(January 29, 2020 / JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has perhaps never looked more subtly elated on any previous visit to the White House than he did on Tuesday.
He and U.S. President Donald Trump, the friendliest-ever president towards Israel in U.S. history, stood side by side in the announcement of the friendliest vision Israel has ever seen regarding its borders and its future. Relief that the long-anticipated diplomatic part of the peace plan was revealed to the public for the first time was palpable. So, too, was the fact that this as the first proposal in history that eliminates the 1949 armistice lines or pre-1967 lines commonly referred to as the Green Line.
This plan contains a number of other important “firsts.” It is the first plan to be officially presented with a map; rejects the erroneous idea that settlements are illegal or an obstacle to peace; recognizes Israel’s legal and historical right to Judea and Samaria; gives Israel a green light to apply sovereignty immediately to all settlements; and allows Israel to set an eastern border and sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
Eytan Gilboa, professor and director of the Center for International Communication at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and a senior research associate at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, told JNS that “this is the first detailed American plan that favors the Israeli position and not the Palestinian one.”
He also noted that the plan is a “two states for two peoples” solution and raises again the idea of partition.
“Trump is not the first president to support the establishment of a Palestinian state—U.S. President George W. Bush did so in 2002,” he said. “But no other president has gone into such detail about how a Palestinian state may be established.”
While the plan emphasizes that there is no return to the pre-1967 borders and offers a clear division of territory, this idea is not totally new. As Gilboa noted, Bush also said that facts on the ground must be recognized. Even the Palestinians themselves understood that Israel was not going to evacuate the big settlement blocs.
“The only big difference here is the Jordan Valley compared to other ideas,” said Gilboa.
Trump, as a businessman, is thinking, “Who would reject a proposal that includes $50 billion?” said Gilboa, referring to the economic portion of the proposal, which was revealed in June 2019 in Bahrain.
“The problem is that Trump’s business approach ignores other issues, such as Palestinian pride and culture,” he explained. “They are not impressed by economic prosperity as long as they are still willing to sacrifice themselves and die. Economic incentives of this kind do not necessarily work. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas himself said, ‘Palestine is not for sale.’ ”
‘It establishes new parameters for negotiations’
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, threw some water on some of the ideas presented in the plan.
Inbar said he is not “enamored” with the idea of applying Israeli law to all settlements and outposts immediately. “I don’t know how wise it is,” he told JNS.
He also said he doesn’t believe that Gaza can easily be demilitarized.
“I don’t see peace coming out of the plan, but in the long scheme of things, it is more realistic. This was also part of an educational process for the Palestinians to become more realistic. … Over the years, they said ‘no’ to everything, but now there are facts on the ground.”
According to Gilboa, the plan is important “because it establishes new parameters for negotiations. Now, there are new guidelines for the first time since 1967. For the first time ever, the U.S. is providing detailed principles that Israel can accept.”
Another aspect crucial to the outcome is Muslim support, he noted. The presence in the White House of three ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman “suggests that there will not be a unified Muslim position.”
“One of the main reasons for this plan,” he said, “is to create the infrastructure for closer Israeli and Arab Sunni cooperation against Iran; these Sunni countries no longer consider the Palestinians important to them. There is support from some countries in the Arab world. There are some important differences here compared to the past.”
Gilboa noted that former President Barack Obama “was the most pro-Palestinian president in American history and, during his tenure, there was the least amount of negotiations between the two sides. He applied much pressure on Israel, and nothing happened. Trump is the most pro-Israeli president in history, and he is doing the opposite, putting such pressure on the Palestinians.”
The plan sends a clear message to the Palestinians. “First,” said Gilboa, “time is not on your side. Second, you used to have support, but now you do not have the same level.”
Inbar said that “it is a great achievement on the part of Netanyahu that Trump looks so favorably upon Israel and takes its interests to heart.”
“We should also appreciate the fact that Netanyahu began his relationship with Trump many years ago,” he added.
Gilboa said he thinks that one of the reasons Trump invited Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was to show that unlike the Palestinians, “there is consensus in Israel for the plan.”
This is also the first time an American president has ever invited the head of the opposition to review a plan, and it was “likely done to demonstrate that if Netanyahu loses in the next election, Gantz, who would likely be the next leader, also supports it. The vast majority represented in Israel’s parliament approves of the plan,” said Gilboa.
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