Jan 29, 2020

Why Trump's Middle East peace plan already matters

Trump and Netanyahu announce the peace plan at the White House Tuesday. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

President Trump is nowhere near a deal on Middle East peace, but his long-awaited plan has immediate and dramatic implications for the reality on the ground.

Driving the news: The White House gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a green light to immediately annex about 30% of the West Bank, a step every previous U.S. administration vehemently opposed. Netanyahu plans to act on that opportunity as soon as Sunday.

Our thought bubble: If Israel does annex the Jordan Valley, it will entrench Israel’s control and fundamentally change the equation for any future negotiations.

  • Green-lighting annexations is an even more dramatic step from Trump than moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
  • It could also ultimately be the least reversible of those steps. Once annexation happens, it’s hard to reverse.

For Netanyahu, this could be the biggest moment in a political career that has been remarkable for its longevity but not for landmark accomplishments.

  • He stood alongside Trump during the announcement — just hours after surrendering immunity from three corruption indictments, and one month before an election that could bring his political career to an end.
  • Annexing the Jordan Valley could keep right-wing voters who’d considered backing Benny Gantz, his primary rival, in his corner. It would certainly be central to his legacy.

For the Palestinians, who have boycotted this process, the full benefits of the plan would come far more slowly even if they were willing to go along with it.

  • The plan envisions a Palestinian state if a number of conditions are met over four years, but rejects a “right of return” for refugees and grants Israel control of nearly all of Jerusalem — not to mention much of the West Bank.
  • That’s a complete non-starter. “They turned down three previous plans that included 100% of the West Bank,” says David Makovsky, who worked on a previous initiative led by then-Secretary of State John Kerry.

What to watch: Arab states like the UAE and Egypt that had previously stood by the Palestinians on this issue have offered cautious support for Trump’s plan. Only Jordan, where most Palestinians reside, has expressed concern.

  • If the annexations go ahead, experts worry Jordan could pull out of a landmark peace treaty with Israel.
  • Makovsky says annexation could potentially rally the rest of the Arab world against the deal, and would certainly overshadow other parts of the deal he considers creative and constructive.
  • There are also concerns among Israeli defense officials that the opposition of the Palestinians could turn into an uprising in the territories.

Go deeper

Netanyahu slows annexation push as White House message shifts

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer plans to bring annexations in the West Bank before his Cabinet for a vote in the coming days, after being urged to slow down by the White House.

Why it matters: Netanyahu seemed to receive the green light he was looking for yesterday to go ahead with annexations of all Israeli settlements and much of the Jordan Valley — and he planned to act quickly. Now, he's taking a step back.

Go deeperArrowJan 29, 2020

Pro-Netanyahu media turns on Jared Kushner

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Pro-Netanyahu commentators in the Israeli media started on Sunday what looked like an orchestrated campaign against President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, attacking him for stopping the Israeli prime minister from annexing parts of the West Bank after the unveiling of the White House peace plan last Tuesday.

Why it matters: The right-wing commentators who were attacking Kushner on various media outlets in Israel on Sunday are Netanyahu supporters and surrogates. When comparing their tweets and remarks on the air, they largely used many of the same talking points.

Go deeperArrowFeb 2, 2020 - World

Trump peace plan leaves Palestinian capital walled off from Jerusalem

A wall separates East Jerusalem (left) and Palestinian city Abu Dis (right). Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The proposed capital of a future Palestinian state is just one reason why President Trump's peace plan is so widely opposed by Palestinian officials and activists.

Why it matters: Palestinian negotiators have long demanded a capital in East Jerusalem. In unveiling his plan, Trump said the capital would be in "Eastern Jerusalem." In fact, it's just outside the Old City in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis.

Go deeperArrowJan 30, 2020