This election-year charade will only inflame tensions on the West Bank
The Trump administration's plan for Israel and the Palestinians is the biggest blow to any hopes for peace since the Oslo agreements were signed in 1993. It may even be fatal.
Standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz, Donald Trump purported to outline a two-state solution. But what he proposed is apartheid: a single state of Israel with limited Palestinian autonomy in some regions.
The "Palestinian state" outlined in the Trump plan isn't a state at all, but the box that a state might have arrived in. This entity would be surrounded by areas annexed by Israel; demilitarized; forbidden from entering into agreements or joining multilateral institutions; lack control of its airspace, coastal waters and electromagnetic spectrum; and be subjected to a range of other limitations. Israel could even veto which Palestinian refugees could enter this Palestinian "state."
The Trump plan acknowledges this deception by claiming that "Sovereignty is an amorphous concept that has evolved over time." Netanyahu has long called for a "state-minus" for the Palestinians, who are presumably "humans-minus." The Prime Minister then seized the annexationist moment, pledging that Israel will "apply its laws to the Jordan Valley and all settlements" in the occupied West Bank. An actual two-state solution could never survive that.
Palestinians in areas annexed by Israel would not be granted Israeli citizenship. Yet Israel would retain full extraterritorial jurisdiction over the tiny number Jewish Israelis who would find themselves living in this Palestinian non-state.
The obvious historical analogy is the fictional Bantustans in apartheid-era South Africa, nominally independent African countries that were in fact political and legal fictions for the convenience of white rule.
As they say, you can put lipstick on a pig and call it Sally, but it's still a pig.
The plan's deep cynicism is exemplified by the claim that Palestinians would get a capital in Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem would remain undivided and under complete Israeli sovereign control.
The shell game goes like this: a few Palestinian villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem which Palestinians have never considered part of Jerusalem would be renamed "Al Quds" (Jerusalem in Arabic) and made the nominal Palestinian capital. Thanks to this artful rebranding, Palestinians would magically have their capital in "Al Quds" but Israel would retain complete control of an undivided actual Jerusalem.
The plan thus gives Israelis everything they could want, except for those few extremists demanding total annexation of all Palestinian areas rather than just de facto control of them. And it gives Palestinians virtually none of their core goals. No Palestinians were even present for the announcement.
The truth is, it's not a real proposal at all. It's pure domestic politics for both leaders.
The timing gives the game away. Trump is facing impeachment, and Netanyahu is facing indictment, and both of them are relying on reelection to avoid serious legal threats. Trump and Netanyahu were doing a victory dance, with Gantz thrown in as window-dressing on the off chance he might win the upcoming Israeli election.
Trump got to pose as a peace-making statesman and pander to his evangelical base. And Netanyahu got to pose as the man who could deliver the occupied territories and annexation at last to Israeli voters.
But although the plan is a fake, the damage will be real and profound — even if nothing, including annexation, ever comes of it.
What Trump is purporting to do is breathtaking. In 1993 the Palestinians, the Israelis and the United States all signed a Declaration of Principles that laid out the basic framework of the peace process, including five final-status issues. All of them have now been abrogated by the United States and the entire agreed-upon negotiating framework is in ruins.
That's been the main aim all along. The Israeli right never accepted the Oslo agreements, and now the Trumpian right doesn't either.
When the Israelis failed to get the Palestinians to accept this kind of limited, compromised statehood at the Camp David summit in 2000, this moment probably became inevitable. The asymmetry of power is so stark that it was virtually certain that one day Israel would try to impose by force and fiat what they could not get Palestinians to agree to voluntarily.
Until now, the Israelis have been constrained by the fact that their American patrons were co-signatories to the 1993 agreement. Trump has just effectively freed Israel from all limitations imposed by Oslo and done away with the logic of two genuinely sovereign, independent states in favor of a radically separate and unequal Greater Israel. The main questions now are whether the damage can be repaired, and how much blood will be spilled as a direct result of this political malpractice.
This isn't a peace proposal. It is an anti-peace proposal.