Three years in the making and long after most of the world had given up on it being rolled out, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan may soon see the light of day. In a January interview, US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien let drop that the Administration’s blueprint for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians may soon be unveiled.
That the effort – the responsibility of senior presidential adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner and recently retired Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt – hasn’t been permanently shelved is news by itself. But it also raises the possibility that the scheme might be announced during the run-up to Israeli elections on March 2.
Some 12 months ago, Trump and Kushner seemed prepared to launch the initiative once Netanyahu was safely re-elected for his fourth consecutive term as Israel’s leader in April 2019. Of course, what happened instead was a year of political deadlock in Israel.
As the Trump plan sat on the shelf, the two architects of the Administration’s effort have moved on to other things. And the President’s attention is focused on the Democrats’ efforts to impeach him, as well as issues like the conflict with Iran and concluding trade deals, not to mention the 2020 elections.
Moreover, it’s not as if anyone outside of the White House believed that Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” had a prayer of success.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) had already made it clear that they would never negotiate on the basis of any plan put forward by the Trump Administration. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had repeatedly turned down peace plans and efforts to revive negotiations that were far more generous than the terms he could expect from Trump.
Abbas didn’t accept the offer from the Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert in 2008 that had the support of the George W. Bush Administration, which called for an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. He’d also torpedoed talks championed by the Obama Administration in which the United States could have been counted on to place intolerable pressure on Israel to satisfy Palestinian demands. So there was no chance that he would negotiate seriously now with an American government that had finally ended the legal fiction that Jerusalem was not Israel’s capital, and which had demanded that the PA give up paying subsidies to terrorists and their families.
So why should the Trump Administration undertake as futile a gesture as announcing a peace plan that no one wants and can’t work?
With only a year left in what will either be Trump’s first or only term in office, the scheme is either going to have to be announced soon or forever be consigned to the dustbin of history.
But there’s a better reason than that for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and O’Brien to publish the plan. Despite the fact that it will not lead to negotiations, it’s important that a US government go on the record on the issue in a manner consistent with the reality of the Middle East, rather than the fantasies that have been the foundation of all past American efforts.
For decades, the foreign-policy establishment has taken it as a given that the region will be embroiled in conflict unless Israel is made to retreat to the lines of June 1967, and a Palestinian state put in place alongside it. But lately, the Arab world’s tacit renunciation of the Palestinian cause, in the face of more important threats from Iran and Islamist terror groups, shows that assumption to be a fallacy.
The same is true for the notion that appeasement of Palestinian territorial demands must be continued, regardless of whether the alleged moderates of Fatah and the Islamists of Hamas are ready to end their century-long war with Zionism.
Whatever you may think of Trump, his foreign policy has recognised that the obstacle to peace has been Palestinian intransigence and not Israeli policies. He has also understood that actions that reinforce Palestinian fantasies about Israel’s destruction – like the United States not recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – make peace impossible.
A year from now, a new Democratic administration determined to restore Obama’s policies may take office. It is important for the current administration to lay down a marker on peace that is rooted in realism, not the kind of magical thinking that actually fuelled terror and intransigence in the past.