Jerusalem is a hotly contested aspect of Israel-Palestinian tensions

Trump’s Middle East Plan: the Prospects for Peace

President Donald Trump’s Middle East proposal, unveiled at the end of January, was billed by the administration as the ‘deal of the century’. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the plan, labelled it as ‘a real offer on the table to break the logjam’ when speaking to CNN. 

Whilst Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed the plan, The Palestinian Authority have cut all ties with Israel and the US over the proposals. Calling for the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state, excluding Jewish settlements in occupied territory, the plan places stringent conditions on Palestinians for achieving statehood.

An amendment on page 34 of the plan outlines the conditions that must be met for a Palestinian state to be recognised: a free press, free elections, guarantees of religious freedoms, an independent judiciary, and financial institutions that are as ‘good’, transparent and as effective as those in the western world. Crucially, it will be up to the the US and Israel to judge whether the Palestinians have achieved these conditions. 

When levelled with the criticism that key US allies including Saudi Arabia and Egypt would not meet these criteria, Kushner brushed them off. 

Of vital importance to both Israel and Palestine is the city of Jerusalem, which President Trump recognised as the capital of Israel in 2017 in a shock move which further strained relations with Palestine. Historically, Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war had been opposed by the US and the west, although this position began to shift in the 1990s. 

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, told a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo that ‘I will not have it recorded in my history that I sold Jerusalem.’

A viable solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace thus seems as distant as ever. The US – once viewed as a viable peace broker between the two sides – has moved entirely into the Israeli camp, thus giving the expansionist Israeli government a virtual green light to encroach further on Palestinian territory.

Following the election of President Trump, Israeli spending on settlements in the West Bank – considered illegal by the international community – rose from $330 million in 2016 to $459 million in 2017. The lowest year of Israeli spending on these settlements was about $210 million in 2009, when President Obama and prime minister Netanyahu both took office. Obama was a vocal critic of the settlements and had cooler relations with Netanyahu. 

With Netanyahu looking likely to emerge successful in the Knesset elections of March 2020, the future of negotiations between Israel and Palestine will largely depend on who is in the White House. The Democratic candidate – whomever it will be – is likely to take a harsher line against Israeli expansion. Bernie Sanders, frontrunner in the Democratic race, has been a particularly vocal critic of Israel’s actions on Palestine and thus offers perhaps the biggest chance for peace.

If, as is likely, President Trump secures a second term, can we expect a continuation of the deterioration of Palestinian’s rights? Not if the international community takes action. Is there any international actor that can fill this void? Thus far Britain’s response to the US’ proposal has been confused and contradictory.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has praised Trump’s plan, saying ‘no peace plan is perfect, but this has the merits of a two state solution’ that so many in the international community desire. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, in a divergence from the Prime Minister, has warned Israel not to move ahead with ‘damaging’ proposals to annex parts of the West Bank in line with the Middle East plan. Even so, the UK is unlikely to take a firm stand against the plan whilst Trump is in office, as the government is soon to begin trade negotiations with the US.

A further complicating factor is Iran, with whom tensions reached a peak in January with the US’s assasination of General Qassem Soleimani. For as long as the West views Iran as a threat to security, Israel is an important counterweight to Iranian dominance in the Middle East. For its part, Iran views Israel as an illegitimate ‘Zionist regime’ and its leadership has accused Isreal of being an American client state hostile to Muslims. 

The confluence of these factors makes any progress on Israel-Palestine peace unlikely. Whether this will change with a new occupant of the White House remains to be seen.

Flora Holmes

Flora Holmes is a Researcher at the British Foreign Policy Group.