Long awaited as one of his key foreign policy achievements, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan was met with mixed reactions. The two countries involved in the plan had starkly different opinions: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the plan, agreeing with Trump that the deal was a “realistic path to peace” that “strikes a balance where others have failed,” as reported by the New York Times.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who cut ties with the Trump administration following the Israeli embassy transfer to Jerusalem, was documented by the Guardian as saying, “I will not have it recorded in my history that I sold Jerusalem.” The stern rebuke by Abbas was paralleled by several Arab nations, including Jordan, whose foreign minister reaffirmed the need for a two state solution and called for the recognition of Palestine’s pre-1967 war borders.
The plan itself, while being over three years in the making, was under extreme criticism from its onset. Moving away from its traditional mediator role, the Trump administration chose to detail their own plan, then present it to the Palestinian authority and Israeli government. This tactic in itself was met with suspicion by the Palestinians in light of the close ties between Trump and Netanyahu.
While claiming neutrality, the United States’ plan seems far from neutral. It clearly favors Israeli interests on several points of contention, which include the recognition of illegal settlements, granting all of Jerusalem to Israel, a complete demilitarization of Palestine, and the redrawing of the Israeli border to compensate for their sprawling settlements in the West Bank. These settlements have repeatedly been deemed illegal under international law by the International Court of Justice, according to the United Nations.
The plan would, in turn, give Palestine quasi-statehood, $50 billion in investments from the international community, as well as a United States embassy in Palestine. One provision would institute a four-year freeze on new settlements, although it would also recognize existing settlements – a major point of contention. Critics of the plan, as well as PM Netanyahu himself, have called the deal’s depiction of Palestinian statehood as a “state-minus,” referencing the strict demilitarization and state limitations outlined in the deal.
The Arab League rejected the deal in a collective statement, arguing that the deal “didn’t meet the minimum aspirations of the Palestinian people,” and that the “League would not cooperate with the U.S. in implementing it,” according to The Guardian. In contrast to the Arab League, a number of Gulf nations showed support or remained neutral, a stark difference from the past when support of Palestinians was strong in the Gulf states.
Two of those nations, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, expressed some level of support for the deal. The UAE ambassador to the U.S. was quoted by the NYT as saying “a serious initiative that addresses many issues raised over the years,” with the Saudi foreign ministry issuing a cooler statement saying that it “appreciates the efforts of President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan.”
But how did we get here?
The conflict has roots in the years following World War One, when the Ottomans were forced to give up control of territories including Palestine, Syria, and the greater Levant. The Balfour Declaration in 1917, as well as a deal with the Palestinians to rebel against the Ottomans years earlier, culminated into promises to statehood to two different factors, in the same territory. Tensions boiled over in the 1937-1939 Arab rebellion, with violence and terrorism on both sides.
Following a UN takeover in 1947, resolution 181 was passed, canceling governing mandate and calling for two independent states— one Jewish and one Palestinian. In 1948 Israel declared its independence, inciting neighboring Arab countries to invade Palestine and attack the new Israeli state from existing Palestinian territory. The conflict ended with Israel occupying the entire Jewish state envisioned by the UN as well as huge swathes of Palestine, accounting for 77 percent of the territory, says the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forcibly expelled by Israeli forces.
Hostilities peaked again in 1967 during the 6 Days War, when Israel occupied the Sinai, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and parts of the West Bank, all of which are still areas of contention today. The remainder of the 20th century saw continued conflict and between the two states, with numerous wars and territory changes defining Israel-Palestine relations during the period. Little is expected to change following the Trump Administration’s new plan, however, which will likely further prolonging a decades long conflict and extending the plight of the Palestinian people.