President Donald Trump’s controversial plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace was dead on arrival. Setting aside the biases and intentions of the Trump team, long before it was released it became obvious that the plan would go nowhere since the Americans were not even in dialogue with the Palestinians about it. Ever since Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US-Palestinian relations have become frozen, prompting the question: how could any peace plan formulated by engaging only one side of the conflict ever successfully lead to peace?
Still, no matter its contents and how it was developed, this was nevertheless a plan put forward by the president of the United States; for that reason alone it carried enough weight not to be ignored. Indeed, there has been widespread global reaction to the Trump peace plan from the Middle East, other parts of the globe, and from American political figures.
Reaction in Europe was mixed, with nationalist governments sounding more welcoming while those who have been more supportive of the European unification project articulating more caution. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, for example, stated that “only a negotiated two-state solution, acceptable to both sides, can lead to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians” and he added concern “about the involvement of the conflicting parties in a negotiation process and their relationship to recognized international parameters and legal positions.” The French foreign ministry stated that “France welcomes President Trump’s efforts and will study closely the peace program he has presented” and made reference to the desire for a two-state solution as well.
Elsewhere on the continent, Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor who has taken his country’s politics to the right, stated on Twitter that he welcomed “the release of the #US plan which hopefully brings new momentum to the [Middle East Peace Process] having been in a deadlock for far too long. We call on the parties to start negotiations on the basis of this plan under #US leadership with a view to achieving a two-state-solution.”
Reaction in Europe was mixed, with nationalist governments sounding more welcoming while those who have been more supportive of the European unification project articulating more caution.
Similarly, Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz sounded the same tone, commending “the efforts of President Donald Trump’s administration aimed at resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I took note of the unveiling of the political part of the peace plan. Together with its economic component it constitutes a valuable basis for an in-depth discussion between two parties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Hungary and Estonia echoed such views as well.
Not surprisingly, international organizations and their representatives took harsher positions toward the Trump plan, with more of a focus on international law. The representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, stated support for “a negotiated two-State solution, based on 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps, as may be agreed between the parties” and added that “The US initiative, as presented on 28 January, departs from these internationally agreed parameters.”
In his statement at the United Nations on February 4, Secretary-General António Guterres made no direct reference to the Trump plan; however, he included several direct insinuations about the United States’ behavior under the current administration. For example, he remarked that “Jerusalem remains a final status issue; the city’s future can only be resolved on the basis of international law and through negotiations between the parties.” Guterres also called on “Member States to ensure reliable funding for UNRWA to fully continue its vital work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.” The United States, which has been the largest historical funder to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), stopped its funding in 2018.
Secretary-General António Guterres made no direct reference to the Trump plan; however, he included several direct insinuations about the United States’ behavior under the current administration.
The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation voiced rejection of the plan. The Arab League voted unanimously to reject it while the OIC, a formation of 57 Muslim-majority countries around the world, called “on all member states not to engage with this plan or to cooperate with the US administration in implementing it in any form”
Beyond the White House and its loyal supporters in the Republican Party who were supportive—to the extent to which they commented on the plan—other American politicians, all Democrats, had plenty of criticism of the plan. Several candidates for president vying for the party’s nomination slammed it. Senator Elizabeth Warren called it a “rubber stamp for annexation.” Senator Bernie Sanders said it “will only perpetuate the conflict. It is unacceptable.” Former Vice President Joe Biden called it a “political stunt,” and the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, said that “like so much else [Trump has] done in foreign policy,” the president’s plan, “makes complex situations worse.”
Democrats in the Senate also reacted to the plan. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), two stalwart pro-Israel senators, did not directly criticize the plan or the president but made statements about the importance of pushing for a two-state solution and allowing Israel to be both Jewish and democratic. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) was much more direct, saying “this isn’t a plan for peace. It’s an abandonment of decades of U.S. and multilateral work.” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was more muted, saying the “proposal raised many questions” around annexation and settlements but added that she looked “forward to studying the plan in full.”
Beyond public statements, several members of Congress wrote to President Trump directly slamming the plan. A letter signed by 12 US senators led by Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and including 11 other Democrats expressed their “profound concern regarding your decision to release a one-sided Israeli-Palestinian peace plan forged without any Palestinian involvement or support … this proposal violates the Palestinians’ right to self-determination …. The timing of this proposal to coincide with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s indictment on bribery charges also raises disturbing questions about your intention to intervene in the Israeli election process.”
One hundred and seven members of the House of Representatives led by Congressman Andy Levin (D-Michigan) wrote to express their “strong disapproval of your administration’s proposal.”
Similarly, 107 members of the House of Representatives led by Congressman Andy Levin (D-Michigan) wrote to express their “strong disapproval of your administration’s proposal.” They said that while “your proposal uses the language of statehood for Palestinians, it provides for far less than an actual, viable state. A collection of disconnected Palestinian enclaves—surrounded by settlements and settlement infrastructure annexed by Israel, and still under Israeli control—does not constitute statehood.”
