In an in-depth analysis of the last three decades of attempts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict—informed in part by their own first-hand involvement during the George W. Bush administration—Douglas Feith and Lewis Libby explain why these efforts failed, often at significant cost of human life. Repeatedly, Palestinian leaders were rewarded for rejecting offers of territory, as each Israeli or American proposal was followed by a more generous one. The plan set forward by the Trump administration, however, deviates from that pattern:
An innovative feature [of the new U.S. plan] is the warning to the Palestinians that steadfast rejectionism will not give them victory, but further erode their position. In other words, time is not on their side, and it is not necessarily even neutral.
That idea is not just a theme of the peace plan; it is a message of the series of policy moves—on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank settlements—that preceded the plan. Administration officials explained those moves as recognition of reality. They said, in effect, that they were dropping pretenses. Jerusalem has all along been Israel’s capital and the U.S. government will no longer ignore reality and pretend otherwise. The U.S. government will no longer view the Golan, for 50 years under Israeli control, as part of Syria. And it will no longer deny the reality or legitimacy of Israeli West Bank settlements and claim that the West Bank is “occupied territory” where Jews are not allowed to live.
The Trump team is saying that reality would be different now if all of Israel’s neighbors had made peace years ago, but some did not. New U.S. policies will no longer insulate Palestinians from the costs they incur by refusing to end the conflict. [President] Trump has thus set aside what had been a general principle of U.S. policy since 1967, that changes in the status of the West Bank should be made only through peace negotiations. Negotiated change, of course, would be preferable, but the Palestinians are being warned that, if they refuse to negotiate reasonably, Israel can improve its position, with U.S. backing
No one should hold his breath waiting for the Trump plan to produce a peace deal. Its principal themes, however, may have lasting influence for the good.