Trump’s 2020 Peace Plan: Between International Law and Reality

International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East and the Balkans. On the occasion of theunveiling of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the creation of the State of Palestine on January 28, 2020, IFIMES analyzes reactions to the peace plan. We bring the most interesting excerpts from a comprehensive analysis titled “Trump’s 2020 Peace Plan: Between International Law and Reality”.

Trump’s 2020 Peace Plan:


Between International Law and Reality


On January 28, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump (R) unveiled his long-anticipated plan for the creation of the State of Palestine with the capital in the east of Jerusalem (but not in East Jerusalem). The development of the plan had lasted three years.


A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, commonly known as the Trump peace plan or the deal of the century, was formally unveiled by Donald Trump at a White House press conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 28, 2020. Palestinian representatives were not invited to the unveiling of Trump’s peace plan.


The plan was authored by a team led by Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt, special adviser to the U.S. President for international negotiations. Both the highly influential West Bank settlers' Yesha Council, which enjoys support of the right-wing parties in Knesset, and the Palestinian leadership, rejected the plan immediately. The former because it envisaged a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria (Biblical term for the West Bank), and the latter arguing it is too biased in favor of Israel. The plan is divided into two parts, an economic portion and a political portion. On June 22, 2019, the Trump administration released the economic portion of the plan, titled "Peace to Prosperity", at a conference held in Manama, Bahrain. The political portion was released in Washington D.C. on January 28, 2020.


The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump claims that it proposes a holistic solution to the 73-year long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although Trump continues to criticize previous administrations’ failed efforts, his team in fact relied on the concepts, principles, and even formulations upon which earlier plans had been built.


Previous U.S. mediators tried to set the stage for a deal by solving various lighter and initial issues between the two parties, whereas it appears that Trump’s team simply opted for resolving the final and difficult status issues – border, security, status of Jerusalem, refugees, international recognition – even prior to the commencement of the talks.


Sovereignty of Jerusalem


Earlier negotiators endeavored to reconcile conflicting demands concerning the sovereignty over Jerusalem, especially the holly places including the Old City and the Christian, Islamic and Jewish sacred sites located there. In the past, the negotiators attempted to resolve the issue of sovereignty with the joint administration of the Old City. As opposed to that, Trump’s team solved this matter by permanently granting the sovereignty over the entire Jerusalem to Israel, including the Christian and Muslim quarters and the Al-Aqsa mosque complex. On December 6, 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.


Trump’s peace plans ignores other formulas of hard and arduous negotiations in favor of ambiguous and imbalanced viewpoints. The Clinton administration, for example, based all U.S. propositions on the notion that the Arabic quarters in East Jerusalem must be placed under Palestinian sovereignty and, likewise, the Jewish ones must remain under Israeli sovereignty.


Trump’s peace plan places almost all the Arabic neighborhoods in East Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, leaving the Palestinians with the villages of Kafr Aqab, Abu Dis and the Shuafat refugee camp. These neighborhoods are located on the eastern side of the Israeli Wall, which separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. It is in this part in the east of Jerusalem (but not in East Jerusalem) that the Palestinians have been told to build their own capital to be named Al-Quds (Arabic name for Jerusalem). The new capital would thus be separated from the Al-Aqsa mosque and from the 300,000 Palestinians currently living in East Jerusalem.


A 1400 km-long Israeli-Palestinian border?


As for the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators previously considered the option of adding larger settlements located along the 1967 border between Israel and West Bank to the state of Israel.  The Palestinians would get an equivalent land from Israel as a compensation for those settlements. Based on this arrangement, 85% of the settlers would remain on 3 - 5% of the West Bank territory, which would be annexed by Israel. Smaller and remote settlements in the West Bank would be evacuated.


One of the security factors is the length of the border between Israel and the Palestinian state.  Instead of the 311 kilometers-long 1967 border, Trump’s peace plan envisages a border of nearly 1,400 kilometers! There are serious hurdles associated with defense of a border that long and Israeli forces would probably have a difficult job executing this task.


