Trump Unveils ‘Deal of the Century’

Israel gets all of Jerusalem, Palestine gets a state (eventually), and no one is entirely happy.

On Tuesday, to great fanfare, the White House released the #DealoftheCentury, the plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, officially Peace to Prosperity – A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People. There are plenty of things for each side to love, and just as many for them to hate. And, naturally, a few non-starters. In summary: Israel gets Jerusalem, the Old City of Jerusalem, its settlements, and the Jordan Valley. Palestine gets a territorial swap that provides for contiguous territory (well, sort of), a four-year settlement freeze, a tunnel from the West Bank to Gaza, access to some important ports, and—after it ends all support for terrorism, transforms its governance, and ends incitement—its own state. 

And there’s a bunch of cash in there and some free trade stuff and some enterprise zone type things for jobs for the Palestinians if they do the right thing, also defined in the plan. 

The timing raises some obvious questions: Is this just another lame effort to distract from impeachment and propitiate pro-Israel Evangelicals in 2020? Is it a vulgar intervention in Israeli politics to help Bibi Netanyahu win a general election in March, the latest in Israel’s apparently never-ending cycle of elections? Who knows. But we have been hearing about this plan for eons, and it had to come out sometime. If Bibi were to lose round three, his left-wing opponents probably wouldn’t have wanted to sign up to a plan that appears to decide the future of Israel and Palestine. So, timing-wise, it wasn’t crazy to drop the thing right now. 

 From the moment Jared Kushner set out to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was accused of hubris, ignorance, inexperience, and worse. And it didn’t help when he rebutted those accusations with the fact that he had read a few books on the topic and felt he knew all he needed to know. I mean, why go to grad school or join the foreign service if a few books prep you to solve one of the thorniest problems of the last century and this? 

But Jared and company got one thing right. All the pointy-headed experts and seasoned diplomats who have toiled in this space over the last five-plus decades have accomplished precisely squat. And for all their claims to have more respect for the Palestinians and their cause and their claims and their grievances, Palestinian life is now worse in almost every way than it was, horror of horrors, under the Israeli occupation.  The Palestinian Authority that grew out of the Oslo Accords is a typical Middle Eastern kleptocracy without even the basic authoritarian competence to consolidate its own territory, provide employment, or manage its own personnel. Of course, that is in part due to Israeli efforts to isolate Palestinians, particularly Hamas-run Gaza. But a self-proclaimed country whose president is in year 15 of his four-year term doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on in blaming others for governance failings. 

And another thing: The plan put forward by the Trump administration in many ways reflects the principles that have animated the fitful peace “process” for years on end. Insofar as there was a notional solution to the conflict, it was always expected that Israel would be permitted to keep certain built-up settlements in exchange for land swaps that could eat into even pre-1967 Israel. It was always expected that there would be a period of transition in which Palestinian control of security and foreign policy might be restricted. 

In addition, the question of the “right of return,” is nominally settled in the new plan. The demand that the now millions of Palestinian “refugees” dating from Israel’s creation be permitted to return to the state of Israel was always a poison pill in previous negotiations. Accepting even a nominal number would have threatened Israel’s nature as a Jewish state. The Trump plan provides that “there shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the state of Israel,” and for the first time also takes account of the hundreds of thousands of Jews of Arab origin who were forced to flee their countries after the creation of the State of Israel. 

About those non-starters: First, the annexation of the Jordan Valley, which Netanyahu all but announced at the presser with Trump, is something that has always been debated (the topography means it’s almost imperative to Israel’s security), but never stated outright. What does Jordan think? No definitive word yet, though Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi did mouth some platitudes about 1967 lines. Then, Jerusalem. Israel basically gets it all. Even the Sunni Arab regimes that have realigned away from the anti-Israel axis are probably not down with that. 

Meanwhile, some of Netanyahu’s base is also likely to cavil at the idea of a Palestinian state in the first place. And so  getting Bibi there was an accomplishment unto itself, especially before an election in which he needs his base badly. They’re probably not going to be thrilled with a settlement freeze either, but there’s a lot for Israeli conservatives to like in this, if they’re able to get past what they hate.

Finally, of course, there are the Palestinians. Palestinian President for Life Mahmoud Abbas rejected the plan before it was released and gave the go ahead to yet another Day of Rage. Hamas’ called it “nonsense,” which is actually somewhat understated for the Iran-backed terror group. 

Bottom line: Credit to Team Trump for taking on a tough issue. Even if the plan itself goes nowhere, reopening the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a moment when, frankly, few cared is pretty gutsy. And insofar as it prompts fresh thinking and new efforts, that’s a good thing. The plan advances Israel’s position, and moves the goalposts in ways that future earnest peace-processers will have a hard time shifting. Inshallah, it will also prompt a round of soul-searching among the Palestinians and their Arab backers and financiers. Maybe, just maybe, someone who envisions a better future for Palestine than the current cast of terrorists and tyrants and thieves will step up and use this opportunity to change Palestinian lives for the better, with or without Jared Kushner. 

Danielle Pletka is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is alsothe Andrew H. Siegal professor in American Middle Eastern Foreign Policy at Georgetown University's Center for Jewish Civilization.

Photograph of Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump by by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images.