President Trump has promised “the greatest” peace plan ever to settle what he concedes is the toughest negotiation of all: Peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The “Trump Peace Plan,” drafted by a team led by Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, is the most widely discussed peace proposal not yet made. It should stay that way. The administration should avoid adding another peace plan to the list of failed U.S. efforts. It should work instead on improving Palestinian and Israeli security and well-being; its peace initiative should focus on Saudi Arabia, the Muslim State most likely to make peace with Israel.
Though still secret, the Trump plan has received extensive commentary. The Saudis have said they like the plan, but their king supports the Palestinian stance. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority views it as biased and “dead on arrival.” “Senior U.S. officials” say they have not drafted a “Bibi” (pro-Israel) Plan and that both sides will dislike parts of it, which is certainly true. Dennis Ross has praised the effort as “serious” in that Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt consulted him and “know the issues”; but Mr. Ross also knows the issues and failed repeatedly.
Mr. Kushner said on June 24 that the plan will be published “soon.” Perhaps so. But the administration (wisely) seems in no hurry. Perhaps the Trump team knows its plan is doing as well as it will ever do and that, once published, it is doomed? The U.S. team will be busy for months. Israel will do its best to take the plan seriously, but its governing coalition has little flexibility to make significant concessions. The Palestinians are less able to negotiate peace today than ever. Two (of 5) million are in Gaza where Hamas openly advocates Israel’s destruction.
Mr. Abbas may meet with U.S. emissaries, but moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, while long overdue, made negotiating with him much more difficult. Very likely, after the usual frenetic activity, the negotiation will collapse: Security and economic cooperation will decrease; violence will increase; and the plan will take its place in the dustbin of Middle East diplomacy.
The history of such plans is sobering: Count Bernadotte (1948) (plan ignored and count assassinated); Jarring Plan (1967-71) (failed and led to 1973 War); Allon Plan (1967) (rejected by Jordan and followed by Israeli settlement policy); Rogers Plan (1967) (failed and followed by war of attrition); Reagan Plan (1982) (no progress); Clinton Parameters (2000) (failed triggering second intifada); George W. Bush Road Map for Peace (2003) (two-year solution went nowhere); Franco-Italian-Spanish Peace Plan (2006) (barely noticed) Kerry Plan (2012) (effort to agree on “principles” in nine months collapsed).
These initiatives failed, not for lack of effort or knowledge of the issues, but because the parties were not ready for the solutions proposed. Peace between Egypt and Israel came because Anwar Sadat showed he was ready by going to Jerusalem, and Menachim Begin made clear he would not allow Mr. Sadat to fail. Peace with Jordan came after the Madrid Conference established a separate track within which Jordan and Israel negotiated directly. In both situations, the parties were able to set aside the Palestinian issue.
The Trump team should reconsider pushing a process that, absent the parties’ readiness, will emphasize their differences. They should instead emphasize the parties’ common interests by returning to the level of security cooperation that existed under Gen. Keith Dayton, and by proposing a plan that dramatically increases economic development as proposed in a Rand report by creating new towns along a much-needed railway. Improving life for Palestinians on the West Bank will heighten the horror being inflicted on the Palestinian people in Gaza.
As for advancing peace, the Trump team should focus on Saudi Arabia. Informal relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have improved. Both states realize they have a common interest in combatting Iranian aggression. To pursue a formal peace with Israel, however, the Saudis would need the political cover both Egypt and Jordan required — a process that seeks peace between Israel and the Palestinians while also allowing bilateral negotiations. The only plan on which such a negotiation could be based is the Saudi Initiative, approved by the Arab League, with broad outlines that are a viable basis for discussions.
No effort to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians could succeed under present circumstances. But the Saudis may be willing to join in trying to advance their own initiative while at the same time negotiating a separate peace with Israel. Instead of another peace plan that further undermines Israel/Palestinian relations, the Trump team should lead an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, while also potentially extending Israel’s acceptance in the Muslim world.
• Abraham D. Sofaer is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.