It’s been a month since the Trump administration released its Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People. The plan drew mixed reactions among Israelis and the Palestinians rejected it unequivocally. Knowing the plan would be controversial, the writers painstakingly explained that it was “realistic” and based on complex on-the-ground realities. They asked readers to be intellectually honest and open minded when considering their proposals. Having done that, here are four reasons why I believe Christians, especially, should not support it.
First, the plan is unfair and unjust both in process and substance. The Palestinians were not consulted in its creation, and their absence is apparent throughout the document. This is deeply problematic because, if implemented, the plan will have a profound impact on their future. Though described as an “opening offer” by administration officials, the plan dictates outcomes on the most contentious issues—Jerusalem, refugees, and borders—all in a manner most favorable to Israel and the administration asks that it be the new anchor in future negotiations. Further highlighting the asymmetries, the phrase “subject to Israeli” security requirements, consideration, civilian administration, or responsibility appears throughout the document as a limitation to a wide range of possible Palestinian actions.
Although the rhetoric of concern for the livelihoods and aspirations of the Palestinian people abounds throughout the Vision, ultimately its substance belies it. This is shown most starkly in the conditioning of the implementation of the economic component of the plan on Palestinian acceptance and full implementation of the (unfair) political terms. Given the dire economic condition of the Palestinian people, this requirement can only be interpreted as coercion.
The unfairness of the plan has been noted (and rejected) by the Arab League, Organization for Islamic Cooperation, some congressional Democrats, at least four democratic candidates for president, various members of the United Nations Security Council, members of the European Union and the African Union. The Pope has reportedly alluded to this problem as well.
Second, the plan, particularly as it pertains to Palestinian statehood, is disingenuous. Though employing the language of statehood, what the plan offers Palestinians is not a state in any meaningful sense. In fact, given the many preconditions, it is unclear if it can be considered an offer at all.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories summarizes some of the problems as follows:
“The Palestinian statelet … would be scattered archipelagos of non-contiguous territory completely surrounded by Israel, with no external borders, no control over its airspace, no right to a military to defend its security, no geographic basis for a viable economy … and with no ability to complain to international judicial forums against Israel ….”
The proposed entity is so confounding that observers have struggled to find a term that adequately describes it. Some have called it a “state-minus,” “pseudo-state,” even a “21st century Bantustan.” Mahmoud Abbas likened the settlement-scarred territory to “Swiss cheese.” The Administration rather unconvincingly addresses the obvious geography problem by pointing to the “innovative” transportation system that will connect the enclaves, supposedly rendering their lack of contiguity irrelevant. As for the lack of meaningful markers of statehood (particularly true self-determination), it argues that we need to change our understanding of sovereignty. “Sovereignty is an amorphous concept” and in our interdependent world states can enter “agreements that set parameters essential to each state,” they write. Sure, but in this case the Palestinians are not voluntarily ceding the most essential attributes of statehood, those are being taken away from them at the onset.
Moreover, to even have the privilege of statehood, the writers impose preconditions such as the two quoted below:
The Palestinians shall have implemented a governing system with a constitution or another system for establishing the rule of law that provides for freedom of press, free and fair elections, respect for human rights for its citizens, protections for religious freedom and for religious minorities to observe their faith, uniform and fair enforcement of law and contractual rights, due process under law, and an independent judiciary with appropriate legal consequences and punishment established for violations of the law.
The Palestinians shall have established transparent, independent, and credit-worthy financial institutions capable of engaging in international market transactions in the same manner as financial institutions of western democracies with appropriate governance to prevent corruption and ensure the proper use of such funds, and a legal system to protect investments and to address market-based commercial expectations. The State of Palestine should meet the independent objective criteria to join the International Monetary Fund.
Whether the Palestinians have met the criteria “must be determined to have occurred by the State of Israel and the United States, jointly, acting in good faith …” the plan reads. Although the substance of the two criteria above is certainly desirable in a 21st century state, it is important to note that for many existing states around the world (that are not considered “failed states”) these remain aspirational. To consider their full realization necessary for the Palestinian state to exist at all is unfair and hypocritical. Moreover, requiring credible institutions before statehood is to put the cart before the horse. The lack of the latter will necessarily cripple the development of the former.
The preceding and the fact that Israel, just weeks after the announcement and without Palestinian input or assent, is already preparing to annex territory in the West Bank and has, along with the United States, already established a committee for the purpose brings into question the genuineness of the offer of Palestinian statehood.
Third, if the plan is implemented, it will undermine rather than enhance Israeli security by legalizing a volatile and unsustainable geographical and political arrangement that will only further dehumanize both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel will indeed become what many of its critics have long argued it already is—a bi-national “apartheid” state. Even former foreign ministers from across Europe have voiced concerns about the inevitability of this outcome. Instead of offering Palestinians “a path to a dignified national life” as it claims, the plan would only guarantee their subjugation. It will entrench existing racial/ethnic prejudices and injustices (described in this podcast by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy at 11:50-13:00) and this will only further embitter the Palestinians and increase violence. In response, Israel will feel compelled to employ ever more brutal and repressive measures to enhance its security, making peace even more elusive.
Fourth, as written, the plan is disrespectful, condescending, and contemptuous toward the Palestinians both in its spirit and, in some cases, its language. Noting this problem, Daniel Levy described it as a “hate letter” to the Palestinians. With Israeli benignity and stability and Palestinian malignity and instability assumed throughout, it seems the writers lacked an understanding of the importance and delicateness of national pride, and how, when wounded, can harden even the most unreasonable positions.
The plan humiliates the Palestinians by essentially telling them, “We will give you a state that we think is suitable for you when you get yourselves together in manner that satisfies us.” Just in case readers are unsure of my reading of the tone of the document, the administration’s senior adviser on the plan, in his many post-release interviews, left no doubt.
Whatever the path is to Israeli-Palestinian peace, disrespect and contempt cannot be part of it.
If peace is still the goal, the honest (and indeed more effective) approach to this complex situation would have been for the administration to acknowledge that the current conditions are not conducive to the creation of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that would allow for legitimate Palestinian statehood. Instead of pushing forward a deeply flawed and unrealistic plan, the administration could have focused on creating better conditions by building trust between the parties, working with the international community to address the security threats facing Israel, and fortifying existing domestic and international mechanisms to ensure that the current political and economic conditions do not deteriorate further. Pretending peace is possible at this time and using the peace process for political ends when lives are at stake is dangerous and unethical.
For these reasons, we should not support the Vision.