The international community regards the policy of building settlements on the occupied territories as illegal. Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the Golan, the areas formally annexed by Israel, are also considered illegal. The United Nations (UN) have on several occasions stated that Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian areas constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has also labeled the settlements outside Israel as illegal.


Trump’s teamembraced the idea of exchange of territory, but the plan itself gives Palestinians a barren land on the Egyptian border in exchange for the integration of all settlements in the West Bank with Israel, including remote settlements. The result would be an isolated and disconnected Palestinian state, made up of at least six enclaves with no possibility of direct contact. To address that, Trump’s peace plan proposes communication via tunnels and bridges which would interconnect the enclaves under Palestinian sovereignty. However, those tunnels and bridges would remain under Israeli control.


Trump’s peace plan was presented as a final decision.  Trump’s team is discoursing as if everything has been arranged between Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the rest is up to the U.S.-Israeli team (rather than Israeli-Palestinian) to precisely define borders on Trump’s predetermined maps.

This will apparently be the task of the new Israeli government following the elections scheduled for March 2, 2020.  Israel is on the course of annexation of the Jordan River Valley and all Jewish settlements regardless of the start of Israeli-Palestinian talks. Israel will get everything in exchange for mere acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state and relinquishment of 30% of the West Bank. Palestinians can hence rightfully ask: What is even left to negotiate at all?


Trump’s blessing for annexation?


However, there is nothing Palestinians can do at the moment. Their rejection of Trump’s peace plan, which seems inevitable given the proposed conditions, will serve as a justification for Netanyahu to move forward with the annexation, which has already received Trump’s blessing.


Palestinian leadership must be brave and make a decision to accept Trump’s peace plan and declare their readiness for direct negotiations with the new Israeli government following the elections on March 2, 2020, and they need to do that on the basis of previously adopted resolutions of the UN Security Council, which envisage a two-state solution and exchange of land for peace.

Palestinian negotiators may refer to all the UN resolutions as well as the 2002 Arab League Initiative, which sets the stage for normalization of relations between 22 Arab countries and Israel after an Israeli-Palestinian deal has been brokered. This move could strengthen the fragile Arab support and generate support in the international community. Palestinian decision to enter direct talks with Trump and Israel might push Trump to abandon his one-sided peace plan and try to find a more balanced and realistic approach to the resolution of this century-long conflict.


Between international law and reality


International politics, especially nowadays, is rooted in political realism governed by interests of great powers and the balance of force, notably for the superpowers which do not adhere to the tenets of international law, international legitimacy or moral values, unless those serve their interests, and in many cases realpolitik overlap with aggressive politics.


If we take a look at current events in the world, we will discover that international political realism or the language and interest of power dominate international relations.


Realpolitik, which stands in opposition to international law, international legitimacy and human morality, is hardly exclusive to Israel and countries of the West. It is true that the political realism U.S. President Trump bases his actions on and on which he relies in his effort to end the long-standing conflict in the Middle East is excessively in violation of international law, international legitimacy and Palestinians’ historical national rights. However, other countries practice realpolitik, too and violate international law, even if in a less provocative manner. When Russia, Turkey and Iran interfere with internal affairs of other countries, do they show regard for international law and legality? Is Saudi Arabia with its interventions in the Gulf, Yemen, Libya and Syria aligned with international legality and resolutions?


The first president of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, accepted the United Nations Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine based on the 1947 UN Resolution, which granted him a part of Palestine without Jerusalem, which was to remain under international administration. Palestinians and the Arab states rejected the plan and, one day after the establishment of Israel on May 15, 1948, the armed forces of six Arab states attacked the young state of Israel. Ben-Gurion made history as a visionary and a great statesman; he created a respected and one of the most developed countries in the world on 56% of the territory of the historical or mandatory Palestine. Today, Palestinians should be guided by the same idea, occupy the same position, and use negotiations to try to correct the principles of the peace plan they are not satisfied with.


Before they can do that, Palestinians must hold the long-delayed elections, unify the two governments in Ramallah and Gaza, and strive to build a pro-Western type of democracy, step-up counter-corruption efforts, and work to disarm militant groups.

Ljubljana/Washington/Jerusalem, February 13, 2020