Trump’s Secret Middle East Peace Plan

And What it Means for Key Regional and International Players

Developed in secrecy for the past two years, the Trump administrations’ long-awaited peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is set to be unveiled sometime in June. US officials responsible for the peace process - Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, along with Trump’s longtime lawyer Jason Greenblatt, have provided few details about the plan they hope will provide a framework for renewed dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Kushner has assured that the proposal is “very detailed” and will hopefully represent a “comprehensive vision” for peace that will include “tough compromises for both.” Here is a look at what we know about the deal so far and how some of the key regional and international players have reacted to it.

WHAT IS IN THE PLAN?

The Middle East proposal, which has been delayed for a variety of reasons over the past 18 months, has two major components. It has a political piece that addresses core issues such as the status of Jerusalem, and an economic part that aims to help the Palestinians strengthen their economy. 

According to Kushner, the economic ramifications of the plan will not just help Israelis and Palestinians, but the entire region — including Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. He has said that emphasis on the economic aspect, alongside the political aspect, will improve opportunities especially for the Palestinian economy, which has been hindered due to the lack of a peace agreement.

The scope of the economic investments are new to the peacemaking efforts, but experts say that whether it will materialise is dependent on attracting enough donors to deliver on the economic targets, particularly as Trump has demonstrated throughout his presidency that he is not prepared to provide serious American dollars in foreign assistance. 

In a Sky News Arabia interview earlier this year, Kushner said that the political dimension of the plan would focus on “resolving the border issue.”

“The goal of resolving these borders is really to eliminate the borders,” he said. “If you can eliminate borders and have peace and less fear of terror, you could have freer flow of goods, freer flow of people and that would create a lot more opportunities.”

Kushner also expressed the need for unified rule over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which are currently split between the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority and Hamas respectively

The idea of a two-state solution has been in trouble for a long time, but Kushner indicated during a conversation at the Washington Institute on May 2 titled “Inside the Trump Administration’s Peace Effort: A Conversation With Jared Kushner”, that the US is pulling back from longstanding mentions of it. “If you say ‘two-state’. It means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians,” Kushner said. “We said, ‘you know, let’s just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means’,” he said.

In recent weeks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to directly answer questions from members of Congress on whether or not the administration is committed to a two-state solution. He also ducked a question about Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, and the Trump administration has yet to provide any statement on the issue. 

During the discussion at the Washington Institute, the senior advisor offered vague details about what the plan would entail, calling it an “in-depth operational document” that is “realistic, executable…and will lead to both sides being much better off.” 

"We've put together, I would say, more of an in-depth operational document that shows what we think is possible, how people can live together, how security can work, how interaction can work, and really, how you try to form the outline of what a brighter future can be,” said the White House senior advisor. 

Asked if it would cover the final status between Israelis and Palestinians, he said: “That’s correct, we will.”

Kushner said that Trump wants the group to "really try to solve this" in a lasting way. Asked why now, he said, "I don't think there's ever a perfect time to do this," but they think "now is a good time to put something out there." He said that recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel made his job "harder," but will help a peace agreement in the long term.

 



Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, on June 21, 2017 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Getty)

LEAKS OUTLINE DETAILS OF TRUMP’S PLAN

While Kushner recently stated at the Washington Institute that he is “very proud” that his team have been able to keep the plan a secret in a “leaky environment” in the Trump administration, an Israeli newspaper published a leaked document 7 May detailing the elements of Trump’s plan. The document has not been confirmed by American, Israeli or Palestinian authorities but the paper states that it was circulated between officials in Israel’s Foreign Ministry, although the newspaper could not confirm the identity of the drafter or authenticate the details of the peace plan. According to Yisrael Hayoum, the main points of the agreement are as follows:

  • A plan for a two-state solution that includes a tripartite agreement which will be signed between Israel, the PLO and Hamas. A Palestinian demilitarised state called “New Palestine” will be established in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and cedes all territory held by Israeli settlements and settlement blocs to Israel. 

  • Jerusalem will be a shared capital for both Israel and New Palestine. The deal underscores Jerusalem “will not be divided.” The Palestinians in Jerusalem would become citizens of “New Palestine,” but receive the same services as Israeli residents of Jerusalem from the Jerusalem municipality, governed by Israel.  The status quo at the holy sites will remain and Jewish Israelis will not be allowed to buy Palestinian houses and vice versa.

