An Arab case for the Trump peace plan

An Arab case for the Trump peace plan
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Count me among a large number of Arabs who have long believed that the Trump peace plan deserves a chance — albeit one of the few who says so publicly. I have held this view to the surprise of many American, Israeli, and Palestinian friends. 

Americans I know disparage the architects — led by Trump son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump shakes up WH communications team CNN's Jake Tapper takes aim at Trump over coronavirus response: Do you have a plan? Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE — as neophytes, too young and inexperienced to develop a viable solution. 

Most Israelis I know have doubted whether any plan that meets Israel’s minimal security requirements for a solution could win Palestinian acceptance — to say nothing of a plan that exceeds those requirements. 

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As to my Palestinian friends, who adopt a moderate outlook not dissimilar from that of left-of-center Americans and Israelis, they have feared the erosion of the two-state solution by a White House know for its affinity for the settler movement.

Now the text of the plan has been released, and my phone is ringing off the hook. Asked whether I still believe in the plan, my answer remains the same. 

The contents obviate several key concerns of its detractors, and the rollout has chalked up several achievements which prior peace initiatives did not. For the sake of future generations of Israelis and Palestinians, the region and the world should wish and work for the plan’s success.

To those who warned that the Trump administration was eroding the long-held U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, we now have an explicit reaffirmation of that goal, with a practical plan for achieving it. 

The failure to build vibrant Palestinian civil, economic, and cultural institutions has always been a significant obstacle to their dream of statehood — as surely as the Israeli people’s success at doing so over the years preceding their declaration of statehood was a major asset. 

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Thus it is pragmatic to open a four-year window for the Palestinians to pursue such an outcome, as the Trump plan essentially does. 

No prior conception of a peace settlement, moreover, has gone as far in articulating a plan to foster Palestinian civil and economic vitality. 

The Bahrain economic workshop convened some observers criticized last year for the fact that the Palestinian leadership refused to participate. But the substance of the elaborate economic vision — not widely covered or discussed — was serious and credible. 

The fact that it convened in an Arab capital and won large pledges of financial support from Saudi Arabia and other countries was unprecedented. And the fact that both Hamas and the PLO rejected it sight unseen should not obscure the presence of some Palestinians at the event. They paid a heavy price back home — but many young Palestinians applauded their courage.

Nor was it a small feat to breach numerous political barriers Tuesday in bringing rival factions together to stand with the plan. In an era of hyper-polarization in Israel ahead of its third election in under a year, both incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, came to Washington to pledge their support for the plan. 

And despite widespread expectations that Arab states would distance themselves, the rollout was attended by the ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman — at that, despite the former two being at odds with the latter over an intra-Gulf standoff and policies toward Iran. 

It was hardly a surprise that no Saudi official attended: The “land of the two holy mosques” is in a state of political flux, with hardline elements struggling against a brash reformist crown prince at the helm. But few doubt that the kingdom’s future king is working hand in glove with the Trump administration on a range of issues, including this one.

As to the parties to the conflict, there is a widespread view of the proposal as being heavily biased toward Israel. But let’s unpack that: This is the first plan that unambiguously repudiates the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, which would spell the end of the Jewish state via demographic engineering. 

It’s also the first plan that calls for the disarmament of Hamas and a structure for territorial concessions that protect Israel from a repeat of the rash of mass suicide attacks that followed the Oslo accords. This is not the partisan agenda of any faction in Israel; these are consensus goals for mainstream Israelis on the right and left, and reasonable baseline expectations for any population. 

Thus the plan is, by comparison with its predecessors, refreshingly realistic. Recent opinion surveys on the Palestinian side, for their part, lend their form of faith to this principle. Though rejectionist ideologues remain in power, younger generations express greater interest in economic progress, struggling against corruption in their institutions, and engaging Israel and the broader region in pursuit of these goals. 

Young Gazans, moreover, are increasingly turning against Hamas — and would welcome the change in leadership over their territory, which the Trump plan calls for.

If the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to be resolved, the needed settlement will provide a path toward Palestinian statehood that runs through economic development and institution-building while protecting Israeli citizens from a new wave of “peace-plan violence.” 

Leaving all partisanship aside and separating any personal feelings about the architects from the content of their plan, I believe it offers the strongest basis yet for negotiation. It should be seriously engaged — if not accepted piecemeal — by all parties to the conflict and encouraged by Arab and Western actors alike.

Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council and an international counselor of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.