The Trump Peace Plan: Can Europe Look Beyond Oslo?

Vincent Doehr

Research Intern

Vincent Doehr is a research intern at AICGS for the spring of 2020. He assists fellows with research, manages the outreach database, operates the front desk, contributes to the AICGS website, and helps organize and document events.

Currently, Vincent is completing the fourth year of his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. He studies International Politics with a concentration in international law, ethics, and institutions and a minor in German. He is currently writing a thesis investigating whether the European Union is a more effective actor than traditional nation-states in international negotiations due to its requirement of unanimity among the member states. His general research interests lie in the intersection of human rights and international institutions.

He has previously lived in Cologne and studied at the University of Trier and the Humboldt University of Berlin. He hopes to have a career in the field of international law.

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vdoehr@aicgs.org

On January 28, 2020, U.S. president Donald Trump released his administration’s Peace to Prosperity plan for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document envisions a fragmented, demilitarized Palestinian state in portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For Israel, the plan allows for the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the vast majority of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, resulting in an enclaved Palestinian state that president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas compared to a slice of “Swiss cheese.”

The proposal has been treated as a nonstarter by most of the international community, but perhaps more due to the way it was developed than because of the proposed policy changes. In fact, the Trump plan is not an outlier in terms of substance, though it does abandon the pretext of a negotiated deal between Israelis and Palestinians. The idea that the fundamental issues of the conflict would be negotiated between the two parties has been at the core of the peace process since the Oslo Accords’ Declaration of Principles in 1993. But rather than honor this commitment to bilateralism, Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have attempted to dictate the terms of a final agreement to the Palestinians. Substantively, the Trump administration’s proposal is similar to past Israeli plans (such as those of Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert): it includes substantial land swaps and annexations, calls for a demilitarized Palestinian entity, refuses to grant Palestinians a capital in the actual city of Jerusalem, and rules out a right of return for Palestinian refugees. These parameters have defined the limits of Israeli terms of negotiation since the onset of the Oslo process.

European governments were critical of the Trump plan due to its origins but remained silent on the failings of its recommendations.

The policy implications of Trump’s proposal are dire for the Palestinians. Despite this, European governments were critical of the Trump plan due to its origins but remained silent on the failings of its recommendations. EU foreign policy chief Josip Borrell issued a milquetoast statement reiterating the Union’s support for a two-state solution with negotiations over the status of borders, Jerusalem, security, and refugees, as laid out in the Oslo process. Similarly, German foreign minister Heiko Maas stated that Germany remains supportive of a negotiated two-state solution and “lasting peace.” Jürgen Hardt, the foreign affairs spokesperson for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, expressed gratitude that the Trump administration stuck with a two-state proposal. The dominant tone was not one of condemnation, but simply the neutrality of a passive observer who hopes only for the dispute to be resolved, without regard for how it is resolved.

Therein lies the fundamental discrepancy: European governments have accepted the Oslo framework as a neutral forum for Israelis and Palestinians to sort out their grievances, but the process was in fact first conceived to subvert the goal of Palestinian statehood. The architects of Oslo—American and Israeli—manipulated not just the rules of the game, they created one of the players. The Palestinian Authority itself was created through the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement as part of the wider Oslo Accords; the authority was designed to act as the Palestinian participant in negotiations, as well as to be the face of governance in the Palestinian territories. The broader reality, which European governments are loathe to recognize, is that there is one sovereign state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The State of Israel governs the entirety of historic Palestine, with a military administration and a degree of civil autonomy for the Palestinian territories alongside more conventional governance for Israel proper. The current European emphasis on the peace process and adherence to the Oslo framework fails to acknowledge these realities.

Europeans act as though the only objectionable part of the Trump proposal is that it did not originate from the bilateral Oslo framework, but they should also be concerned about the plan’s substance. Trump has proposed revoking Israeli citizenship from a significant portion of Israel’s Arab population, transferring them to the new Palestinian entity. Europeans have historically voiced opposition to population transfers, especially given Europe’s own history of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and forced migration. The EU also continues to reject the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and has called for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Yet, European governments have declined to call out the Trump proposal for supporting population transfers, the legalization and annexation of West Bank settlements, and the establishment of a Palestinian capital in a far-flung outpost of Jerusalem. The implications of the latest policy proposal are grim, but not unprecedented.

In actuality, the Trump plan is the latest step in the twenty-five year dance of Oslo: a carefully orchestrated dance, wherein the Israelis put forward a proposal that is inevitably shot down by the Palestinians, and in the aftermath of rejection proceed with further settlement building and limitations on Palestinian rights. Israel has already stated that it believes the Trump proposal allows for immediate annexations of swaths of the West Bank. Although popular opinion places the blame on Netanyahu’s right-wing government, Israel’s opposition leader and would-be prime minister Benny Gantz has also vowed to implement Trump’s proposal. This unilateral action by the Israeli government would be another setback for a future sovereign Palestinian state.

The international community in general, and Europe and Germany in particular, has become bound by the institutionalized peace process, governed by arcane rules that emphasize immediate peace over inclusive and sustainable justice.

Unfortunately, the international community in general, and Europe and Germany in particular, has become bound by the institutionalized peace process, governed by arcane rules that emphasize immediate peace over inclusive and sustainable justice. Germany is in an especially difficult position, with its historical obligation to support Israel’s right to exist sometimes at odds with its insistence that Palestinians have a right to self-determination. The Oslo framework only allows for one of these goals to be achieved. Furthermore, the red lines drawn by Israelis and Palestinians make it impossible for bilateral progress to be made, meaning that the Israeli state remains the only sovereign actor, empowered to continue its disenfranchising policies that further reduce the chances of a workable Palestinian state.

Overall, the Oslo framework works counter to the establishment of a stable peace, which must be inclusive of Palestinian as well as Israeli concerns. Europeans with a mind for justice and peace should seek to abandon the paradigms of Oslo and strive for a resolution outside of its institutional confines. As long as the countries of Europe stand on the sidelines, blind to the failings of the Oslo process, the chances for a lasting, just peace in the region will be severely limited.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.