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Roytenberg: Has the proposed peace plan made any difference?

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On Jan. 28, the Trump administration unveiled its peace proposal for Israel and Palestine, the so-called “deal of the century.”

Reaction from the Palestinians was quick and predictable. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the deal out of hand as he had said, for months, that he would. The PA had refused to have anything to do with the consultations that led to the deal.  Hamas responded by launching balloon- borne bombs into Israel.

While the Palestinian rejection was not unexpected, there was a spectrum of reactions from Jewish groups. Even some moderate supporters of Israel reacted with disgust and despair. “The Trump ‘peace map’ looks like a monster,” wrote one. For those further to the left, the plan merely confirmed their expectations.  The plan is “literally grand apartheid,” wrote one Facebook friend. 

Other observers saw something to work with. Some pointed out that to get more, Palestinians must return to the negotiating table. Prominent Israeli moderate Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in a Feb. 5 blog, that Israelis who are willing in principle to accept territorial compromise need to see the outlines of a comprehensive peace plan that Palestinians would support. The Israeli right, he wrote, must recognize that the idea of a Palestinian Arab state is not going away.

While the Palestinians get less under the new plan in Judea and Samaria, they gain blocks of Israeli territory in the Negev. The plan also envisions the transfer of some Israeli Arab towns to a future Palestinian state. Israeli Arabs were quick to protest this aspect of the plan as they want to remain part of Israel. 

The Palestinian state is also offered guaranteed access to Israeli ports in Haifa and Ashdod and corridors connecting them to Jordan, providing outlets to get their goods to world markets. 

The plan incorporates a long-standing Israeli demand that the Palestinian state would not be allowed to have an army, leaving security in the hands of the Israel Defence Forces. It envisions Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan valley and all existing Jewish communities, some of which would become enclaves largely surrounded by Palestinian territory.  Crucially, the American proposal pre-emptively addresses the biggest obstacle to success in past peace plans: the idea that up to five million Palestinian Arabs who claim to be refugees have the right to “return” to live in the State of Israel.

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Now that a few weeks have passed, has the peace plan made any difference to the situation on the ground? Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have made statements suggesting that a new era has begun, for good or ill. But neither side has done anything so far to change the status quo. 

The Palestinians tried to get the UN security council to declare the plan illegal but could not muster enough support. Although the EU foreign minister criticized the plan, the EU itself could not agree on a position. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson endorsed the plan as a basis for negotiations.  Some Arab governments attended the announcement of the plan’s release but have not endorsed it.

Meanwhile initiatives to strengthen Israel’s connections with Arab regimes continue to progress. Sudan’s new government, for example, announced plans to open diplomatic relations with Israel.

In Israel there were loud calls from the right for the government to proceed immediately to annex territory designated for Israel in the new plan, but the Americans quickly indicated that that would be unwelcome and after some bluster, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was recently indicted for corruption, has done nothing. 

For Israel, the main gain from the Trump plan is increased room to manoeuvre, as the international consensus on the terms of a viable peace have begun to shift in its favour. By accepting Israel’s security concerns and stating plainly that there is no right of return for Palestinians, the plan increases the chances that a future arrangement with the Palestinians would succeed, should they ever be willing to come to the table.