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Trudy Rubin: Trump’s Mideast peace plan is about reelection – his own and Benjamin Netanyahu’s

By Trudy Rubin Tribune News Service

If anyone doubts President Trump’s long awaited Israel-Palestine peace plan was mainly an election-oriented political document, he shattered those doubts Tuesday.

On the very day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu was indicted for bribery and fraud, and Trump’s impeachment trial was upended by firsthand evidence he blackmailed Ukraine, the president rolled out his “deal of the century.”

In a stagey production replete with Trumpian hyperbole, as he stood alongside Netanyahu, the president was clearly pitching his evangelical base for the 2020 election – and pumping for Netanyahu in tight March 2 Israeli elections.

Trump’s proposal sticks closely to the very plan Netanyahu has been touting for years, which the Israeli leader has labeled “state-minus, autonomy-plus.” That means the Palestinians can have something they can call a state, but without any normal trappings of statehood, other than diplomatic representation and passports.

I’ve covered the Israel-Palestine issue for decades and don’t pretend that there is any easy solution at this stage. But this plan ignored Palestinian input. And it depended on first-son-in-law Jared Kushner’s naive impression that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could “deliver” the Palestinians.

Rather than provide a two-state solution, this plan officially buries that concept, confirming that the United States endorses permanent Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. Trump’s proposal is dressed up to look like something different – putting forward a series of economic fantasies far removed from political realities.

But without addressing those realities, the plan guarantees Palestinian rejection. (Was it really designed for that purpose, one wonders.) And that will leave Israel in a one-state solution, controlling territory with more Arabs than Jews.

A close look at the “state-minus” will explain my pessimism.

Palestinians would have nominal control over a shrunken portion of the West Bank. It calls for Israeli sovereignty over the entire Jordan Valley (one-third of the West Bank) and more than 120 Jewish settlements and towns in that territory.

This would divide the Palestinian-controlled areas into a series of islands, connected by tunnels and bridges and enclosed by sovereign Israel territory, a long-standing idea on the Israeli right. (Decades ago, I was told by an aide to the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that “tunnels and bridges” wound enable Israel to shut down Palestinian cantons whenever they chose.)

(Trump’s claim that Palestinians would control double the land they do now was very misleading. It relies on the fact that Israel currently exerts a claim to 60% of West Bank land that is not recognized anywhere else.)

Israel would also control all entry, exit and air space, along with security of this state-minus. It would be dependent on Israeli ports.

And Israel would retain overall control of almost all of Jerusalem, including the long-standing Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, with any Palestinian “capitol” consigned to outer suburbs beyond the wall that girds the city. This effectively means retaining the status quo in the Holy City, which alone guarantees Palestinian rejection.

As for Gaza, the one bright spot is revival of the idea of finally connecting this wretched territory with the West Bank via special rail or road – something that was supposed to have happened decades ago under the Oslo peace plan.

However, the Trump proposal specifies that the whole plan is null unless the Palestinian Authority disarms the Hamas faction in Gaza and takes full control there. Great idea – but with whose army? (The Authority has only a police force that helps the Israeli army keep Hamas down in the West Bank.)

This proviso practically screams that the whole Kushner plan is meant to fail.

In fact, if you put aside the Gaza poison pill, the plan basically offers Palestinians a dressed-up status quo – with billions that will supposedly flow in from the Gulf to build a Palestinian Singapore. That, too, is a mirage.

But without real political sovereignty – Palestinians don’t even control their bandwidth now – this leopard spot state-minus would face the same economic blockages it does now: investors don’t want to hassle with complex border crossing, Israeli security and potential checkpoints that hamper movement of goods and workers. These same barriers would inevitably remain in a state-minus, or autonomy-plus.

And as if to prove how unserious Kushner was with his plan, it puts forward a proposal that is beloved of the extreme right, and has been rejected over and over again inside Israel. He suggests that several Israeli Arab towns in the so-called “triangle” that abuts the West Bank could be transferred to the new Palestinian state-let.

In other words, Kushner endorses the trope of the extreme Israeli right that Israel should try to expel many of its own Arab citizens (who have made clear they want to stay inside the Israeli state).

This conveys the tone of the Trump-Kushner plan – a collection of right-wing Israeli ideas that won’t solve the political and security problems posed by the Palestinian dilemma.

More likely, the Trump plan is the prelude to further Israeli annexation of the West Bank, and the emergence of a dicey one-state reality including as many Palestinian Arabs as Jews.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101, or by email at trubin@phillynews.com.

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