Half Measures

The latest American proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians was released this week. Its 181 pages are full of detail which the authors hope will eliminate the problem of vagueness in past frameworks. Diplomatic ambiguity is often considered a positive because it allows both sides to see an agreement in a ways that benefits them, but it also can be a negative if it leaves key questions unresolved.

In the case of the current plan, the details have led Israel to be ecstatic while the Palestinians responded with “a thousand no’s”. The proposal would allow Israel to quickly annex all of the settlements in the West Bank, including isolated enclaves not surrounded by the security barrier. On the other side, a limited Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and including parts of southern Israel would only be established after the Palestinians meet certain criteria.

Peace to Prosperity, the White House plan, has the challenge of all previous peace processes. While they have lofty goals and broad vision to end the conflict, they are often only partially implemented. In 1979 the Camp David accords led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, but it also included a proposal for Palestinian autonomy that was mostly ignored. The Oslo process was never fully realized, leading to the hybrid current reality where the Palestinian Authority has responsibility for Palestinian population areas but not a full blown state.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has already indicated that he wants to go ahead with the annexation of all settlements this Sunday, while Jared Kushner, the architect of the plan, has said the US government wants Israel to wait until after the Knesset elections on March 2. Clearly, Netanyahu has a political interest in going to the polls saying to the Israeli people that he was able to extend Israeli sovereignty to all the places where Israelis live.

So what happens if Israel gets its benefits from the plan while the Palestinians reject theirs? Israel will end up with an extension of its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, but we will be nowhere closer to peace. In fact, such a situation may move us further from peace because it will be more difficult for Israel to give away territory under its sovereignty than land that is in dispute.

The administration’s plan may not, in fact, be a traditional peace proposal since no one expected one of the sides, the Palestinians, to ever accept it. Instead, some see it as an effort to bring Israel into an alliance with Sunni Arab states in the Middle East in confrontation with Iran. A number of Arab nations have reacted either neutrally or positively to the plan, isolating the Palestinians in their rejectionism. The result may be that most Sunni Arab nations move beyond the Palestinian cause and reconcile with Israel without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As with all peace proposals in the initial phase, a lot is in flux. Impeachment, Netanyahu’s indictment, and the Israeli elections must all be resolved before the prospects for the plan can come into focus. Whatever the outcome of this particular effort, we continue to pray for Shalom al Yisrael, peace upon Israel.

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