Now that the dust has begun to settle and the Israeli elections are again over, it is time for a re-assessment on the Trump Peace Plan. As it turns out, reality is very unsatisfactory for both its proponents and detractors.
The biggest problem with the plan is its timing. First, any compromise peace plan is only realistic if both sides in the conflict are motivated to accept it. Here, neither side has much incentive to work with a peace plan. On the Israeli side, the conflict with Gaza is unpleasant but manageable. Every now and then there is a spasm of conflict, but so far casualties on both sides are relatively low and between the fence and its total control of the skies, Israel can respond to any aggression. The Palestinian-controlled territories are basically quiet. Indeed, Israel is making diplomatic progress with other countries and BDS is becoming increasingly moribund and irrelevant.
On the Palestinian side, there is no appetite for any peace plan at the moment. Abbas has long lost any moral or electoral mandate he might have had. His zombie administration goes through the same motions year after year and is hamstrung by its non-relationship with Hamas and the other factions. Further, he and the Palestinian movement are increasingly isolated so any move toward peace would be seen as a sign of weakness, not as a sign of progress.
Second, the timing is wrong because of politics both in Israel and in the United States. Israel has had yet another election, but it looks like the right-wing has done better than expected, The prime minister has no motivation to signal any willingness to compromise and no one else has any meaningful voice for any peace plan, particularly after the most recent results. The only one who has even made the papers is Olmert and no one is listening to him. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Democratic candidates are moving ever leftward, led by Senator Sanders whose credibility on the Middle East is shaky at best. President Trump has neither the inclination nor the incentive to do much more to press the plan; he is focusing on his own re-election and resolving the Israel/Palestinian dispute is just not a vote-getter with his constituencies.
In short, any peace plan, even some mythical totally-fair and reasonable plan, would be pretty much dead if introduced at this point. By waiting until this stage of his presidency, Trump was basically checking a box rather than trying to take a meaningful step forward.
All that may be true, but the critics of the plan are in no better shape. Many of those who speak or write harshly are the same people that have failed over the course of time to do any better. It is easy for former Obama or Clinton administration members to talk about how this plan is so different from the contours of earlier proposals, but those plans did not work either. So when Martin Indyk or Aaron David Miller puff up in outrage, their views must be taken with a healthy dose of salt.
More substantively, the critics must at some point realize that the real world must be taken into account. Perhaps three or four decades ago, a pure return to the 1967 armistice line was a plausible approach. Not anymore. Maybe there were times when Israeli leaders might have thought that an all-at-once withdrawal from the West Bank was workable, but the experience with Gaza has put paid to that notion once and for all. And when will the world – and the Palestinians – realize that a full right of return will never happen?
Whatever the deficiencies of the Trump peace plan, it at least makes it clear that the situation has evolved over time. What might have been plausible some time ago is no longer reasonable. In that sense, even though this particular plan is probably consigned to the ash heap of history, it may be the forerunner of a realistic plan down the road.
It has also made clear that its critics have little constructive to add. Its detractors at the United Nations have much to say but not much to tell. They don’t put forward their own plan, they just don’t like this one. Mr. Miller in these pages gives his sage advice on how not to propose a peace plan, but he has not one single proposal of his own. And Abbas and his thugs and cronies are still advocating for the total elimination of Israel “from the river to the sea.”
As a lawyer, I have faced many opening offers that I did not like or which came at the wrong time. The world is not perfect. But I have never settled a dispute just by decrying that offer – it requires a willingness to dig in and commit to working toward a deal. So if the Trump peace plan is not perfect and was badly timed, it was at least something. Realistically, I doubt I will see an actual agreement in my lifetime, just variations on the existing modus vivendi. That may be the best we can hope for.