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Editorial: Trump and Netanyahu have made Mideast peace an even more distant prospect

Trump and Netanyahu have made Mideast peace an even more distant prospect

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President Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

By Editorial Board

Jan. 29, 2020 at 1:45 a.m. GMT+1

THE MIDEAST peace plan that President Trump unveiled at the White House Tuesday amounts, as a practical matter, to another one-sided gift to the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Trump promised U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all of the settlements Israel has constructed in the West Bank — a radical shift in a half-century-old American policy.

Mr. Netanyahu, who gleefully pledged to immediately “apply Israeli law to all areas the plan recognizes,” reciprocated by calling Mr. Trump “the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.” Mr. Trump can be expected to flog that endorsement as he seeks reelection this year. Mr. Netanyahu, in turn, will present himself to Israeli voters in a March election as the leader who extracted once-unimaginable concessions from Washington. Both leaders can hope to distract from ongoing scandals: Mr. Trump from his impeachment trial and Mr. Netanyahu from his indictment Tuesday on corruption charges.

U.S. sanction for the annexation of settlements will meanwhile deliver a devastating blow to the prospects for a two-state resolution between Israelis and Palestinians. Those who actually favor that, as we do, will have to hope that the remainder of the plan is soon forgotten. Otherwise, it may provide a new set of benchmarks that will make peace impossible and from which future Israeli and U.S. governments will find it hard to retreat.

The terms Mr. Trump set for Palestinian statehood are virtually identical to those promoted by Mr. Netanyahu, which is no doubt why the latter was so quick to endorse them. The Palestinian “state” would lack many conventional aspects of sovereignty, including control over its borders, airspace, territorial waters and international relations. Israel would retain “overriding security responsibility,” including the right to send its own forces into Palestinian territory. Tens of thousands of Israelis would go on living in settlements inside the new Arab state and would be governed by Israel. And Israel would have full sovereignty over Jerusalem, except for a few areas already outside the city’s security barrier.

In order to obtain this highly circumscribed independence, the Palestinians would have to meet a long list of conditions, including establishing Western-style institutions, disarming the Hamas movement and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Even if the current leadership were eager to comply, which it is not, the criteria could not be met anytime in the foreseeable future. “It may take them a very long time to get to the beginning of that path,” gloated Mr. Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Israel’s annexations of settlements could begin days from now.

The only thing in the plan resembling an Israeli concession was a vague and unenforceable pledge that settlements in the territory envisioned for the future Palestine would not be expanded beyond their current footprint in the next four years. The Palestinians, for their part, will work to mobilize Arab and European governments against the scheme. If Israel proceeds with annexations, its diplomatic relations with Jordan and perhaps other Arab states could be endangered.

None of that matters to Mr. Trump or Mr. Netanyahu, who are preoccupied with short-term political survival. Mideast peace was an already distant prospect, but these cynical and self-seeking leaders have made it more so.