On Jan. 27, President Trump met privately with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, to brief them on what the Trump administration has labeled the “deal of the century” for Israel and Palestine. On Jan. 28 the plan was released to the public.
If the Trump plan is a deal, the pre-release meetings and the White House press briefing announcing the plan made clear whom the plan is intended to benefit. The absence of Palestinians at the unveiling continues the trend set during the drafting process when Palestinians and Palestinian interests were ignored. The “deal” itself is a giveaway to the Israeli right and a final nail in the coffin of the negotiation process that began with the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords.
The timing of the release of the plan is also significant. It comes only weeks before the third Israeli election to be held within one year--and on the same day that Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges. There is a clear element of political gamesmanship, with the plan offered in a way designed to boost Netanyahu and the Israeli political right at a time of political crisis.
The “deal of the century” gives U.S. approval to Israel’s creation of Palestinian “bantustans” where Palestinians have limited autonomy but no self-determination. This is a plan for sustained apartheid and injustice and must be treated as such.
There was never any chance that Palestinians would accept this so-called “deal,” but Palestinian acceptance was never the goal. At the joint Trump-Netanyahu briefing upon the release of the plan, Netanyahu indicated that Israel will immediately move to assert Israeli sovereignty over all settlements and the Jordan Valley while maintaining the “status quo” in other areas for the next four years.
This is not a negotiation for peace, this is the imposition of change on Palestinians. But when Palestinians inevitably reject this plan, their rejection will be held up by Netanyahu and Trump as a reason for seizing even more control and furthering the repression faced by Palestinians.
The “deal” offers U.S. support for:
- complete Israeli control over occupied East Jerusalem,
- Israeli sovereignty over and annexation of all illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank,
- and Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley.
It also gives Israel perpetual security control over all of the West Bank and Gaza, effectively guaranteeing perpetual occupation and apartheid. Annexation of settlements would result in the effective division of the West Bank into at least three separate bantustans, reward Israel for its illegal theft of land from Palestinians, and significantly reduce the amount of territory remaining for Palestinian use and development.
With all settlements left In Israeli control regardless of their size or location, Israel will be required to control roads and infrastructure throughout the West Bank, foreclosing any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian territory. The Jordan Valley constitutes approximately 22% of the West Bank, including some of its most fertile agricultural land, and its annexation would leave Israel in control of all West Bank borders.
The “deal” also furthers the fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory by treating the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza as separate political entities. It does not address the 13-year-long blockade, which has kept Gaza isolated and impoverished, and it creates no new mechanisms for ensuring open connections between the two locations. Further, it does nothing to help end the political divides that exist between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Rather, the plan calls for action to demilitarize Hamas, a call which increases the chance of another Israeli assault on Gaza and increased violence and oppression.
In Jerusalem, the plan envisions a changing of borders in ways that would sever Palestinian areas of the city on the West Bank side of the wall from the rest of the city, transferring them to Palestinian control. This places the residency rights of Jerusalem residents in these areas at risk and will likely result in their denied access to the Israeli-controlled parts of the city. In envisioning land swaps to “compensate” Palestinians for land stolen by Israel the plan put forwards the option of cutting major Palestinian population centers in Israel off from the state and adding them to the new Palestinian entity. This also would potentially strip citizenship from Palestinian citizens of Israel living in these areas and separate them from family.
If the international community and responsible U.S. actors do not take immediate steps to outline concrete costs for Israeli annexation of settlements and the Jordan Valley, the Israeli government will act. Netanyahu has committed to taking immediate action to annex Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley and enforce other changes outlined in the plan. To formalize changes, he will need support from the Knesset, but he will get that support. Despite their disagreements, Gantz and Netanyahu have publicly supported annexing large parts of the West Bank. Their two parties and other political parties on the Israeli right control over 90 of the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, giving them the political power needed to make annexation a reality.
In building settlements and annexing territory, the Israeli government is furthering the existent one-state reality, a reality based on inequality and injustice. So far the U.S. political establishment has ignored the Israeli effort to create one apartheid state and has instead passed measures punishing those—like supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement-- who question the two-state consensus and call for equality between Palestinians and Israelis, regardless of what state formation exists when peace is realized. This must change.
Politicians, the media, and the public need to move beyond the limitations of the two-state paradigm that has been used to set the bounds of accepted discourse. This doesn’t mean rejecting the two-state option, but it does mean not being afraid of a future where there is one democratic state that guarantees rights for all. Everyone must oppose the apartheid vision of one state being pushed by the Israeli government and the Trump administration—and that requires action.
When the Trump administration declared its support for Israeli settlements in November 2019, Congress responded by passing H.R. 326, which reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to two states. But as pointed out by Rep. Rashida Tlaib in her opposition to that bill, the bill itself made no mention of Israel’s occupation, praised Israeli democracy and values while making no mention of systematic Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, and included no consequences or accountability mechanism to protect the two-state solution Congress claims to revere. The resolution, despite its support from both Democrats and Republicans, was toothless and failed to acknowledge how reality on the ground has shifted over the last 25 years as a result of Israeli actions.
The release of the “deal of the century” calls for new action by both the U.S. Congress and the international community. Israel needs to be held accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights. Congress should take action to cut off all military aid to Israel and the U.S. government, and the international community should enforce on Israel the same restrictions faced by apartheid-era South Africa.
Taking no action is not an option. The Trump administration’s “deal” must be opposed.