Trump Mideast plan faces dim prospects

Observers term the initiative non-starter

January 29, 2020 02:14 PM

President Donald Trump has boasted that his Middle East plan will find support but most experts believe its unabashed backing of Israel and tough conditions for the creation of a Palestinian state mean it is doomed to fail.

"It is a non-starter," said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The Palestinians have rejected it out of hand as have Israeli settlers who are opposed to any form of Palestinian sovereignty," he said.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has no intention to negotiate over the plan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who joined Trump for the announcement at the White House on Tuesday, appears to be counting on Abbas to reject it, Cook said.

The White House coordinated with Israel on the plan which gives the green light to Netanyahu to annex much of the West Bank -- a path he has already indicated his cabinet will soon take.

"It is meant to help Prime Minister Netanyahu survive his current political and legal struggles as well as to shore up support for President Trump among pro-Israel voters in his re-election campaign," said Michele Dunne, a former State Department specialist on the Middle East now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"There is no sign whatsoever that the plan will lead to negotiations," she said.

The Trump administration spent three years working on the 80-page plan. The Palestinian leadership has boycotted Trump's efforts, considering him biased after major steps such as recognizing disputed Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Contrary to some expectations, the plan does speak of a Palestinian state and a Palestinian capital around Jerusalem.

But the capital would be in eastern areas such as the adjacent Palestinian village of Abu Dis, with Israel exerting sovereignty throughout the holy city.

The plan, spearheaded by Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, freezes Israeli settlements for four years in areas eyed for a Palestinian state and would connect the West Bank and Gaza through a corridor with high-speed transportation, one of a slew of economic development promises.

- 'Realism'? -

"At a tactical level there are some good ideas, but without the promise of statehood for the Palestinians, they are meaningless," Cook said.

Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy welcomed what he called a dose of "realism" in the long intractable conflict.

"It is realistic for the Jordan River to be Israel's security barrier. It is realistic for hundreds of thousands of Israelis in West Bank not to be forced to relocate," he said.

"But they took those and other principles and stretched them beyond all recognition. Israeli security control of Jordan Valley became full sovereignty; not uprooting hundreds of thousands of settlers became not uprooting even one settler."

Dunne said the fundamental headline of the plan is that it sets Israel's eastern border all the way alongside Jordan.

"All the rest is details. Whatever the plan gives to Palestinians is provisional, conditional and long-term -- in other words, probably will not happen," she said.

The White House "vision" said that Israel would not implement it until it approves of the rulers of Gaza, the densely populated coastal strip led by the Islamist militant movement Hamas.

"Unless and until Hamas is removed or disarms/renounces violence/recognizes Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people, the Palestinians get zero from the plan. Hamas has veto power," tweeted Henry Rome, an analyst at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

- Choices for Palestinians -

For some observers, the fundamental goal of the Trump plan is to change in the long-term the parameters of a settlement to be more favorable to Israel.

Israeli annexation in the West Bank would present a fait accompli to the Palestinians in the guise of a peace plan.

"However weak the Palestinian people or leadership is, they always have the ability to say no, as they will do now," Dunne said.

"The real question is where this will push the Palestinian movement. Whether intended or not, this plan seems likely to hasten the day when it changes from a struggle for an independent state to a South Africa-like struggle for rights," she said.

Despite the Palestinian rejection, the Trump plan enjoyed an upbeat reception from several US allies in the Arab world, which have found common cause with Trump and Netanyahu in their opposition to Iran.

The ambassadors of Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates -- none of which recognize Israel -- attended the announcement by Trump and Netanyahu.

Egypt, the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, encouraged the Palestinians to "undertake a careful and thorough examination" of the proposal.

"Palestinians will be tempted to reject plan outright but should resist temptation and agree to direct negotiations where they can advocate as they want," tweeted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Total rejection could undermine what modest hopes for two-state outcome exist and pave way to annexations."

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