Trump and Netanyahu Ignore Palestinian Aspirations

On 28 January, American leader, President Donald Trump, released his highly anticipated Middle East peace plan. The plan proposes a new boundary for the Palestinian state, allows Israel to control a unified Jerusalem, and allows Netanyahu’s administration to both retain its settlements in the West Bank and continue its annexation of areas in Jordan Valley.

Trump has stated that this plan, “presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two state solution… a historic opportunity for the Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state of their very own.”

The plan has been met with some praise from conservative Jewish circles, and from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated that President Trump is, “the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.” Much of the Palestinian population disagrees.

However, across the world, Palestinians have expressed feelings of outrage and alienation due to both the planning process and the proposed execution of Trump’s peace plan. Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority called the plan, “nonsense”, and that Palestinians would resist the proposal through, “peaceful, popular means.”

These same sentiments are reflected across the world, with Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut stating that Trump’s plan was, “a total abandonment of decades of US Middle East policy.”

Under scrutiny, the plan clearly disregards Palestinian aspiration and autonomy.

At best, the new proposal addresses the Arab-Israeli issue to the same extent as the pre-existing arrangement. The new map is gerrymandered to the point where new bridges, roads, and tunnels must be constructed and arranged to connect the patchwork of ethnicities that are now deemed Israeli. Each new piece of infrastructure is then subject to strict security measures as defined by the Israeli government, which in the past has become increasingly discriminatory against the Palestinian population.

But in its current state, the new peace plan promises to exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Firstly, the Trump administration failed to include any form of Palestinian leadership in the negotiation process. Instead, the plan was largely drafted by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with some discussion with Netanyahu who was invited to the White House. As such, Palestinians rejected the plan before its official release and continue to criticise the US’s Israeli partisanship.

Secondly, the Palestinians are promised far less land now than in any previous proposal in the past 70 years. Although this plan does require Israel to cede some territories, those areas in consideration contain high populations of Arab citizens within Israel, making this plan just another way for the government to reduce the number of Arab citizens in Israel.

Thirdly, the scheme allows the Israeli government to annex 30% of the West Bank, in addition to all Jewish settlements. Not only does this continue to disenfranchise Palestinian communities, it is also a flagrant violation of international law: a violation that both the US and Israel are complicit to.

But perhaps the most divisive point of the proposal is the allocation of Jerusalem. In the past, there has been an understanding that both sides would negotiate the division of the holy city. However, this proposal has done away with that notion and instead allocates all ‘desirable’ areas to the Israeli government, which includes all of the city’s historical holy sites. This leaves only obscure, outlying areas to the Palestinians such as gang-ridden slums, refugee camps, and regions that have never been considered areas within Jerusalem’s city limits. On top of this, these neighbourhoods are separated by Israeli communities, major roads, and in some cases miles of empty road, yet these are the districts that the plan asks Palestinians to designate as their unified capital.

The Trump administration’s plan plainly ignores Palestinian aspiration. As such, it is clear that this is no more than a thinly veiled attempt to distract from Trump and Netanyahu’s domestic politics. It acts as a way for both leaders to boost their election prospects in November and March respectively.

For President Trump, who is currently facing impeachment, this plan gives the impression that he is finally tackling the issue that presidents for 70 years before him have been unable to solve. By continuing his interventions in Israel, this proposal allows the president to earn both donations and votes from Israeli nationalists, as well as the conservative Jewish, and evangelical population.

Similarly, Netanyahu is facing his third election in 12 months while also confronting corruption charges and indictment. This peace plan allows the prime minister to distract from his own image issues by contrasting this proposal to the alleged inaction of Israel’s other political parties. In fact, Netanyahu accused the Knesset of being unable to understand, “the greatness of the hour,” and instead continuing to, “engage in cheap politics that are damaging to this decisive moment in the history of this country.”

For both politicians, the plan is an attempt at diversion and a final plea to their right-wing bases during their most divisive and controversial election years.

In the past few years, Trump’s plans regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict have become increasingly incendiary. In 2017, he lost the trust of all Palestinian leaders by moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; in March 2019, Trump officially recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights; and in November 2019, the Trump administration stated that the Israeli government’s West Bank settlements do not violate international law. Trump’s new plan is only the next level of exacerbation in this internecine conflict.

Though Trump and Netanyahu might pitch this proposal as a step forward for peace, the blatant disregard of Palestinian perspectives plays to an idea of Israeli superiority. In order for real peace to be achieved, there needs to be, at least, an equal consideration of arguments from both sides. Yet the Trump administration’s continued negligence of Palestinian opinions highlights that peace will not be feasible until the arrival of a new, more empathetic administration.