Revisiting the Trump Plan

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19 Jun 2020
Revisiting the Trump Plan

At first glance the Trump peace plan appeared to have a lot of positive benefits for Israel, but now I am not so sure it would be a change for the better

US President Donald Trump’s “vision” for peace certainly marked a welcome reversal of the trend of recent decades whereby the international community slowly whittled away at Israel’s rights and positions in the peace process. Whereas Israel was increasingly under pressure to offer the Palestinians nearly 100% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, Trump’s plan dropped back to only 70%. And even with that, Israel would retain overall security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and no settlements would be forcibly uprooted.

The Palestinians also would have to meet some steep preconditions to qualify for statehood – e.g., disarm Hamas, accept a demilitarized state, end the ‘pay-for-slay’ welfare benefits for terrorists, and educate for peace.

But with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now poised to start extending sovereignty to parts of Judea/Samaria come July 1st, many have taken a closer look at the Trump plan and are having second thoughts. To find out why, I joined a tour this week of the northern Shomron and spoke with local Jewish community leaders there.

Do The Math!
These settlement leaders said they prefer the status quo to the unpredictable consequences of the Trump plan, as all the Israeli communities in Judea/Samaria currently can access each other and Israel proper with ease. Israelis and Palestinians peacefully share the same main roads every day because the IDF is in control of them. This includes Highway 60, the primary north-south artery which runs from below Hebron, through Jerusalem and up past Nablus.

However, they fear the Trump plan is going to sever Highway 60 in several key places, blocking access to local Israelis. For proof, they point to the “conceptual map” which was released along with the Trump plan back in January. Although press reports suggest the final map is still being worked out by an American-Israeli joint committee, that initial map emerged after several years of consultations between US and Israeli officials and it already seems to reflect the Israeli consensus on which settlements should be kept in any peace agreement. The map also incorporates the Trump plan’s express aim of creating a contiguous Palestinian state wherever possible. Thus, we should not expect the map to change all that much.

The problem here is in the math. The Trump plan would allow Israel to “annex” up to 30% of Judea/Samaria, being half of the 60% of the West Bank designated as “Area C” under the Oslo accords. These are areas now under full Israeli civil and security control, where all the settlements and most of the main roads are located.

Yet Netanyahu is determined to procure the Jordan Valley, to create a security buffer between the Palestinians and Jordan, and that region already accounts for 20% of the 30% Israel is allowed to claim. On the conceptual map, the remaining ten percent is quickly consumed by solidifying Israel’s foothold around Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and the Binyamin region. As a result, little is left to secure the futures of some 15 significant settlements in northern Samaria and southern Judea.

The conceptual map shows these 15 towns completely cut off from each other, and each one accessing the rest of Israel via single, narrow corridors completely surrounded by the proposed Palestinian state. Further, once Israel starts extending sovereignty under the Trump plan, it immediately imposes a building freeze in those 15 settlements for the four years of proposed negotiations with the Palestinians.

So although the Trump plan would not force the dismantlement of any settlements, it would leave some of them so isolated, frozen and insecure, that they would likely succumb to voluntary evacuation. As one settler leader put it, the plans intends for these communities to “dry up.” The result would be a long, slow, painful displacement involving three-to-four times the number of Israeli families uprooted in the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza.

Lost Heritage
Our hosts in the Shomron also voiced concerns over the potential loss of hundreds of important biblical sites revered by Christians and Jews, once they fall into Palestinian hands. This includes Joshua’s Altar, which we visited on Mt. Ebal (see Joshua 8:30-35). This is one of the oldest and most authentic biblical sites in the entire Land of Israel. The 3500 year-old altar was found to contain numerous irrefutable proofs of the biblical text, and helps to date the correct time of the Exodus – a major point of contention with Bible skeptics and Egyptologists.

Even notable New Testament sites like Jacob’s Well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4), would be lost to a Palestinian regime that has shown no regard for preserving Jewish or Christian holy sites.

Exit Ramps
Above all, many settler leaders and their allies are coming out against the Trump plan simply because it calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. Some are banking on the Palestinians to continue rejecting the Trump plan, as they have always done with other peace plans. But others are worried that once Israel starts extending its laws to portions of the disputed territories, the nation will be locked into a process which could lead to a hostile Palestinian state in the heart of Israel. They are hoping the government will insist on clear exit ramps from the process for Israel should the Palestinians not comply with their obligations – which was a major point of weakness of the failed Oslo process.

In addition, Israel is only assured of American recognition of its sovereignty in the 30% it annexes, which could easily be reversed by a future US president as early as next January. Meantime, Israel would be widely viewed as having permanently ceded its claim to 70% of the territories and yet will still face the fury of the rest of the world for doing so.

A Plea for Patience
My own view is that the members of the Trump team which crafted this plan were well-meaning and have indeed tabled the best deal any US government has ever offered to Israel to resolve the Palestinian issue. However, I get uneasy any time Israel gets close to giving away any part of its biblical inheritance forever.

In June 1967, Israel came into possession of Judea/Samaria – the heartland of ancient Israel – in a war of self-defense. God miraculously delivered these territories into Israel’s hands, but the world has been trying to talk Israel out of them ever since.

Yet the lesson of the peace process over the intervening decades is that – whether under outside pressure or not – every time Israelis have been ready to cede in perpetuity any part of their God-given land heritage to the Palestinians for the sake of peace, it always seems to blow up in their faces in the form of violence and terrorism.

Instead, the Israeli people and their leaders need to have patience and faith in God, and allow Him time and room to work out His purposes for their nation. To surrender all future right and claim to major portions of Judea/Samaria just seems to me like a serious expression of unbelief, because it says God is not able to deliver these lands to Israel in rest and peace, as He has promised.

Rather, Israel should find a way for the Palestinians to run their own lives and affairs, but without ever having to permanently relinquish its claim and title to these contested areas. In other words, something akin to the status quo – which is not perfect by any means, but still may be the best answer until God provides a better one.

The international community also needs to learn the lesson that every time they try to birth a Palestinian state on lands divinely promised to Israel, that state always comes out stillborn. The Palestinians have declared statehood several times already and many nations have recognized it, and yet there is still no viable Palestinian state. Instead, we only wind up suffering through the birth pangs. May that not be the fate of the Trump plan.