A week after its release with its chief architect Jared Kushner having completed a Mideast media tour explaining its virtues, it still may be tempting for supporters of Israel to praise the Trump administration’s “ultimate deal.”
In announcing the plan, the president addressed valid Israeli security concerns, including Palestinian Authority intransigence and incitement, as well as the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem and to the Land of Israel. Indeed, this proposal appears to leave Israel with more land than the Trump administration’s predecessors ever considered. Trump couched the plan’s framework in the language of a two-state solution, which is broadly accepted by the pro-Israel community as the best formula to preserve Israel’s security, democracy, and Jewish character. And whereas previous proposals involving annexation of large parts of the West Bank have divided the Israeli political spectrum, even Prime Minister Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, has hailed the Trump plan as “historic.”
But President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu could easily have described the proposal, with its provisions for Israeli annexation of West Bank territory and perpetual Israeli security presence in the area, as a one-state formula. Instead, they opted for the two-state label. Coupling this mainstream label with the revanchist practices that would actually define a single-state outcome is a case of having one’s cake and eating it, too. Those who care deeply about Israel’s secure, Jewish, and democratic future should take care to judge Trump’s vision by what is actually in the plan, not by what the administration chooses to call it.
Its context, content, and probable consequences should hardly be considered “pro-Israel.”
First, there are the political circumstances. During the Trump administration’s first two years in office, Israel was governed by a relatively stable right-wing coalition. But the White House withheld its proposal, officially dubbed “Peace to Prosperity,” until now, when Israel is locked in a cycle of continuous parliamentary elections and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces mounting legal challenges. In fact, the formal unveiling of the plan coincided with the Jerusalem District Court’s announcement that it was formally indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three corruption cases. The American plan serves as a distraction from all of this, rendering it an instance of brazen interference by a foreign government in an Israeli election, something that should alarm anyone who cares about the Jewish state’s sovereignty.
The US push to tip the electoral scales in Netanyahu’s favor also produces the illusion that the Trump plan reflects a consensus position in Israeli politics. Benny Gantz is now in an awkward spot. It will be exceedingly difficult for him or any other future Israeli leader to accept less than what the Trump team is now offering: the annexation of all West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley. Yet Gantz consistently attaches caveats to his statements on the matter. He has said that if he becomes prime minister, he will proceed with Jordan Valley annexation – but only with the backing of the international community. (No country besides Israel, and now the US, supports unilateral Israeli annexation of any territory; it should be noted that unilateral annexation contravenes international law and norms.) If elected, Gantz would seek to implement Trump’s plan – with the help of the Palestinians and the Jordanians, who Gantz knows will never agree to such a framework.
Gantz’s verbal gymnastics belie a deep anxiety about what the American president has injected into Israel’s political mainstream, and it behooves us to read between the lines and take heed of the concerns that the chair of Israel’s largest political party might harbor.
And what exactly would keep someone like Gantz up at night when it comes to Trump’s plan?
The Trump administration has steadily eroded two decades of bipartisan positions on Israeli-Palestinian peace and the US-Israel relationship, both cornerstones of Israeli security. The plan, which calls for two states in name only while leaving a fragmented Palestinian statelet in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, is the culmination of those efforts. So if the Trump parameters, representing the rightmost pole, become the default Republican position, the pendulum could easily swing in the other direction for Democrats.
President Trump has now given Israel the green light to annex broad swaths of the West Bank while maintaining perpetual security control across the West Bank. It is unlikely that a future Democratic president will accept Trump’s proposal as the basis for his or her own Israeli-Palestinian policy, and some 2020 presidential candidates have already explicitly rejected it. But a future Democratic approach could go further than simply annulling the Trump administration’s actions. The radical reshifting of the US position by this White House sets a precedent that future administrations of both parties need not adhere to the norms their predecessors respected. One day, a Democratic administration could unilaterally recognize Palestine, call for conditioning military assistance to Israel, or even demand that Israel confer citizenship on Palestinians living under de facto Israeli sovereignty, compromising Israel’s security and the Zionist vision of a Jewish state. And such positions could become increasingly appealing for Democrats if Israel moves ahead with adopting the U.S. plan and begins annexing parts of the West Bank. All of this only reinforces existential questions about Israel’s future – whether it can remain secure, Jewish, and democratic – rather than extricating Israel from this dilemma.
The pro-Israel community in the US has long opposed unilateral pressure from the outside, including any US attempt to impose a plan on the parties, while emphasizing the importance of bilateral negotiations. Yet the Trump plan amounts to an invitation for Israel’s unilateral annexation, imposing maximalist Israeli demands on the Palestinians, without a viable roadmap for negotiations. All of this was done for the sake of intervening in Israel’s democratic process to help Prime Minister Netanyahu escape his own personal legal and political troubles. With no Palestinian involvement and its unanimous rejection by the Arab League on Saturday, the plan is dead on arrival. But even if the Trump plan is never actually enacted, it still risks resetting the goalposts in both directions, laying the groundwork for an American conversation on Israel that is increasingly dominated by voices from the political extremes.