  • Egypt will lease territory for the creation of an airport and industrial zone without allowing Palestinians to reside on this land. 

  • The U.S., Europe and the Gulf states will fund the new Palestinian state, to a tune of $30 billion over five years. This would be at a cost of $6 billion a year; the majority of which -70 per cent – would be paid by Gulf states, with the US contributing 20 per cent and the EU ten per cent.

  • Upon signing the agreement, Hamas will hand over all its weapons to Egypt. The movement’s leaders would be compensated and paid salaries by Arab states while a government is established. 

  • Palestinian prisoners will be released over the course of three years. However, Palestinian refugees who today number some 7 million are excluded entirely from the document.

  • If Hamas or any Palestinian bodies refuse this deal, the US will cancel all of its financial support to the Palestinians and pressure other countries to do the same. If, on the other hand, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signs the deal but Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not agree to it, a war would be waged on the Gaza Strip with the full backing of the US. However, if Israel refuses the deal the US would cease its financial support. 

WHAT NETANYAHU'S REELECTION MEANS FOR PEACE

For decades, the Israeli - Palestinian conflict was the main fault line in Israeli politics and the approach to the conflict separated right from left on Israel’s political spectrum, with the left being more willing to engage and the right taking a more hardline approach. But as observed in Israel’s last presidential election in which Benjamin Netanyahu won a record fifth term, the revival of the peace process was not the main subject of the electoral debate. Issues like security - mainly the threat from Iran - the Israeli economy, and the criminal investigations against Netanyahu dominated the headlines during the election campaign. 

President Trump called Netanyahu to congratulate him after his reelection and predicted his win would increase the odds of a peace breakthrough. “The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace,” he said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “Look, everyone said — and I never made it a promise — but everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians. I think we have a chance. I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won.”

However, during the already-heated campaign, Netanyahu promised that if re-elected, he would begin asserting Israel sovereignty over areas of the West Bank, starting with Jewish settlements. This was a bold move by the Israeli Prime Minister who has been emboldened by President Trump’s decisions to recognise Israeli authority over the Golan Heights, move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and impose financial penalties on the Palestinian Authority.

 



US President Donald J Trump (L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at the King David Hotel May 22, 2017 in Jerusalem. (Getty)

The move is bound to trigger condemnation from the Palestinians and the Arab world and complicate the US peace effort but during an interview with to CNN’s Jake Tapper Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he believed Netanyahu’s talk about annexing parts of the West Bank won’t hurt Trump’s upcoming peace plan.

“I think that the vision that we’ll layout is going to represent a significant change from the model that’s been used,” Pompeo said.

In reply to a question during the discussion at the Washington Institute on whether he had discussed the possibility of unilateral Israeli annexation of areas in the West Bank with Netanyahu, Kushner said that he hopes Israel and the Palestinians will examine the American peace plan before taking any unilateral steps on the ground, adding he had not discussed the issue of settlement annexation with Netanyahu.

Even if Netanyahu’s statement on the West Bank came as no surprise, Israeli actions to carry it could drive Fatah, the dominant party in the Palestinian Authority, to a more militant stance. The Palestinian Authority has already flatly rejected any plan put forward by the Trump administration following the President's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the moving of the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu for his part has said he won't pre-judge the plan and will wait to see its contents and Kushner has said that the plan will be discussed with the Israeli government when Netanyahu forms a governing coalition. Netanyahu is in the midst of negotiating the establishment of his fifth coalition with a partner – Union of Right-Wing Parties – that is adamantly opposed to any concession to the Palestinians, even if some small steps translate into big gains for Israel. Netanyahu’s own Likud Party has also strengthened its far-right branch in recent years. Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst for the Wilson Center who advised six secretaries of state on Israeli-Arab negotiations has said that the problem with the deal “in a right-wing government is that anything that appeals to the Palestinians, any credible peace plan, Netanyahu will have an impossible time managing with the government now emerging.” 

THE VIEW FROM THE ARAB STATES

In February this year, Kushner visited Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in a one week tour aimed at gauging the level of support of the economic dimensions of the plan and address Arab demands. Kushner hopes that wealthier Gulf countries will pay for the proposal’s focus on regional development but the Gulf states are unlikely to do so before knowing more sensitive political aspects of the plan.

