Interview with Middle East expert Lara Friedman

"A kosher stamp for Israel to retain control over the West Bank"

As expected the Trump administration released its Israeli-Palestinian peace blueprint on Tuesday, a plan that ignores the Palestinians at the expense of lasting peace. Middle East expert Lara Friedman spoke to Wesley Rahn

U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his administration's long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday, amid criticism that the administration has overtly embraced Israel's position while alienating the Palestinians at the expense of lasting peace in the region.

Trump called the plan the "deal of the century" even though the Palestinians have already rejected it, saying they were never included in putting it together. 

However, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Trump said he was confident that the Palestinians would eventually support his administration's plan, adding that it was "very good for them."

"They probably won't want it initially," he said. "I think in the end they will."

Major U.S. policy reversals that have antagonised the Palestinians include moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognising Israel's claims to the Golan Heights and declining to endorse a two-state solution.

According to Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, the Trump administration continues to follow the pro-Israel ideological agenda that it has clearly supported ever since it took office.

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Is there a political reason for the U.S. or Israel rolling out the plan now?

Lara Friedman: There are many different political agendas served by the timing. Some of them are Trump's, but I actually think more of them are Netanyahu's.

However, the bottom line is that the Trump administration came into office with a clearly articulated agenda and objective on Israel. That objective was not negotiating a two-state solution. In fact, every single policy from this administration points toward a single objective: permanent Israeli control between the river and the sea – and the administration is pretty open about that.

 

What's baffling is people's shock and surprise as they get a sense of what has been put on the table this week. I think people want to disbelieve what this administration says about itself.

What has the Trump administration revealed about its intentions on Israel?

Friedman: This is an ideologically motivated administration. This has never been about a geopolitical calculation of what Europe will put up with, or what the administration can defend at the United Nations; this is an ideological project. This plan is a kosher stamp for Israel to retain control over the West Bank.

If the Palestinians do not agree to the deal, then what good is it?

Friedman: The fact that it's being presented to Israelis and not to the Palestinians is consistent with the fact that the Palestinians are not the audience for this. The Palestinian role is either to say "we will accept whatever you do to us, as we have no power," or to reject the deal, and by rejecting it, prove that they aren't allowed to have agency in their own lives.

And to be clear again, this has been laid out by people in this administration from day one. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman went on the record before Trump took office, saying that the Palestinians shouldn't be treated as a state and has rejected the idea of an equal negotiation between sides with equal stakes.

What is the strategy, if not a negotiated peace?

Friedman: There is an idea out there propagated by various organisations called "peace through Israeli victory." The idea being: "We impose absolute defeat on the Palestinians, and when they realise they are utterly defeated, then they will accept whatever is given to them, and everyone can go and get on with their lives." That is the best description of where we are now. 

Infographic showing Israeli settlements in the West Bank (source: DW)
Peace through Israeli victory: "We impose absolute defeat on the Palestinians, and when they realise they are utterly defeated, then they will accept whatever is given to them, and everyone can go and get on with their lives." According to Middle East expert Lara Friedman, this best sums up Donald Trump's 'Deal of the Century'

And this idea was reflected in Trump's comments on Monday that the Palestinians will eventually accept the plan?

I don't think the Palestinians are in any way relevant in Trump's thinking on Israel. For believers of the administration's ideology on Israel who say Palestinians have to be recognised as human beings living there, Palestinians are "generic Arabs". They don't have the right to national self-determination. 

So if the U.S. plan is aimed only at Israeli interests, could that unleash more conflict in the region?

It depends on what is implemented on the ground and how quickly it changes. In the West Bank, if the Palestinian Authority looks at this deal and decides that they can't even maintain the pretence of a process, they may conclude that they no longer know how to maintain Israeli-Palestinian security co-operation. And it is that security co-operation with the Palestinians that has kept the West Bank quiet.

The idea was for Israel to have the opportunity to prove to Palestinians that they can change their lives without using violence. That idea has been challenged, as the Palestinians see that negotiation and diplomacy do not make their lives better. When you have cut off every possible option for non-violent protest, I fear you are going to see more violence.

Interview conducted by Wesley Rahn

© Deutsche Welle 2020

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) and has been working in the Middle East foreign policy arena for more than 25 years.

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