Is Trump’s Israel Plan a Real Plan for Peace in the Holy Land?
Holy Land Christians share in the widespread skepticism there that the new U.S. plan can provide a constructive solution to the region’s intractable divisions.
JERUSALEM — Samia Khoury couldn’t quite believe her ears when she heard about U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which was announced on Jan. 28.
“It’s simply an Israeli plan endorsed by the American president to dispossess the Palestinians,” said Khoury, an 86-year-old Catholic Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem.
“This deal is no deal at all,” said Khoury, a longtime refugee whose family fled West Jerusalem decades ago. “It’s like a still-born baby. It’s a love affair between Trump and [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu, with a midwife named Jared Kushner.”
Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, is a senior adviser to the president.
Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, are united in their rejection of the plan, which was conceived with no input from Palestinian officials.
Many Israelis oppose it, as well. Right-wing Israelis say Jews should have the right to live in the biblical land of Israel and note that it was the Palestinians who rejected the United Nations’ decision to create an Arab state and a Jewish state in 1948 and then tried to destroy Israel. Left-wing Israelis say the plan won’t get off the ground because it is weighted in Israel’s favor.
Under the plan, which Trump unveiled just weeks before Israel’s upcoming March 2 election, Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish country. Also, Hamas and Islamic Jihad — which have vowed to destroy Israel and which the U.S. considers terror groups — must disarm.
According to the plan, Palestinian officials must also stop providing financial support to terrorists and families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis. Nor can they work toward the arrest of Israelis on war-crimes charges.
The plan also calls for an end to anti-Israeli incitement in Palestinian textbooks, media and other forums.
The Palestinian Authority has asked the International Criminal Court to try Israeli leaders as war criminals.
In contrast to the Palestinians’ demands that all of East Jerusalem be the capital of their future state, the plan states that Abu Dis and two other poor enclaves on the outskirts of Jerusalem would be the Palestinians’ future capital. On the flip side, the deal would recognize the Palestinians’ right to a sovereign country and offers them $50 billion in investments, provided they meet the plan’s conditions.
Meanwhile, the deal says Israel must freeze settlement activity for at least four years, but that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are part of Israel and that no settlers will be uprooted.
Another part of the plan proposes that some Israeli territory be absorbed by a future Palestinian state, a move vehemently opposed by the 300,000 Muslim Israelis who would lose their Israeli citizenship as a consequence.
No Christians live in the affected area.
Local Christians’ Opposition
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land was quick to object to the plan.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been “at the center of many peace initiatives and proposals for solution,” the assembly said in a Jan. 29 statement. “As said many times in the past, we think that no proposal and no serious perspective could be reached without the agreement of the two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians. These proposals have to be based on equal rights and dignity.”
The plan “doesn’t give dignity and rights to the Palestinians. It is to be considered a unilateral initiative, since it endorses almost all the demands of one side, the Israeli one, and its political agenda. On the other hand, this plan does not really take into considerations the right demands of the Palestinian people to their homeland, rights and dignified life,” the assembly said.
It “will bring no solution but rather will create more tensions and probably more violence and bloodshed.”
The assembly called on the U.S. government and others to respect and improve upon previous signed peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians “on the basis of complete equality among peoples.”
The Middle East Council of Churches also blasted the plan, which Trump has dubbed the “Deal of the Century.”
“The Palestinian cause is a rightful cause, and addressing it through bargaining and trade-offs is unacceptable,” said Souraya Bechealany, general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches. “This approach destroys the essence of the resistance of the Palestinian people to establish a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem and to guarantee the right of return for the Palestinian refugees.”
The council “has always supported the resistance of the Palestinian people,” Bechealany said. He called on the international community “to put an end to the injustice and restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinians” and asked Christians to continue to pray “until peace and justice are achieved.”
‘We Are Invisible’
A prominent West Bank Christian who spoke on condition of anonymity emphasized that all Palestinians are opposed to the plan, but that the Christian community feels particularly vulnerable.
“The plan hurts all of us, but as a Christian I’m also concerned that we are invisible in this deal. There are several references to Muslim [holy] places, but not Christian ones,” the Christian said. “It’s clear that Trump is trying to improve relations with the Muslim world.”
The fact that the plan legitimizes Israeli settlements “will be the end of any viable Christian presence,” he said, because Bethlehem and other historically Christian towns near Jerusalem are surrounded by settlements and Israel’s security barrier.
That barrier has largely succeeded in preventing Palestinian terror attacks, but severely limits Palestinians’ ability to travel within the West Bank and enter Jerusalem.
“Israel has already confiscated a lot of land belonging to Christians in the area to build settlements and the wall. The plan calls for Israel to receive even more land near Bethlehem,” the Christian said.
Writing in The Times of Israel, Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, said the Palestinians have legitimate grievances over the Trump plan, but have yet to come up with a reasonable plan of their own.
“It is long past time for Palestinian leaders to do what they have never done in the history of this conflict: offer their own detailed peace plan. We know what Palestinian leaders oppose; but what exactly do they support? Beyond the repetition of the formula of ‘two states along the 1967 borders,’ what is the Palestinian position on refugees, land swaps, settlement blocs, holy places?”
But Samia Khoury said the international community, and not the Palestinians, should find a solution.
Referencing the 1948 partition decision that has never been accepted by Palestinians, he said, “The U.N. created the problem, and we had confidence in them solving the problem. When they want to place sanctions on Iran, they do, while we’ve been struggling since 1948.”
Michele Chabin is the Register’s Middle East correspondent.