Both Kushner and Greenblatt, who accompanied Kushner on the trip, are trying to dispel the notion that their plan is extremely biased toward Israel, which is how the Palestinian Authority constantly describes it. They hope that once the plan is published, several Arab countries will react positively to it and agree to consider it as a basis for negotiations.

Following the visit, Reuters reported that according to a source, the plan presented did not appear to take into consideration previously stated Arab demands on the status of Jerusalem, the right of Palestinian refugees to return and Israeli settlements in occupied territory. Under the Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, Arab nations offered Israel normal ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967. The source said Kushner wanted to make a deal first and then agree on details.

A second source in the Gulf region told the news agency: “The Americans are still in the process of presenting various ideas and scenarios, but don’t appear to have arrived at final parameters of a plan. They know that there are final-status issues that are non-starters for regional allies and the Palestinians alike,” referring to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Kushner’s Arab tour did not include a trip to Jordan, - which borders the West Bank and has a majority-Palestinian population - but King Abdullah II met with the Middle East peace team in Washington in March this year. During a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reportedly told lawmakers that he’d been given “zero visibility into the most fraught part of the plan.”

Soon after the visit,  Jordan’s king struck a defiant tone in a speech to both reassure Jordanians and warn the US that he and Jordan would not waver on Jerusalem and Palestinian statehood. Amid rumours of forced concessions in a US plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and alleged pressure from Washington, Jordan’s King Abdullah has pledged to his people he will not budge on Jerusalem.“To me, Jerusalem is a red line and all my people are with me,” King Abdullah said in an address to residents of Zarqa, north of Amman, late on Wednesday. “My position on Jerusalem is unwavering.”

“No one can pressure Jordan on this matter, and the answer will be no. All Jordanians stand with me on Jerusalem,” the king said, according to a transcript released by the Hashemite Royal Court. “At the end of the day, Arabs and Muslims will stand with us as well.”

King Abdullah also confronted rumours of attempts to withdraw the right of return of Palestinians in Jordan, join the West Bank to the kingdom in a confederation, or declare Jordan the homeland for Palestinians – the various scenarios under the so-called “alternative homeland” project rumoured to be part of the US solution. 

Greenblatt also issued a denial of the reports stating the peace plan would include an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian “confederation.” The White House had already denied this story before, but Greenblatt had to do so once again in light of reports in Arab media outlets. He also had to deflect another news story about how the peace plan would impact Egypt, as part of the administration’s efforts to keep those two countries from developing a negative view of it. Greenblatt said it was false that the U.S. plan would include a land swap with Egypt. He had to make his statement after the reports were shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media. 

Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to have peace deals with Israel, have both stated through official channels many times that they will only support a peace plan that includes a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. During his visit to Washington in April, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi pledged that Cairo will continue to support efforts to ensure “a just, lasting solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on resolutions of international legitimacy, the two-state solution and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East envoy and now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the U.S. team still has “a lot of work to do to make sure that Arab leaders aren’t surprised by what’s going to be presented, and they need to see it in writing, not verbally.”

EUROPE ON THE SIDELINES

In partnership with previous US administrations, Europe has long promoted a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has consistently affirmed its support for the two-state solution, including the creation of a Palestinian state. This time around, the EU appears to be stuck on the sidelines but some leaders have come out to voice support for a two-state solution which they feel may be under threat. 

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has warned of “abandoning” the two-state solution, contending that doing so “would bring greater chaos, not only to the Holy Land but also to the entire Middle East.” 

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the importance of a two-state solution to the conflict in the letter he wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating him on his victory in Israel’s April 9th elections. Macron spoke of the need to “decisively revive the Middle East peace process and to achieve a two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, in accordance with internationally agreed parameters,” a spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry said in a written statement to the media.

Also in April, Former prime ministers and foreign ministers from throughout Europe, some of whom also served in senior positions in the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, called for the EU to reaffirm its support for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in advance of the publication of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan. The letter, sent to the Guardian, the EU and European governments, was signed by 25 former foreign ministers, six former prime ministers, and two former NATO secretary generals, and said Europe must “be vigilant and act strategically” when Trump presented the new plan.

The Palestinians requested to meet the foreign ministers of European Union member states in the coming few weeks to speak to them about the US administration’s expected peace plan, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told Palestine TV, the official PA channel. 

This week the Palestinian U.N. ambassador said that the European Union, Russia and the United Nations should take action to save a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the long-awaited U.S. peace plan doesn't lead to two independent nations.


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