The real issue with US President Donald J. Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is not whether it stands a chance of resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. It doesn’t.
More important is the fact that Israel will, in violation of international law, be empowered to unilaterally annex occupied territory and take steps towards creating an ethnically more homogenous state by transferring a significant proportion of the Jewish state’s Israeli Palestinian population to what the plan envisions as a future Palestinian entity.
Trump, by endorsing annexation and population transfers that violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, has put Israel at the cutting edge of an emerging new world order dominated by civilisationalist leaders.
These leaders think in terms of “might is right” rather than adherence to international law. They envision civilisational states that define themselves and their boundaries on the basis of a specific civilisation as opposed to nation states that are determined by internationally recognised borders, population and language, and have little time for the rule of law.
In doing so Trump, like many other likeminded civilisationalist leaders—including India’s Narendra Modi, China’s Xi Jinping and Myanmar’s Win Myint, who pursue discriminatory policies that marginalise and disenfranchise minorities and undermine social cohesion—is contributing to a world in which mass migration, radicalisation and increased political violence will likely pose threats on a far larger scale than they do today.
If Israel indeed moves ahead with implementation of Trump’s plan, it will likely find itself at the forefront of the civilisationalist effort to shape a new world order that pays little heed to human and minority rights anchored in international law, and that rejects agreements on the status of occupied land and people that were forged in the wake of the 20th century’s devastating world wars.
Becoming a flashpoint in the struggle for the shape of a new world order could prove to be more of a curse than a blessing for Israel.
It could turn Israel into yet another, but nonetheless prime, example of what civilisationalist politics is likely to produce—an illiberal if not authoritarian state whose policies are at best controversial rather than, as Israel likes to see itself, the Middle East’s only real democracy.
Few in the international community, including a majority of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s civilisationalist counterparts, with the exception of Trump and potentially Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Victor Orban, would recognise Israel’s unilaterally declared post-annexation borders.
Responding to Trump’s plan, conservative Gulf states praised US efforts to achieve peace and called for negotiations but were careful not to endorse Trump’s blueprint, while the Arab League outright rejected the proposal.
This did not stop Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s post-popular revolt Sovereignty Council who has close ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, from meeting Netanyahu a day later in Uganda.
Nonetheless, few in the international community would endorse the deprival of citizenship of some 300,000 Palestinian Israelis and their transfer, together with their lands, from what is known as the Triangle in central Israel to a future Palestinian state.
Only 13 percent of Israeli Palestinians surveyed last year by the Israel Democracy Institute defined themselves first and foremost as being Palestinian, while 38 percent said their primary identity was Arab.
Meanwhile, 65 percent said they were “proud to be Israelis.” An even larger number, 83 percent, said they strived to be full members of Israeli society.
“Peace is made with the enemy. We are residents of the state, and we are not the enemy. The prime minister (Netanyahu) wants to save his skin at the expense of inciting hatred against the Arab population,” said Shuaa Massarweh Mansour, the mayor of Taiibeh, a town of 50,000 Israeli Palestinians that was included in the plan’s suggestion of a population transfer.
Mansour was referring to last month’s indictment of Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.
Demonstrations on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip in response to the Trump plan were fairly muted, but that is no guarantee that implementation will not provoke wide-spread protests directed not only against Israel and the United States but also the Palestinian National Authority.
Those protests would likely spread to Israeli Palestinians resident within Israeli borders prior to the 1967 Middle East war in which Israel conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights—all of which were annexed before Trump endorsed their incorporation into Israel—and Gaza. An Israeli crackdown on the protesters would only add to the problems created by implementation of the Trump plan.
The plan appears to be designed to pre-empt what would be a worst case civilisationalist scenario, in which continued Israeli occupation would force Israel to choose between being a democracy and a Jewish state, because of demographics that would likely see Palestinians becoming a majority of the population. The irony is that implementation of the plan without Palestinian consent and cooperation could produce the same dilemma.
As a result, Trump’s civilisationalist approach towards solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Netanyahu’s enthusiastic embrace of the plan threatens to not only put Israel at the cutting edge of the struggle to shape a new world; it risks turning Israel into a poster child of everything that is wrong with civilisationalism.
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Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture