Israel’s and America’s upcoming elections are fateful for both countries and will determine who will conduct the negotiations for the “Peace to Prosperity” plan. If no clear message is conveyed by Israel — immediately — negotiations after the elections could take this silence as tacit agreement. Pictured: US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an announcement of Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan in the White House on January 28, 2020. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
The publication of the “Peace to Prosperity” plan has created tremendous confusion and uncertainty in both the Israeli and American political environments. Most of those in the business of analyzing and advising on matters concerning Israel and the Middle East have been hesitant to speak about the plan, either because they are afraid to criticize the right-wing leaders headlining the plan (and standing for re-election) or because the plan’s implications are too detailed for easy analysis. It is crucial, however, to ensure the region’s national security — for everyone who is able to get up off the sofa and vote.
The “Peace to Prosperity” plan is a game-changer. For the first time, Israel’s historic and legal rights have been not only acknowledged but embedded as the cornerstone of a vision for the future — a vision that aims to ensure security for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Sweeping dangers inherent in the current plan, nevertheless, must not lull voters into a false sense of complacency.
Many politicians on the “right” have promoted “cherry-picked” elements of the plan that correspond to their own views, embracing its green light for the extension of sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and portions of Judea and Samaria while rejecting the creation of a Palestinian state.
Regavim, a non-governmental organization that for more than a decade has been analyzing facts on the ground and using data to build maps that clarify the land’s shifting political realities and challenges, has drawn up a map that reflects the reality that will result if the plan is implemented. While the “Peace to Prosperity” plan presents an important vision that should serve as the basis for future negotiations, there are a number of crucial adjustments to the maps at its heart that must be made before the Israeli government embraces it, as the newly appointed team is tasked to do. At the moment, the plan provides a blueprint for a Palestinian state that could place nearly every inch of Israel in harm’s way, and cedes significant sections of sovereign Israeli territory in areas bordering Gaza that currently provide strategic depth and crucial land reserves for Israel’s future security and development.
Israel’s and America’s upcoming elections are fateful for both countries and will determine who will conduct the negotiations moving forward. If no clear message is conveyed by Israel — immediately — negotiations after the elections could take this silence as tacit agreement. A unity government could be at liberty to negotiate on the basis of an uncontested plan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if he wins re-election, could claim that the elections were a referendum on the plan, and the deal could be implemented in accordance with the laws of Israel. If former IDF Chief of General Staff Benjamin (Benny) Gantz becomes prime minister, the road ahead is even more clear. His Blue and White Party has accepted the plan “as is,” without actually analyzing its outcomes, and without any corrections to the conceptual maps. Gantz and his party have announced that they are happy to accept Israeli sovereignty over less than 2% of Judea and Samaria, thereby leaving Israel exposed, vulnerable to hostile forces.
The political situation in the United States is no less crucial a factor. American presidents are elected to protect American interests — and these often shift. It is therefore critically important that Israel not do a deal based on oral understandings of how Israel will be at liberty to respond if and when the Palestinians violate the terms of the agreement (right now, oral understandings are all that exist): we do not know how those oral understandings will be transmitted or accepted by the next US Congress and Administration. There is a world of difference between the approaches of the candidates from the two major US parties.
If Trump is re-elected, the version of his plan eventually ratified by Israel will serve as the basis for negotiations. It is therefore crucial that the threats to Israel’s security are corrected before Israel embraces the “conceptual maps.” If, on the other hand, President Trump is not re-elected, the “Peace to Prosperity” vision may prove to be yet another Oslo Accord — a dangerous hole into which Israel will fall without a safety net. If Israel were to approve the plan now, essentially agreeing to the potential creation, at the end of four years, of a Palestinian state, the overwhelming temptation is for a future US president to begin the conversation from there, and not necessarily hold the Palestinian side to its obligations — which is precisely what happened under the Oslo framework.
There are, unfortunately, many historical reasons why one should hesitate to assume that the Palestinians may not live up to their end of the deal, and many reasons to believe that a Trump Administration will not allow them to get away with it. Would Trump’s successor, however, hold the Palestinians to the same standard of compliance? Israel could easily find itself again having traded tangible facts on the ground for intangible, unenforceable promises.
Israeli voters should be asking themselves: What will the map look like if the plan, in its current form, is implemented? Which of the parties asking for our votes will speak out against the dangers presented by the plan? Which of the candidates will articulate Israel’s basic needs, and demand the necessary adjustments to the “conceptual maps” that will serve as the basis for negotiations?
It is crucial for Israeli and American voters to know who and what they are voting for.
Naomi Linder Kahn is Director of the International Division of an Israeli NGO, Regavim.