Event Date: February 19, 2020
Critics who say the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan likely won’t work “miss key points,” Douglas J. Feith told participants in a Jewish Policy Center conference call on February 19. Feith is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, former undersecretary of defense for policy in the administration of President George W. Bush and best-selling author of War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism.
The current “leadership of the Palestinian Authority won’t make peace under any circumstances,” Feith said. That being so, the point of the plan, he added, “seems to me … to help reshape the Middle East political landscape.” It may do so by deemphasizing the Palestinian-Israeli aspect of the conflict—which since the start of the 1993 Oslo diplomatic process rewarded Palestinian rejection with continued Western pressure on Israel—and reemphasizing the Arab-Israeli framework.
Feith noted that Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, and Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia, fearful of Iranian expansionism, are more willing to recognize the Israelis as a helpful countervailing power. Meanwhile, just as pro-Nazi Palestinian Arab leadership discredited itself with the World War II Allies, the post-1967 Six-Day War Palestinian leadership of Yasser Arafat and his successor, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, discredited itself through corruption, terrorism and the split between Fatah in the West Bank and pro-Iranian Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Trump proposals help change the political-diplomatic landscape “by declaring certain truths, providing certain incentives that may produce peace down the road,” Feith said. These include:
*Finally acknowledging “the Oslo process was a failure.” A principal reason has been “the rotten nature of the Palestinian Authority” on the West Bank. The Trump plan harshly, and appropriately, judges the authority’s “promotion of a culture of [anti-Israel] incitement,” refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and promotion of anti-Jewish terrorism.
In contrast to past plans, the U.S. administration’s recommendations do not “aim to lure the Palestinians into making peace by lavishing compliments on them like the Clinton administration provided [then-Palestinian leader] Arafat after Oslo”;
*Recognizing “the conflict is not about ‘final status issues’ like boundaries, water, Jerusalem” and so on. Whereas Oslo’s promoters assumed the conflict essentially amounted to “a line-drawing problem soluble through negotiations and compromise,” after decades of failure “it became clear that diplomatic approach didn’t produce peace.” Instead, “the Trump plan is saying the conflict is about anti-Zionist Arab ideology.” So, the only way to resolve it will be with a different Palestinian leadership, Feith said;
*Imposing “a price to be paid for Palestinian rejection.” Previously, U.S. and other diplomats “told Palestinians and other Arabs they should make peace [with Israel] but if they didn’t, Israel would be pressured to maintain the status quo,” not annexing territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War and held in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, not building settlements.
This, according to Feith, was “a conceptual flaw rooted in [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 242.” It implied that “aggressors were entitled to get their land back when their aggression failed.” Israel took the Sinai Peninsula and occupied Gaza Strip from Egypt, the occupied West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria in the ’67 war. Resolution 242, adopted soon after and often cited as the cornerstone of subsequent Arab-Israeli diplomacy, “created a really bad incentive” by insinuating to the aggressors that they would not be penalized for their aggression. In contrast, by recognizing the legality of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), the Trump plan says, “the Palestinians are losing ground for not making peace with Israel.”
*The plan upholds American interests even if it does not stimulate Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking in the near future, Feith said. By encouraging Arab states to deal with Israel, the proposal would remove the Palestinian veto over such progress. This could shrink the impact of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while bolstering Washington’s Middle East partners against Iran.
Though a future administration might drop the Trump plan, the proposals will have changed the basis of Arab-Israeli politics, Feith believes.