Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is an ‘offer they can’t refuse’, and that’s why it will likely work
President Donald Trump has done what no other has been able to accomplish — get Israel to agree to a two-state solution with Palestine. With the fail-safe ultimatum he’s concocted, the Palestinians may yet end up getting on board.
For the moment, the optics of the presentation outweighed its substance: an impeached president during a Senate trial that holds the fate of his presidency standing side by side with an indicted prime minister facing serious criminal charges. The roll-out of President Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan — the so-called “Deal of the Century” — had all the hallmarks of classic political deflection, a means for both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to distract their respective constituents from the ongoing drama brought about by their personal failings, alleged or otherwise.
Optics don’t weaken the deal
While the pundits who populate the chattering class will inevitably focus on this aspect of the unveiling, a more considered examination of the details contained in the proposal reveal something more than just a shallow effort at politicized distraction. For decades, the US has played the role of the leading mediator between Israel and the Palestinians regarding a peaceful settlement of their political differences. One of the foundational elements of any negotiation was the issue of a Palestinian state — Palestinian negotiators insisted that this was their right, while Israel rejected out of hand any notion of a fully independent Palestinian nation. For its part, the US played the role of neutral facilitator — until now.
By endorsing his version of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, President Trump has deviated from past precedent which focused solely on mediation, to one of leadership where the US seeks to impose its own vision regarding a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine on the leaders of both Israel and Palestine. In doing so, the US has pushed the issue of Palestinian statehood out of the realm of the theoretical into the world of the practical. But the deal put forward by Trump, with the concurrence of his Israeli partners, is less a proposal than it is an ultimatum.
There is no negotiation, but none is needed
On paper, the proposed peace plan provides for a contiguous Palestinian state, where an enlarged Gaza Strip (making use of land donated by Egypt) is connected to the West Bank by means of a tunnel. In a measure designed to appeal to Palestinians, the plan calls for an immediate four-year halt to the construction of new settlements in the West Bank by Israeli settlers. It also provides for the possibility of increasing the agricultural presence of Palestinians in the vital Jordan River Valley. In short, it provides a road map for the creation of an independent, viable Palestinian state.
The plan also secures for Israel the city of Jerusalem as its capital, and ensures that no Israeli settlers will be evicted from homes they currently reside in. There are also several security guarantees and related preconditions that a Palestinian government must agree to, including the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups, and implementation of specific policy changes, including measures designed to protect freedom of speech. These measures are presented as requirements, and as such not up for negotiation.
The peace plan was rejected by the Palestinian Authority prior to its publication, being castigated as little more than the unilateral dictate of the US and Israel. On the surface, this suggests that the deal was, and is, dead on arrival. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Rather than reconciling the Israelis and the Palestinians, it has been more important for Trump to secure the support of both Netanyahu and his main political opponent within Israel, Benny Gantz, for the peace deal. This assures that the plan will survive Netanyahu’s political and personal drama. While Trump’s own political fortunes are not set in stone, the reality is that he will not be convicted by the Senate and is likely to be reelected for a four-year term come November 2020. It is in this four-year window that the Trump peace plan finds any hope of viability. By waiving the need for immediate gratification, Trump, together with Israel and Egypt, have presented the Palestinians with a knowable outcome which, over the passage of time, may very well become increasingly palatable.
Israel wins if the deal fails
While the reception of the peace plan by the rest of the Arab world has been muted, these governments, like the Palestinians, have been presented with a fait accompli that will not change over time. President Trump has hinted at the finality of the deal — if the Palestinians refuse to embrace it, then after the four year period envisioned by the plan expire, Israel will have a green light to resolve the issue on its own terms, inclusive of the annexation of much of the West Bank. This is the heart of the “deal” — a toxic ticking clock counting down to a conclusion already decided, namely the permanent rejection of a Palestinian state.
Trump and his Israeli partners are betting on Palestine’s Arab friends to recognize the finality of the window of opportunity that has presented itself and prevail upon the Palestinian people to act accordingly. For Israel, a rejection of this ultimatum benefits them far more than any Palestinian acceptance. This fact, more than anything else, opens the door to the possibility that the Palestinians can be dissuaded from their current hardline position rejecting the deal. Trump and the Israelis have given the Palestinians, to paraphrase Don Corleone from ‘The Godfather’, “an offer they can’t refuse.” As such, from a purely pragmatic point of view, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has the potential to succeed.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of TheAltWorld.