(January 28, 2020 / JNS) As the region absorbs the details of the Trump administration’s peace plan proposal to tackle the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israel Defense Forces took the preemptive step of moving an infantry battalion to the Jordan Valley on Tuesday, giving the military an added layer of flexibility to deal with a range of possible scenarios.
While few in Israel expect a major escalation to follow Trump’s announcement, the Israel Defense Forces is conducting ongoing situation assessments to keep its finger on the pulse. The Israeli defense establishment is preparing to study the details of the proposal closely to see what conclusions can be drawn in terms of potential security ramifications.
The IDF’s preparations also include stepped-up intelligence gathering in the West Bank and conducting dialogue with a variety a variety of influential elements in the area. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi completed a tour of the West Bank on Tuesday afternoon together with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.
Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of the security coordination between the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, told JNS that he doubted any significant ignition of popular violence was about to occur, and that sporadic demonstrations were more likely.
“I believe that the Palestinian public of 2020 is not the same as it was during the first intifada in 1987, and certainly not like it was in subsequent escalations,” said Elad, a lecturer at the Western Galilee College. “The Palestinians are still angry at the State of Israel, but they’re also looking at Gaza; they see the conditions there, and they do not want to reach that. The conditions for them are good, and they fear closures and disorder disrupting their lives.”
As a result, Elad assessed, the most likely scenario is that of demonstrations and localized disruption that do not develop into massive eruptions of violence.
Palestinian anger at the proposal will stretch across the board, said Elad. “They will never agree to this. They perceive it as a very pro-Israeli proposal.”
The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank had assumed that future talks would resume where past talks—such as the Abbas-Olmert negotiations or the 2000 Barak-Clinton proposals—left off, based on the idea of establishing a state roughly on the 1967 Green Line borders with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, a symbolic return of refugees and Israel receiving three main settlement blocs.
The far more limited vision of a Palestinian state in the Trump proposal contains none of the basic components that the Palestinian Authority and the public had envisioned, Elad pointed out. “None of that is here. They will say that this is not a state, that they have no space, and that there is nothing to talk about.”
From 1994 onwards, the Palestinians developed a dream of having a state on the 1967 borders with no settlements in it, he said. That vision no longer has proponents in the Israeli mainstream, he noted, adding that “the Palestinians are not prepared for the new proposal.”
From a practical perspective, the gap between Israel and the Palestinians is so wide that “Trump had no choice but to make unequivocal decision to launch this proposal and to say, ‘take it or leave it,’ ” said Elad. Despite this anger, he added, “there won’t be a third intifada.”
In the longer-term assessment, the Palestinian population lacks the energy to engage in a major confrontation with Israel, he argued. “They will probably go along with what their leaders decide.”
Abbas doesn’t want to be seen as ‘a traitor’
One potential scenario is that if P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas, concludes that Trump will remain for a second term, he can order Fatah to disband the P.A. “and return the keys to Israel.” A second scenario, added Elad, is that they remain, but cut off any contact or coordination with Israel.
Much of what the Palestinian leadership does depends on the response at the street level in the West Bank, he said. “If they receive public backing, the Palestinian leadership will go all the way [disbanding the P.A.]. If the public does not respond fiercely, Abbas could also resign. The main thing is that he does not want to be seen as a ‘traitor,’ ” said Elad. “What Yasser Arafat rejected—recognition of Israel as a Jewish state—he, too, will reject.”
From a strictly security perspective, the effect of the unveiling of the plan will not have a positive effect on the ground, argued Elad, though did caution that Hamas could also seize the situation to take steps to strengthen its presence.
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