Donald Trump’s New Israel-Palestine Peace Plan

By Anna Schwartz

In recent decades, international states and institutions have worked together to resolve incompatible claims by Israel and Palestine to territory in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States Trump administration plans to release a peace proposal in June 2019, but pro-Israel behavior throughout his administration may have destroyed his chances of ratification from both sides. Among other policies, his administration's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and support of Benjamin Netanyahu leading up to the Israeli prime minister’s fifth re-election have called into question his dedication to finding a two state solution.

To grasp the depth of the conflict, a brief historical overview is necessary. The roots of the dispute are each country’s assertion of its right to land. Palestine insists that they have comprised the majority of the population in the former Ottoman Empire for centuries. Israel bases its hold on a biblical promise to Abraham that his descendants may maintain a Jewish kingdom there. During the First World War, Britain promised the land to both sides after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, but after the war, Britain and France instead took over the territory as League of Nations Mandates.. More Jewish people moved into the area that had been predominantly composed of Palestinians, and hostility between British armies, Palestine, and Jewish nationalists called Zionists intensified. Following the Second World War, the United Nations General Assembly addressed the issue: Resolution 181 proposed a two-state solution dividing territory between Palestine and Israel, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem as an international zone. Zionist leadership accepted it, but Arab states like Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt did not, since it gave Israel over half of the region despite its smaller population and land ownership at the time. Over the next several decades, animosity deepened further [1].

British armies withdrew and Arab states came to Palestine’s military defense, forming the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to fight for the homeland originally carved out by England. Nonetheless, Israel prevailed in the Six Day War of 1967 and established a state with a large majority of the territory. The PLO was pushed out of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and many Palestinians fled to join the growing numbers of Palestinian in Lebanon. Then in 1973, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and other Arab states launched the Yom Kippur Wars with Israel, which ended in a ceasefire and peace talks. The Camp David Accords in 1978 scheduled talks about governance in the West Bank. However, this agreement failed to resolve the heart of the problem. Several other wars occured, including Israeli invasion and eventual withdraw from Lebanon. In the Oslo Accords of 1991, Israel and the PLO decided that Israel would pull out from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and gradual negotiations would settle outstanding issues like the status of Jerusalem, rights for refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and borders. Yet the region is still tumultuous today [2].

Israel maintains its settlements in places that the UN considers Occupied Palestinian Territory. These settlements are declared illegal by a number of international states and organizations including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, the International Court of Justice, and Israeli human rights groups. Millions of Palestinian refugees have been expelled by Zionist groups, and their right to return home has been defended by UN Resolutions 242 and 3236 [3]. While this summary is not comprehensive, it demonstrates how deep-seated the friction is between the two states. As Britain declined from hegemony, the United States took on the role of mediating in instances like Camp David during Carter administration and Oslo during Clinton administration. In the era of Trump, the questions of Jerusalem’s political status and the allocation of contested territory remains unresolved.

Both Palestine and Israel claim Jerusalem as their capitals. Both Palestinian Arabs and Jews live there, and the majority of Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. So when Israel declared the city its capital, the United Nations passed a resolution to signal neutrality. It denounced the annexation of East Jerusalem and asked member states to keep their embassies in other locations. In accordance with the resolution, the United States had maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv since 1966, although the Trump announced the move to Jerusalem in December 2017 and opened the new building months later [4]. Palestinians protested in response and tens were killed by Israeli fire. Liberal nations like Britain, regional organizations such as the Arab League, and NGOs like Amnesty International disapproved of the move and the subsequent violence against protestors [5]. The embassy switch caused the Trump administration to seem like he was backing Israel’s sole ownership of land in Gaza and opposing Palestinian establishment of a state there. He took a similar stance by advocating for Benjamin Netanyahu during the prime minister’s 2019 campaign.

Netanyahu was re-elected to his fifth term in mid-April, rendering his over twenty year-long administration the longest in Israel’s history. He attracted right-wing supporters through his commitment to a one-state solution, the continued establishment of settlements in the West Bank, airstrikes against anti-Israel terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and designating Iran as a threat to national security. Still, the tipping point in this election was his receival of Trump’s support. The Trump administration not only repeatedly praised Netanyahu, but also called for Israel’s sovereignty and recognized a section of the Iranian army as a terrorist group [6]. Trump’s allegiance is not unprecedented; the United States has held an amicable relationship with Israel in the past. For example, Barack Obama issued the largest military aid package to date of $38 billion. The novel aspect is Trump’s defense of antagonistic Israeli policies. Since becoming prime minister, Netanyahu has aligned his right-wing Likud Party with the nationalist Jewish Power Party known as Otzma Yehudit. The Likud party is openly racist against non-Jewish actors and unwilling to discuss resolution or compromise with Palestine. Consequently, Democratic Party officials in the United States such as Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticize Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace. Even those who have traditionally approved of strong U.S.-Israel relations, such as Chris Van Hollen and Gerald E. Connolly, have expressed concern about recent politics [7]. As the Trump administration affiliates with a divisive Israeli leader, he alienates Palestinian support of the US as an unbiased third party. Thus his peace proposal is unlikely to be ratified by both sides.

In June of 2019, Trump is scheduled to unveil the new White House plan. Drafted by his advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the plan is expected to include some reinstitution of funds for Palestine but no two-state solution [8]. Mohammad Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, calls upon the Arab world to reject it. He condemns the financial war that Trump has launched with Palestine, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars of aid and removing financial backing for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. Expecting this plan to similarly represent Israeli interests, Shtayyeh considers it doomed to fail. The prime minister reiterates that his top priorities are a sovereign state for Palestine and the end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, both of which are likely to be omitted from Trump’s deal [9]. Over thirty prominent European politicians sent a letter to the European Union and European governments with compatible sentiments, recommending that Europe reject any American plan that fails to mention a two-state solution [10]. Meanwhile, Kushner maintains that the proposal is not one-sided. Using his proposed process, he hopes that Israel and Palestine will consider concessions that are necessary for peace and negotiate to obtain their preferences rather than refuse to come to the bargaining table [11].

World powers and the United Nations have traditionally collaborated to help Israel and Palestine attain peace. Yet as the Trump administration endorses controversial Israeli policies, he threatens to end the credibility of the United States as a trustworthy third-party and sabotage the prospects of reaching an agreement.

Anna Schwartz is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is pursuing a double major in Political Science and French. with a minor in Economic Policy.

Works Cited:

[1] Bhat, Dr. Mohd Shafi. 2017. "Israel- Palestine Contentious Issues". Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. December 30.

[2] Ibid., at 1.

[3] Ibid., at 1.

[4] Liebermann, Oren. 2017. “Why declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel is so controversial.” CNN. December 5.

[5] The National. 2018. "US embassy opens in Jerusalem amid Palestinian deaths in Gaza: live updates". May 14.

[6] Shu, Meng. 2019. "Israel vote result hardens right-wing parties". Global Times (China). April 17.

[7] Haltiwanger, John. 2019. "Democratic lawmakers want to re-assess the special relationship between the US and Israel". The Business Insider. April 16.

[8] Asian News International. 2019. "US peace plan very close to what Israelis want, doomed to fail: French envoy". April 21.

[9] Thai News Service. 2019. "Palestine/United States: Palestinian PM Accuses US of 'Financial War'". April 18.

[10] Holmes, Oliver. 2019. "Europe urged to reject US Middle East plan if it is unfair to Palestinians; Exclusive: letter from former officials says Europe must stand by the two-state solution". The Guardian (London). April 15.

[11] Dekel-Flessig, Talia. 2019. "Give the peace plan a chance". The Jerusalem Post online edition. April 21.

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