Palestinians face shrinking options with Trump peace plan

President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE’s Middle East peace plan unveiled this week has put a spotlight on the shrinking options for the Palestinians, who now face a ticking clock on a new territorial reality unless there is significant political movement in the United States or Israel. 

Palestinians have rejected the plan outright, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responding with “a thousand noes” and calling for mass protests.

A glance at the map outlining the Trump administration’s two-state plan makes it clear why it is being rejected by the Palestinians. The future Palestinian state is drawn as a Rorschach inkblot on the West Bank, punctuated by over a dozen Israeli settlement communities.

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One element of the plan suggests transferring established Arab communities in Israel to a future State of Palestine.

“There is no substantive way as framing this as a gain for the Palestinians,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who worked on past peace negotiations on behalf of Palestinians.

“What’s obvious to me is that there is absolutely no way that any Palestinian — not even current Palestinian leadership — can engage with this plan as it is.”

Yet the Trump administration has signaled that the plan’s release has started a four-year countdown, where Palestinians can either engage or risk losing any concessions laid out in the proposal — which would then be forced upon it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE said during the unveiling ceremony on Tuesday he plans for Israel to “apply its laws to the Jordan Valley, to all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria [West Bank], and to other areas that your plan designates as part of Israel and which the United States has agreed to recognize as part of Israel.” 

Netanyahu’s chief political opponent Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, has proposed putting the Trump peace plan to a vote in the government next week to record any opposition — highlighting key disagreements among the political parties and against the incumbent prime minister ahead of national elections on March 2. 

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Religious and right-wing parties are expected to veto the plan for recognizing a Palestinian state and Arab-Israeli representatives have expressed strong opposition to the plan’s exclusion and disregard for Palestinians. 

“The plan is largely a dead letter but the facilitation of the unilateral steps that it will bring about is really what could change the situation quite dramatically,” said Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel under President Obama and visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Critics say the Trump plan would cement a status quo that gives Israel the final say over all security measures in the Palestinian territories, and by extension, control over the movement of goods and people into those areas where Palestinians could exercise limited autonomy.  

“There are principles that are talked about in this plan, that we’ve been talking about for a long time: Two states, achievement of objectives through direct negotiations. But the proposals don’t match up with the principles,” said Rep. Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderHarris, Castro introduce resolution condemning Trump aide Stephen Miller Palestinians face shrinking options with Trump peace plan Illinois lawmaker latest to endorse Biden for president MORE (D-Ill.), a top advocate in the House for bipartisan support for the U.S. and Israel relationship.

The timing of the plan's release — between Trump’s impeachment trial and the day formal indictment charges were filed against Netanyahu — fuel such criticisms and give Palestinians some hope that the plan will not gain significant traction.

“It’s a summit between the impeached and the indicted,” Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, said of the plan.

Still, the Palestinian Authority has few allies to push back on the plan.

It could wait out Trump, hoping that he loses his reelection bid and that an administration more favorable to the Palestinian side is elected. If Trump is reelected, that would leave the Palestinian Authority in an even worse situation.

Jahshan criticized the Palestinian Authority for failing to prepare a counter-response.

“They should announce their own 20 points immediately … they should have been ready,” he said. “I have been advocating that for a couple years. They should have responded to him [Trump] during the campaign, but they didn’t take him seriously.”

Leading Democratic contenders for the White House have criticized the Trump plan.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office 'echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters' Democratic strategist says Biden 'has to' get second place in Nevada MORE rejected it as a “political stunt,” while Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Prominent Texas Latina endorses Warren Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office 'echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters' MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg unveils billboards to troll Trump ahead of campaign stops John Legend joining Warren in South Carolina next week: report MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Washington Post fact-checker gives Bloomberg 4 Pinocchios for 'deceptive editing' in campaign ad The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dem anxiety grows ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Minn.) said it was “one-sided.”

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Al-Omari, the former Palestinian negotiator, said a second term for the Trump administration could rewrite the U.S. benchmarks for policy in the Middle East, much like they have already established with moving the U.S. embassy, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and legitimizing West Bank settlements.

“In a sense, the big battle now is will this gain traction and become the new terms of reference?” al-Omari said.

The other option, he said, is that it would fall to the side like other plans.

Another problem for the Palestinian Authority is that Arab nations have not offered an outright rejection of the plan. This is partly because of the closer ties the Trump administration has advanced with Saudi Arabia and other states worried about a confrontation with Iran.

Ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain were among the Arab nations represented at the plan’s unveiling in the White House and public statements from Saudi Arabia and Egypt have offered support for Trump’s efforts.

“The Palestinians had a wake-up call over the last couple of years as interest in the Palestinian national cause has waned, particularly among the Sunni Arab states,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.

“Their tacit support for the Trump plan should be an indication that the Arab League is not in their corner — now or even potentially in the future.”