MS Risk Blog

President Trumps Controversial Peace Plan and Its Possible Security Implications

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US President Donald Trump’s Peace plan, officially called Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of Palestinian and Israeli people or commonly known as the Middle East peace plan has caused a great amount of controversy since its unveiling on the 28thJanuary 2020. On February 1st2020, the Arab League unanimously voted to reject Trump’s plan designed to end the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Member states agreed the initiative did not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people insisting on a two-state solution based on borders prior to 1967 which includes east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of Palestine. The emergency meeting in Cairo was requested by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, who pressed Arab states to take a clear stance against the US’s peace plan. States such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain which are close US allies joined other members in rejecting the proposal after initially welcoming efforts to solve the protracted conflict. The Arab league is not the only organization to reject the proposal. Following the league’s decision, the European Union, The African Union and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation have rejected either all or parts of the plan on the 4th9thand 3rdof February 2020 respectively. According to EU foreign affairs minister Josep Borrell the proposal breaks with Internationally agreed parameters adding that unresolved final status issues, which include the borders of a Palestinian state and the final status of Jerusalem, must be decided in negotiations between both parties. The EU minister warned that if implemented the plan would not go unchallenged. During the annual African Union Summit, the chairperson of the AU Commission said it had been “conceived outside of international consideration and in absence of Palestinian concerns”. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa compared the plan to elements of South Africa’s previous apartheid system. The plan was rejected by Palestinian leaders before the unveiling of the plan due to Trump’s prior policies that neglected Palestinian interests such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In response to the announcement of the plan the Palestinian Authority cut all ties with the US and Israel on the 1stof February 2020.

The Proposal is controversial primarily because of its political portion widely considered to favour Israel and neglect Palestinian aspirations. For instance, the plan recognises Palestinian rights to only 70 percent of the occupied West Bank and allows for Israeli sovereignty over Israeli settlements in the West Bank which, according to United Nations Security Council resolution 2334, constitutes “a flagrant violation of international law”. Over 300,000 Israeli citizens live in 121 government recognised Israeli settlements in the West Bank and roughly 200,000 live in settlements located in 12 neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem. The construction of settlements in what is widely regarded as occupied Palestinian territory began after 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip in the Six-Day War and is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In return for annexing portions of the West Bank, the plan proposes the possibility of land swaps stripping 350,000 Arab-Israeli citizens residing in 10 towns within the Israeli Triangle Zone of their citizenship. Palestinians will be given the Negev desert which is cut off from other Palestinian territories and the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be connected via a high-speed transportation link crossing under or over Israel. Moreover, Israel would be allowed to annex the entire Jordan Valley which is vital for Palestinian agriculture since it provides access to the Jordan river which irrigates 80,000 hectares of agricultural land in the West Bank. Israel regards the valley as militarily strategic.

Trump’s Middle East Plan imagines a demilitarized Palestinian state where Israel would be responsible for security at all international crossings into the proposed state with Palestinian airspace continuing to be under Israeli control. Palestine would not be allowed to have intelligence and security agreements with states and organizations Israel deems a threat to its security and the Israeli navy would be able to block prohibited weapons from entering Palestine. The plan further recognises all of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel despite long-standing Palestinian aspirations to have East Jerusalem as their own capital. Instead the plan proposes Abu Dis, a village over 4 kilometres away from the old city, as the new capital of the envisioned Palestinian state. Under the plan refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and those of the 1967 Six-Day-War would have no right of return nor would their descendance. The return of Palestinian refugees would be subject to Israeli approval and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east created in 1949 would be terminated. Furthermore, the plan was made without any input from the Palestinians and designed by a team whose members had close ties to Israel and Israeli settlements. The team was led by Jared Kushner, Trumps son-in-law who, according to The Guardian has close family ties to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and had no expertise or prior experience pertaining to the Middle East in general. Kushner’s team included US ambassador to Israel David Friedman who has close ties to the Jewish Settler Movement in the occupied territories. Friedman has reportedly questioned the need for a Palestinian state and compared critics of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Nazi collaborators. According to the proposal the main goal was to create a Palestinian state that lacks the ability to threaten Israel which essentially entails “the limitation of certain sovereign powers”. Hence it can be argued that the plan did not have the intention of establishing a fully autonomous sovereign Palestinian state that resembles other states in the international system.

