When is a Peace Plan not a Peace Plan?

When it’s Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

Lisa Van Dusen

January 29, 2020

In the old days — not the old days in Middle East terms, but the pre-post-truth old days when things were normal…like, 10 years ago — the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off was generally considered by invested observers to be a sort of holy prototype for conflict resolution. Its notorious intractability, epic and fine-print complications and the heartbreaking validity of persecution narratives on both sides made the Middle East Peace Process the global test case for dispute settlement.

As with so many other norms, values and givens whose inherent significance and organic relevance have been corrupted or at least superficially rebranded by Donald Trump as a disruptive change agent, the Middle East Peace Process has become, for public consumption, a joke.

(Continuity disclaimer: Last week, in my Hill Times column, I wrote that “The fact that interests with apparently infinite resources to spanner the spokes of democracy and fill the world with industrial-scale bullsh*t can’t siphon enough Bitcoin to hire a decent comedy writer speaks volumes about both the managerial competence and emotional intelligence of the assorted principals.” For the record, the particular joke that is Trump’s Middle East policy totally reinforces rather than dispels that argument).

The most obvious manifestation of that tactical diminishment is the Orwellian labeling of what was unveiled Tuesday as this president’s solution to the conflict a “peace plan.” It is not a peace plan. It is, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a diversion from his indictment hours earlier on corruption charges, a sweetheart lease on the West Bank, the doubling-down on a status quo he seems quite pleased with and a reward for his role in normalizing anti-democracy thuggery for an aspiring autocratic world order (or what I unfondly call KAOS…RIP Buck Henry) that values nothing more, at this point, than anti-democracy thuggery.

Indeed, the non-peace plan delivered Tuesday is so not a peace plan that it makes Bill Clinton’s failure on Middle East peace at Camp David II look like Jimmy Carter’s success at Camp David I, only, as with everything Trump, more so. The ludicrousness Trump is rationalizing on this file — telegraphed in the grafty real estate investment pitch delivered to everyone but the Palestinians in Bahrain last summer by Trump son-in-law and respected, Holbrooke-ian Middle East peace negotiator Jared Kushner — is so unserious that to describe the details here would be an insult to the human beings whose fates are at stake on both sides of the separation wall. But for a thumbnail sense, here are the very serious Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller writing for Politico: “In short, this is a plan that gives Israel everything it wants, concedes to Palestinians everything Israel does not care for, tries to buy off the Palestinians with the promise of $50 billion in assistance that will never see the light of day, and then calls it peace.”

Which brings us to the non-public significance of what Trump’s apparent ignorance and volatility have made plausible in the recent, ridiculous trajectory of the Middle East Peace Process.

The global trend line on the resolution of conflicts, especially intra-national conflicts involving asymmetrical minority/majority or other human rights and recognition dynamics — in Kashmir, in Myanmar, in northern Syria — has moved drastically away from diplomacy and negotiation to sometimes brutal, shock-and-awe coups de théâtre that dramatically alter the facts on the ground in favour of the more powerful party.

In narrative terms, this trend has been explained away by the so-called vacuum in American leadership represented by Trump’s corruption and ignorance. It’s not just a negative vacuum in American leadership, it’s a gift-that-keeps-on-giving asset to the degraders of democracy in general and American leadership in particular who comprise the aforementioned aspriring autocratic international order, including China, whose influence in so many of these datelines is turning its Belt and Road plan into an archipelago of injustice to satisfy Beijing’s policy of “stability” over freedom.

In practical, logistical terms, such outcomes have been made possible by the new weapons of cyberwarfare — notably hacking and surveillance — that have made kinetic oppression both obsolete and redundant and largely neutralized the fear of organized, armed insurgency and resistance. The whole point of a surveillance state — other than the social engineering features and perverse need for control — is to quash resistance before it starts.

The Palestinians, as it happens, currently reside in a surveillance non-state monitored by an occupying power whose expertise in hacking, tracking and surveillance innovations is now internationally renowned for its role in anti-democracy outcomes. That fact — and not Donald Trump’s vaunted ignorance and weaponized lunacy — has been the most significant change in the power dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians in the past decade.

It means a fellow anti-democracy asset like Benjamin Netanyahu — who will try to use this non-peace deal to rationalize a victory in his third electoral attempt to autocratically consolidate his grip on power — doesn’t have to worry about demographic time bombs or principle or human rights because an otherwise unsustainable status quo has been frozen by technology. He won’t have to worry about the moral ramifications of this course of action being litigated by voters because, if all goes to plan, not only will Palestinians not have democracy, Israelis won’t either.

For those of us who’ve supported a two-state solution or, in its absence, a one-state solution that secures the rights and representation of all Israeli citizens, who’ve worked with Israelis and Palestinians who want peace for themselves and their children, what Trump calls a peace plan isn’t just a joke. It’s a deeply cynical, unfunny one unworthy of the pain-defying, triumphantly human humour of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington. She was also communications director for the McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building (ICAN).