious, which can be an obstacle for process’s credibility and fairness. The huge asymmetry between those who are proposing and those who are targeted can be one of plan’s weaknesses;
  • Israel’s lately unilateral processes, encouraged or accepted by US, can be a new self-contradictory security situation, internationally, wherein agreements and the political common laws have no axiomatic value. It is noteworthy that Russia’s propagandistic voice, Russia Today, finds this plan sustainable, among other negative perspectives. Is Russia looking for its own legitimacy in terms of Crimea’s annexation or the interference in the Donbas conflict?
  • As always, the Arab States do not share the same vision, some being presented through ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives at the presentation ceremony, others having firm critics against it;
  • Also as always, Turkey, US’s NATO ally, is mainly against the plan, given its stance of state ensuring the presidency of the Islamic Cooperation Organization;
  • Nor the Palestinian reaction is to be steadfast, as the TV show of PNA with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, from January 28th, did not, but later, reject the plan. The current Palestinian leadership seems to not have the resources to get out of the extended defensive which accompanied the extremely long mandate of president Mahmoud Abbas;
  • It is, again, quite obvious that, although on paper the names “Israel State” and “Palestine State” seem to be similar, in reality, the second entity will have less conventional elements related to a sovereign state: borders’ control, the air space, territorial waters and even international recognition. Nor the internal security will be entirely in the hands of the Palestinians, as Israel still has the right to interfere. Even after changing borders, tens of thousands of Israeli will continue to live inside the possibly new state, under Israeli authority;
  • Trump’s Administration accounts for plan’s provisions’ “realism” through the “field realities”, although for some of them he contributes on his own. And the starting point of project’s entire construction was the hypothesis that the political ambitions are not as important as the economic ones”, a perspective presented by the main negotiator, Jared Kushner. And, for this perspective, there is a series of economic points of view, a connection infrastructure between the Palestinian territories and enclaves, which may seem attractive... if the previous hypothesis would be true.  The experience of the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian resistance shows the contrary;
  • As conclusion, an Israeli commentator, Gideon Levy, draws the line under the “Deal of the Century” project, stating that the force asymmetry between Israel and the Palestinians is used by Trump for his own political advantage, but also for Netanyahu’s one: „Trump is creating not only a new Israel, but a new world” ... „A world without international law, without honoring international resolutions, without even the appearance of justice.”

Indeed, history was full of decisions that could be called like that and some are being regarded, after many years, as decisive moments which, at some point, solved unsolvable issues.

Time will prove if the “Peace to Prosperity” addresses the history or just the juridical and electoral difficult moment the two leaders go through.

Translated by Andreea Soare