The announcement in January sparked small, sporadic demonstrations in the West Bank cities of Tubas, Bethlehem and Tulkarem. At least 41 people were wounded in small scale clashes following the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by Israeli forces against protesters in the Jordan Valley, Tulkarem and the Al-Orub refugee camp on the 29thof January 2020. A series of security incidents in the West Bank relating to the plan followed in February. For instance, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager with Israeli citizenship during clashes in Hebron on the 5thof February. Another teenager was shot dead in Tulkarem in clashes with Israeli forces on the 7thof February. At least 14 Israeli soldiers were injured in a car ramming attack suspected to be terror related outside a night club in Jerusalem. The car was later found in a town outside Bethlehem in a town called Beit Jala, but the motorist has yet to be caught. Amid such high tensions, Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians during a protest in Jenin against the demolition of a Palestinian house. Incidents have also occurred in the Gaza Strip currently governed by the armed Palestinian group Hamas. The Israeli army reported two mortar shells fired from the enclave towards Israel on the 5thof February. On the 6thof February Israeli aircrafts struck Hamas positions after Palestinians launched projectiles and explosive balloons from the Strip. Two rockets were launched from the Gaza strip on the 16thof February prompting Israel to cancel a slight easing of the blockade in Gaza imposed  by Israel and Egypt since 2007. The armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 20 rockets from the Strip in response to Israeli forces shooting dead a Palestinian accused of planting an explosive device on the Gaza separation border. Israel carried out a number of airstrikes on what it referred to as “terrorist sites” in Gaza and near Damascus Syria. The PIJ have confirmed that two of its fighters have been killed in Syria.  Tensions between Palestinians and Israeli forces are still high.

If implemented the plan could have significant security implications for the Middle East region. This could further strain what historically are sour relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Nineteen Arab league members including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE currently fail to recognise Israel as a legitimate state. Seven Arab countries joined forces against Israel in the Arab-Israeli War including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan who bitterly opposed the establishment of an Israeli state in what they considered  Arab territory. The very same countries were also involved in the Six-Day-War against Israel in 1967. The state of Israel survived both wars and in 1967 occupied the West Bank and Gaza strip. Thus, due to the history between Arab states and Israel as well as the continuing occupation of Arab-Palestinian territories, anti-Israeli sentiment has been historically high among Arab nations. Only Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel. The peace between Israel and Jordan in particular will likely be tested. Jordan, a kingdom where half the population is estimated to be Palestinian by origin or identity, has a complicated history with Israel. The kingdom annexed the West Bank and east Jerusalem following the Arab-Israeli War and subsequently lost the territories to Israel during the Six-Day-War. The kingdom has supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s efforts to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip despite tensions between the Hashemite monarchy and the PLO that culminated in a conflict in 1970 known as Black September. In 1994 the two nations signed a peace treaty officially ending a state of enmity between the two countries. Both states currently have some economic ties and cooperate on security and intelligence matters. In 2016, Israel and Jordan signed a deal worth ten billion US dollars which allows Israel to pump natural gas to Jordan’s national electricity company despite demonstrations in Jordan against the deal.

However, Jordan remains a supporter of Palestinian aspirations for a  state of Palestine based on borders before 1967 and its king is considered custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, a situation that can be a source of tension between the Kingdom and Israel. Trumps peace plan not only burdens the current peace between Jordan and Israel but also could create instability within Jordan as Palestinians there would likely react negatively to Israel’s annexation of over 30 percent of the West Bank and demand the Hashemite monarchy take action against Israel. Other Arab states in the region, may also have to deal with a possible rise in anti-Israeli sentiment that could follow the implementation of Trump’s plan and can lead to a greater following for radical and terrorist groups. Israel itself would possibly be less secure as its own Arab-Palestinian population could experience some form of radicalisation if the annexation occurs. The situation in the West Bank and Gaza strip would likely worsen. Palestinian territories may experience another uprising putting further Israeli and Palestinian lives at risk.