North Carolina Journal of International Law

"Connecting North Carolina to the World of International Law"

The US’s Revised Effort for Peace in the Middle East

By: Joshua Stephens

 

 

 

 

 

 

The question of how to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has endured on in America for decades.[1] The new administration, led by President Trump, who has long been a supporter of Israel, is now taking its crack at one of the great issues of our time.[2] In early November it was reported that President Trump and his team had begun developing a plan for peace in the Middle East, with the President striving for what he calls “the ultimate deal.”[3] Although nothing in the plan is concrete as of now, recent reports haven given insight into what may be included, the effect it will have on the region, and obstacles that must be overcome. [4]

The Team

The team assigned to drafting the peace plan includes his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Chief Negotiator Jason Greenblatt, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.[5]

The administration’s objective is to find something that works for both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[6] This objective is easier said than done, as the two sides have a mutual distrust for one another that dates back many years. [7]  Mr. Greenblatt, while talking about the White House’s latest effort for peace in the Middle East, was quoted as saying:

“Instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we are giving the parties space to make their own decisions about their future. Instead of laying blame for the conflict at the feet of one party or the other, we are focused on implementing existing agreements and unlocking new areas of cooperation which benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.”[8]

This quote speaks to one of the major areas of the middle east conflict, self-determination. Self-determination is “determination by the people of a territorial unit of their own future political status.”[9]  The idea is a staple of international law, and would seem to support the idea of creating two separate states, and letting the people of the states make their own future for the region.

The Two-State Solution

A lot of speculation revolves around the idea of a “two-state solution”, although President Trump has been quoted in the past as saying he would be alright with a one- or two-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East.[10]  In essence the two-state solution would do exactly what the name implies, create two separate, independent nations for two different sets of people. This would allow for security for Israel as well as letting it keep a Jewish majority, and would give the Palestinians the state they have desired for so many years..”[11]  The one- state solution on the other hand, would merge Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into one democratic country. This plan is disfavored by the Isralies, as they would be outnumbered by the Arabs, and Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.[12]

This idea of a two-state solution around since at least the early twentieth century, when the United Nations tried and ultimately failed to enact it, leading to 1967 Arab-Israeli war.[13]  Traditionally, the proposed state lines have been drawn based on the borders that were established before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. These are referred to as the 1967 lines.[14]  The White House has neither confirmed nor denied that the new plan will include the two-state idea, but many people familiar with the conflict agree that there is no credible alternative.[15] According to Max Fisher of the New York Times,  “Most governments and world bodies have set achievement of the two-state solution as official policy, including the United States, the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. This goal has been the basis of peace talks for decades.”[16]  In fact, a recent report released in November of 2017 suggested that Trump’s plan would include the creation of an independent Palestinian state.[17]

Analysts also believe that the new deal will be preempted by “confidence building provisions” which both parties would have to agree to before negotiating.[18] Israel would be made to agree to things like limiting settlement construction to current blocs without taking new land, reopening discussions of a two-state solution, and giving the Palestinians some of the West Bank.[19] Palestinine would likely need to agree to cooperate with Israel with regards to security and stop its  payments to family members of Palestinians who have committed terrorist attacks.[20]The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly stated that Israel’s security interests will be the deciding factor on whether or not a deal is reached and that he has made the Trump administration aware of his position.[21] Israel has also a delayed a decision on settlement housing and has discussed possible economic gestures towards the Palestinians in an effort to advance talks.[22] Has Palestine taken any steps toward peace talks?

Obstacles Facing the New Peace Plan

As of November 20, 2017, the Palestinians have ceased all contact with the Trump administration due to the closing of their official representation in Washington.[23] The permit for the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was not renewed after the Palestinians threatened to submit cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about Israel and alleged war crimes.[24]  Obviously, it will be nearly impossible to broker a deal when the PLO and the United States are unable to have any dialogue.

Another issue that has held up the two-state solution for years is the problem of where to draw the border.[25] As previously stated, the lines would most likely be drawn as they were prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.[26]  But Israel has already built settlements and land that would belong to the Palestinian state. the Trump administration’s solution to this problem is land swaps, which would allow Israel to keep the land it has already built on in exchange for some other pieces of land that would have otherwise belonged to Israel according to the 1967 borders.[27]

The presence of Israeli developments brings up a significant international law debate, whether to recognize the presence as an occupation by the Israeli’s. [28]  Occupation occurs under international law when a hostile army controls a territory.[29] Since Israel did not control the land prior to 1967, it could be argued that under a two-state solution Israel is occupying those areas, which brings about international law consequences under the Geneva Convention.[30]

Refugees are also a point of contention.[31] After the creation of Israel in 1948, many Palestinians were forced to relocate.[32] Now some five million of them want the right to return to their native land.[33] Israel will have none of it, as it would end the Jewish majority in Israel.[34]