The Palestinian Response
Mahmoud Abbas’s response to the Trump plan was immediate rejection. This was wise on both the policy and political fronts. Last week, new public opinion numbers were released showing where the Palestinian public stands on the Trump plan. A full 94 percent reject it, nearly within the margin of error for nationwide unanimity. It is hard to think of any position on which Palestinians have ever been more unified. Additionally, Policy and Survey Research (PSR) pollster Khalil Shikaki noted that support for a two-state solution, which now stands at 40 percent, is “the lowest reported by PSR since the signing of the Oslo agreement.” Additionally, he tweeted that support for a one-state solution is nearly at the same level, 37 percent, which is up a remarkable 9 points “from 28% two months ago.”
The prime minister of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, also voiced opposition to the plan on February 16 at the Munich Security Conference international gathering. Shtayyeh said the plan was “no more than a memo of understanding between (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and Trump.” He also predicted that it will be “buried very soon.”
To be sure, it was overwhelming popular rejection of the Trump plan that compelled Abbas to try to demonstrate some form of action in response. The Arab League vote, coming just days after the Trump plan announcement, was an important benchmark. But given the degree of rejection and the gravity of a plan emanating from the White House, Abbas likely determined that more needed to be done to safeguard the international consensus around Palestinian statehood—a concept the Trump plan mocks more than any plan before it. This is probably what motivated the effort to bring a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Ultimately, that effort seemed to fail despite plenty of criticism at the UNSC for the Trump plan. It appears that the White House was exerting pressure on a number of different countries in the hope of significantly watering down the language of the resolution by opposing any mention of Palestinian sovereignty or how Israeli settlements, annexation, or the acquisition of land by force would violate international law. It is not clear why the resolution was withdrawn. The United States likely would have vetoed any such resolution even with watered down language but the Palestinians may have felt it would not have been worthwhile to weaken it further. The Americans may have twisted enough arms behind the scenes to ensure no version with critical language even came up for a vote.
It appears that the White House was exerting pressure on a number of different countries in the hope of significantly watering down the language of the resolution by opposing any mention of Palestinian sovereignty.
In his UNSC speech, Abbas expressed willingness to restart negotiations under the auspices of the Middle East Quartet based on international resolutions. Established in 2002, the Quartet brought together the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Russian Federation. It struggled for relevance in its best years and has not been relevant at all in nearly a decade. Perhaps in keeping with this theme, Abbas also decided to participate in something of a stunt alongside Ehud Olmert, who last served as Israeli prime minister in 2009 and had since served prison time for corruption charges. Abbas’s actions present a stark contrast with the shifts in Palestinian public opinion: the Palestinian president seems to be looking for a magic time machine to turn the clock backward while the Palestinian public is ready to move forward.
The American arm twisting and the ultimate Palestinian withdrawal of a draft UN resolution came just before another development on this front at the United Nations. The very next day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a long awaited list of companies that are profiting from settlements on occupied Palestinian territory—this was based on an investigation of the “implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” The list was mandated by a 2016 General Assembly Resolution that called for it to be published by the 34th session of the Human Rights Council in 2017. That never happened in good part because of the pressure exerted on the UN by the United States to hold back the report. Now, almost three years after it was first due to be published, the database was finally made public. The Trump plan may have been the final straw that led other member states and the Human Rights Council to determine something had to be done.
What Comes Next?
From the outset, it was hard to take the Trump plan seriously, especially given how obviously biased Trump and his team clearly were toward the Israelis. Nonetheless, Trump is still the president of the United States and his plan carries certain weight, as hopeless as it might be. Players around the world will consider their relationship with the United States as they think about how to react to it. Nations in Europe, for example, and some of the Arab states are hoping to maintain strong relations with a White House desperate to garner international support for this initiative. Many other and diverse reactions parsed words, throwing some support for international law and a two-state solution while also welcoming Trump’s plan and thanking the US president.
The Palestinian reaction continues to underscore the extent to which the Palestinian leadership is out of both options and ideas. Yes, the Palestinian public will support the leadership’s opposition to the plan, as will regional Arab and Muslim states. But how long can Abbas sustain the position of not providing an alternative other than hopelessly seeking to turn back time?
Greater hope can be gleaned from some of the American reactions, which continue to highlight the growing partisan divide in the United States around this issue. Important open questions that remain are how might this divide translate to shifts in policy—if at all—if Trump is defeated in the election in November. And, if that is not the case and there are four more years of Trump as president, will those who walked the fine line in their statements continue to do so or will they put their relationship with Trump’s White House above even the pretense of international law?
In a few weeks, the Israelis will go to the polls for the third time in a year to try to break a political stalemate and form a new government. The outcome will pale in comparison to that of America’s election in November. If Trump loses, there is a good chance it will not just be Abbas looking to turn back time but also others around the world who will try to reopen the window for a two-state solution. If Trump wins, however, it will be harder for everyone to avoid the reality that the apartheid vision put forward in his plan is here to stay—that is, until more are prepared to challenge it.