Trump’s dead-on-arrival plan signals the end of an era

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Dr. John C. Hulsman

When I was a bright young thing in Washington, like every other ambitious foreign policy analyst, I craved nothing so much as a desire to somehow capture the elusive holy grail and come up with a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan that worked. Dutifully, I threw myself into a year of Track II projects, produced the outline of — at least to my eyes — what was an objectively fair outcome, and presented it at a conference to thinkers from both sides. The arresting thing was their common, gentle cynicism. They kindly thanked me for all my work, praised what they both admitted were objectively (relatively) fair terms, and then quickly concluded by saying that no one in either of their leaderships would ever agree to such a plan, or could agree, given the unrealistic goals on both sides. A senior American diplomat, who was also present at the meeting, fondly patted me on the shoulder and praised my abilities, suggesting I steer my efforts to more achievable goals. In leaving, he gave me some invaluable advice: “You cannot want peace more than the Israelis and the Palestinians, and expect America to make up the difference.” The just-announced US plan, spearheaded by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, will obviously never be enacted. That is not the interesting point. What it truly signals is the end of an era; a time where the US strenuously tried to broker a way out of this most intractable of situations. With the publication of the Kushner plan, it is clear that the US is now just going through the motions, with the president virtually signaling to the Israelis, and the many US voters who care about Israel, his staunch ties to the Netanyahu government and beyond. To be clear, Trump did not destroy the chances for a Palestinian-Israeli deal; that happened long ago, particularly over the crucial Palestinian failure to accept President Bill Clinton’s generous terms at the Camp David Summit of 2000. But, with this plan, he has clearly buried once and for all the prospects of any American-sponsored solution to the conflict. And, in an odd way, given the kind US diplomat’s comment to me mentioned above, that may actually be a good thing. The form in which the Kushner deal was arrived at is a major clue as to its lack of seriousness. During the formulation of the plan, Kushner developed detailed points for the two sides to accept, rather than actually meeting with any interlocutors face to face. In essence, it amounts to a highly skewed, pro-Israeli, US-dictated peace in exchange for a significant amount of money for the beleaguered Palestinian cause. If the form of the deal is highly provocative for the Palestinians, the terms are even worse. The Kushner plan recognizes Jerusalem as solely the capital of Israel. The Jordan Valley, long proposed as the breadbasket of any emerging Palestinian state, is instead granted to Israel, along with much of the West Bank, meaning that land west of the Jordan River would become Israel’s settled eastern border. And the Arab world would have to recognize Israel as an explicitly Jewish state. The Kushner deal amounts to a wish list beyond Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. The terms specifically related to the Palestinians are no more evenhanded. Gaza is to be demilitarized. A Palestinian state would only exist on disconnected fragments of the land they had hoped for. For example, to compensate them for the loss of about 30 percent of the West Bank, Palestinians would receive additional territory near Gaza, amounting to mostly desert. Gaza and the West Bank are to be linked by high-speed rail. The new state is to have no army. Before the new Palestinian state can even come into being, certain utterly unrealistic conditions must be met, including (somehow) “the complete dismantling of Hamas.” Palestinian refugees from past conflicts are categorically refused the right of return to houses lost to Israel. In return for accepting these impossible terms, the US promises significant economic aid to the Palestinians; $50 billion in total, enough money (President Trump estimates) to create 1 million new Palestinian jobs over the next decade, tripling Palestinian gross domestic product. But even this significant bribe does not pass the laugh test, for we all know that no Palestinian leader would ever accept such terms, or could — given the often unrealistic hopes of the Palestinian base — ever accept such terms. With this plan, Trump has clearly buried once and for all the prospects of any American-sponsored solution to the conflict.–AN