Furthermore, there is the issue of what to do with Jerusalem.[35]  Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital, and are reluctant to budge because of the religious significance of the city.[36]  Traditionally the two-state solution calls for dividing the city in half, but the sites of religious significance are all on top of another, so it makes it hard to find anyway to divide the city to the liking of both sides.[37]

Finally, there is the issue of the divide on the Palestinian side.[38] As Professor of Political Science and Middle History at Bar Ilan University Hillel Frisch puts it, the Palestinian entity has “partitioned themselves into two bodies: an autocratic entity headed by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, and a Hamas theocracy in Gaza.” [39]  Without unity on the side of Palestine, the two-state solution turns into a three-state solution for Middle East peace.[40]  In fact, a civil war has been raging between the two sides since 2007.[41]  Any hope for peace must not only get Palestinians to agree with Israel, but also get the Palestinians to agree with each other.

Conclusion

The conflict between Israel and Palestine truly is one of the biggest issues of our time. The region has been turbulent for as long as most can remember. The two-state solution has been around for just about as long as the conflict itself, but nobody seems to be able to find a way to make it work. The new administration seems confident it its ability to bring peace to an area that desperately needs it, and only time will tell if that confidence is warranted.

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[1] Peter Baker, Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Plan, NY Times (Nov. 11, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/11/world/middleeast/trump-peace-israel-palestinians.html [https://perma.cc/7PQT-PD7L].

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Peter Baker, Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Plan, NY Times (Nov. 11, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/11/world/middleeast/trump-peace-israel-palestinians.html [https://perma.cc/7PQT-PD7L].

[7] Id.

[8] Peter Jacobs, Both Israel and Palestine are convinced Trump is prepping a big Middle East peace plan, Yahoo Finance (Sep. 27, 2017), https://finance.yahoo.com/news/both-israel-palestine-convinced-trump-181154863.html [https://perma.cc/66U4-PRTU].

[9] Self-Determination, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-determination (last visited Dec. 17, 2017) [perma.cc/VFA4-TPSG].

[10] Madeline Conway, Trump says he can ‘live with’ either two-state or one-state solution for Israel, Politico (Feb. 15, 2017, 1:02 PM), https://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/trump-two-state-one-state-solution-israel-235054 [https://perma.cc/3B8S-UFDM].

[11] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[12] Gregg Carlstrom, Trump’s OK With a One-State Solution. So What Would It Look Like?, Politico (Feb. 17, 2017), https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/trump-israel-one-state-solution-214794 [perma.cc/55YA-YQ32].

[13] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[14] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[15] Mitchel Hochberg, Why the Two-State Solution Is Here to Stay There Is Simply No Credible Alternative, Foreign Affairs (Aug. 28, 2017), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2017-08-28/why-two-state-solution-here-stay [https://perma.cc/H8YY-BF3T].

[16] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[17] http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/160586-171119-report-trump-s-middle-east-peace-plan-to-include-palestinian-state

[18] Peter Baker, Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Plan, NY Times (Nov. 11, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/11/world/middleeast/trump-peace-israel-palestinians.html [https://perma.cc/7PQT-PD7L].

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Jonathan Lis, Netanyahu on Trump Peace Plan: Israel’s Security Interests Will Be Deciding Factor, Haaretz (Nov. 22, 2017), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.823588 [https://perma.cc/ET34-MSCT].

[22] Peter Jacobs, Both Israel and Palestine are convinced Trump is prepping a big Middle East peace plan, Yahoo Finance (Sep. 27, 2017), https://finance.yahoo.com/news/both-israel-palestine-convinced-trump-181154863.html [https://perma.cc/66U4-PRTU].

[23] Jack Moore, Palestinians Cut Donald Trump and Jared Kushner Contact After Closure of Washington Office, Newsweek (Nov. 21, 2017), http://www.newsweek.com/palestinians-cut-trump-and-kushner-contacts-after-closure-washington-office-718050 [https://perma.cc/228U-8KW4]

[24] Id.

[25] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] David Hughes, Re-thinking the role of international law in the Middle East conflict, +972 (Jul. 23, 2012), https://972mag.com/re-thinking-the-role-of-international-law-in-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/51609/ [perma.cc/4578-WMYR].

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Max Fisher, The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened, NY Times (Dec. 29, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-two-state-solution.html [https://perma.cc/2M5E-QRKA].

[38] Hillel Frisch, The Two-State Solution: A Greater Threat to Palestinians than to Israel, The Begin-Sadat Center For Strategic Studies, (Jan. 17, 2017), https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/396-frisch-two-state-solution/ [https://perma.cc/8Y7R-5M6L].

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

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