Trump’s deal for Israel-Palestine: Entrenched unequal rights and annexation

Although the Trump deal marks a radical break from past American support for a two-state solution, it aligns with ideas put forward by supporters of Israel’s settler movement.

After three years of speculation and hype, US President Donald Trump has revealed his “deal of the century” on Israel-Palestine. The 39-page political document calls for a “realistic” two-state solution, rejecting the internationally agreed parameters that traditionally define the concept of two states. But, despite its appropriation of the two-state label, the United States is not offering Israelis and Palestinians a viable and peaceful future in their own states. Instead, its proposal would cement a one-state reality of open-ended occupation and unequal rights for Palestinians.

The European Union has been clear that it cannot support a US plan that runs counter to internationally agreed parameters, international law, and past UN Security Council resolutions. The US plan is at odds with all these things. The EU should, therefore, reject the US plan in full and take steps to prevent it from becoming a new and dangerous reference point in attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Despite Trump’s boast that his deal is “overly good to them”, Palestinians see the terms of his plan as nothing more than a US-imposed surrender. Any limited benefits of the plan will only materialise in the long term – if at all. Its costs, however, are immediate. They must submit to a fait accompli in which they have no meaningful say over their lives or the fate of their country, while forgoing the prospect of equal rights within a binational state. Should Palestinians not accept this “generous” offer within a four-year period, Israel will be allowed to begin settlement activities in areas that the plan designated for Palestinians (Areas A and B). This is not an outcome that Palestinians can accept. Nor should the EU.

In the meantime, the US plan allows Israel to immediately extend its sovereignty to all Israeli settlements (in Area C), resulting in the annexation of at least 30 percent of the West Bank – in contravention of international law and the UN’s founding charter. The plan green-lights the annexation of the Jordan Valley and other strategically important areas around Jerusalem, such as E1/Ma’ale Adumim and Giv’at Hamatos. The EU considers these areas to be critical to a viable two-state solution.

In return, Palestinians will be granted continued self-governance. They will be offered a pathway towards recognition predicated on renewed negotiations and a long list of conditions determined by the US and Israel – including (but not limited to) institution-building and good governance, the disarmament of Hamas, changes to the school curriculum, the end of payments to the families of “martyrs”, and the rescindment all action against Israel in the international arena, including that at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The plan leaves Palestinians with an atrophied entity made up of disconnected Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza. It will be devoid of meaningful sovereignty, lacking any control over its borders, airspace, territorial waters, and the bulk of its natural resources – and with no capital in East Jerusalem. Israel will retain full military control over Palestinians, with its security forces able to arrest them at will. Finally, the plan denies the (mostly symbolic) right of return of around 3m Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria to Israel.

Essentially, the deal represents a worsening of the current situation, with a US presidential seal of approval.

Although the deal marks a radical break from past American support for a two-state solution, it aligns with ideas put forward by supporters of Israel’s settler movement. Since the early days of the occupation, Israeli settlement policy has laid the foundations for the one-state reality endorsed by the Trump administration: from the 1967 Allon Plan for partitioning the West Bank between Israel and Jordan to Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s 1977 Autonomy Plan for Palestinian self-governance under Israeli military control, to Defence Minister Naftali Bennett’s more recent Tranquilising Plan for the partial annexation of the West Bank. The underlying goal has always been for Israel to absorb a maximum amount of territory with a minimum number of its Palestinian inhabitants.

Over time, Israeli officials have warned of the consequences of de jure annexation. A top-secret Israeli government document from July 1967 states that “annexation will produce dangerous demographic problems”. It argues that Israel should give Palestinians “some sort of autonomy (for instance by creating a canton)” and “leaving things without a clear decision”. Due to these considerations, Israel has until now avoided formally annexing the West Bank (with the exception of East Jerusalem) while endorsing the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials have warned of the consequences of de jure annexation

By supporting Israel’s more maximalist territorial impulses and encouraging the de jure annexation of the West Bank, Trump is removing the ambiguity that has allowed Israel to maintain its open-ended control of the territory. In its place, he is formalising the discriminatory dual legal regime that favours Jewish Israelis over their Palestinian neighbours. The one-state reality that successive Israeli governments have worked for decades to entrench, and that the US is now explicitly endorsing, not only denies Palestinians their internationally recognised right to self-determination but also threatens Israel’s future as a majority-Jewish and democratic state.

Many Israelis no doubt hope that the US proposal, and its support for Palestinian home rule, will continue to allow Israel to avoid the challenges that would come with extending citizenship to around 5m Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. But, in the absence of a realistic path to a real two-state solution, Israeli Jews will increasingly find themselves trapped in a one-state reality, on a demographic par with Palestinians.

With the option of true Palestinian statehood off the table, Israelis can choose to safeguard Israel’s Jewish character by continuing to deny Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza full and equal rights. They can only do so through an entrenched apartheid system enforced by military rule. Alternatively, Israelis can choose to preserve their country’s democratic character by extending full rights to all Palestinians, including those in Gaza. This would, however, risk Israel’s Jewish character.

If European governments are serious about avoiding this reality, they must urgently take decisive steps towards a viable two-state solution in line with internationally agreed parameters as the best means of ensuring equal rights for both peoples. This means rejecting Trump’s plan and recognising the State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Western EU member states such as France have vowed to do so “at the right moment”. That moment is now. They must also fulfil their own legal obligations, by deepening and expanding the EU’s policy of differentiating between Israel and Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

The EU and its member states must warn that such action will have grave consequences. They should announce that this will, among other things, generate greater European support for international accountability mechanisms, including those at the ICC – a step that, so far, they have been reluctant to take. The erosion of the territorial basis of a two-state solution also jeopardises the foundations of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, putting cooperation programmes at risk. And the EU should make clear that, if it becomes a choice between apartheid and equal rights within a binational state, it will choose the latter. 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Senior Policy Fellow

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