October 1, 2020

The US unveils its peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Guido Lanfranchi.

On January 28th, 2020, the Trump administration finally unveiled its strategy to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US proposal – which defines conditions for the formation of two separated states – has generated much controversy. While the Israeli government warmly embraced the strategy, Palestinian leaders – who had not been consulted ahead of the release – firmly rejected it.

After more than three years of work behind closed doors, the United States has finally unveiled its strategy to address the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The plan has been drafted by a restricted team of officials close to the President, and it was eventually presented to the world in a ceremony held on January 28th, 2020. Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Mr. Trump praised the deal as a “win-win opportunity for both sides”, suggesting that it could serve as the basis for direct negotiations between the warring parties. The unveiling of the plan has generated much controversy both in the region and across the world. What is all this discussion about? 

What does the plan say?

The plan proposed by the US administration is grounded in the so-called “two-state solution” framework, which envisions the creation of two distinct, adjacent, independent states – that of Israel and that of Palestine.

According to the map drawn in the US-proposed plan, Israel would gain full control over the Jordan valley, as well as on its settlements in the West Bank. In exchange for these concessions to Israel, the plan would grant the State of Palestine new land south of the Gaza Strip, to be connected to the West Bank through a tunnel, and a USD 50 billion plan in economic assistance – already presented by the White House in Bahrain in June – to create new jobs and reduce poverty rates among Palestinians.

The US support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, however, would be subject to a wide array of conditions – which are spelled out in different sections of the plan. In terms of domestic policies, for instance, the Palestinian state would need to hold free and fair elections, respect human rights and basic freedoms, including of press and religion, uphold the rule of law, and accept full demilitarization. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and reject all forms of terrorism against it. The fulfillment of these conditions should be jointly assessed by the US and Israel – the US proposal says – “after consultation with the Palestinian authority”. 

Besides the thorny issue of Palestinian statehood, the US plan advances proposals on a number of other contentious points too. Among them there is the status of Jerusalem, which is envisioned by the US plan as the undivided capital of Israel. This would leave the Palestinians with a suburban section of East Jerusalem – within the city’s municipal borders but outside the wall that runs through it – as their potential capital. On the sensitive issue of the displaced Palestinian people, moreover, the US proposal would not grant refugees the so-called “right of return” to their land. Rather, refugees would have to choose whether to be integrated in the new State of Palestine or in third countries. After this relocation process, their status as refugees would cease to exist.

How has the plan been received?

The reactions from Israelis and Palestinians have been widely divergent. On the one hand, Palestinian leaders had rejected the deal already ahead of its release, lamenting not having been consulted and accusing Mr. Trump of pro-Israeli policies, such as the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. After the launching ceremony, rival factions within the Palestinian leadership met in order to devise a coordinated response, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas called for fresh protests against the plan. On the other hand, the US proposal was warmly welcomed by the two main contenders for the role of Israel’s Prime Minister, the incumbent Netanyahu and his rival Benjamin Gantz. 

Countries in the region also had mixed reactions. Leaders in Iran and Turkey rejected the US proposal outright. Jordan, which is heavily involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due its contiguity with the contested territories, also adopted a critical tone, reiterating its support for the Palestinians and warning Israel against any unilateral move. Other countries in the region adopted a milder tone, falling short of endorsing the plan, but praising the US President for his efforts towards peace and encouraging the parties to re-start negotiations. However, in an emergency meeting held a few days later, the Arab League, which groups the governments of Arab countries in the region, unanimously rejected the US proposal. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation followed suit in rejecting the plan a few days later.

The proposal unveiled by the US administration has soon come under heavy criticism by a number of analysts. In particular, the plan has been seen by many as heavily favoring Israel over the Palestinians, as the former would obtain security guarantees, the incorporation of all settlements, and the city of Jerusalem, while the latter would secure a state with a disconnected territory and limited sovereignty. Attempting to address some of these critiques, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman defended Mr. Trump’s plan, stressing the potential benefits for the Palestinians – notably in terms of statehood and economic assistance – and encouraging them not to reject the proposal.

The road ahead

In the wake of the launch of the US proposal, the road ahead remains very much unclear. Some analysts predict that the plan will not entail major consequences; others say that the proposal might spur a new wave of confrontations; others again contend that the current developments might re-shape the framework in which peace will be negotiated. Only time will be able to tell what will happen. The only hope is that this longstanding conflict will sooner than later draw to a peaceful end.


About the author:

Guido Lanfranchi is a student and young professional in the field of international affairs. He has pursued his studies both at Leiden University and Sciences Po Paris, where he is currently enrolled. In parallel, he has been gaining professional experience through internships (first at the Council of the European Union, and currently at Clingendael Institute), as well as by working as reporter and associate editor for Diplomat Magazine The Netherlands. His research and work focus on the Middle East and Africa, and especially on conflict situations in these regions.

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Image by olafpictures from Pixabay

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