The reactions to the Jan. 28 announcement of the “deal of the century” — the plan of the Trump administration to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — were, perhaps predictably, all over the map. On the Palestinian side, outrage and rejection were widespread. By contrast, many Israelis, and some American supporters of Israel, greeted it with great enthusiasm.
Both the agony and the ecstasy are unwarranted. That’s because the peace plan was never really designed to bring about peace. The plan will make no contribution toward reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians because there is another motive behind it. And the timing of its grand announcement demonstrates it is all just political theater.
It does not take nearly three decades of experience in diplomacy, as I have, to understand why. In international negotiations, there is often a need for a mediator to help the parties communicate and to convince them to be flexible enough to find a path to peace. That role is challenging because the mediator usually has no power to force the parties to resolve their differences. The task is much harder when the dispute is not between two people, but between two groups with a long history of violent conflict.
When the mediator is the United States, it can obviously use more than gentle persuasion. Its power provides considerable leverage that can be used to move the parties toward agreement. But that power has to be used evenhandedly. A mediator, even a very powerful one, does not start off by giving one side everything it asks for while repeatedly kicking the other side in the teeth. Not if the mediator really expects to achieve peace.
But that is exactly what the Trump administration has been doing. The plan asks nothing of Israel except an acknowledgement that the creation of a Palestinian state might someday be possible. The shakiness of even that flimsy commitment was clearly indicated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who would only allow that the plan is a starting point for negotiations. That starting point appears to give Israel everything it would like to obtain by the end of the process. On the other hand, the plan provides the Palestinians nothing beyond a vague promise of statehood, rosy and unrealistic visions of economic growth and what they see as the opportunity to sell their identity in return for $50 billion.
In addition to the failure to reflect any serious attempt at mediation, the timing of the release of the plan points toward its real purpose. It doesn’t take three years to write up a lopsided scheme that comes in at under 40 pages without the annexes. It was released last week to distract from the impeachment proceedings against Trump and the indictment of Netanyahu and to enhance their reelection prospects.
If a truly great deal were negotiated it would provide for Israel’s security by helping Palestinian leaders realize they should become the Costa Rica of the Middle East — a country without an army, navy or air force because it faces no external threats. To do that, a plan would have to be balanced and give the Palestinians more than a real estate development brochure with a map that looks like a slice of Swiss cheese.
Neither side is capable of coming to that point on its own because both lack the required leadership. The world’s only superpower won’t provide that leadership either. It has squandered its leverage because its government cares more about domestic politics than international peace. pjc
Ambassador Dennis Jett (Ret.), Ph.D. is a professor of international affairs at the School of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University.