On January 28, 2020 , the Trump Administration revealed its long-awaited Middle East Peace Plan. It’s central feature is Israel’s annexing of prime Palestinian territory currently occupied by Israeli settlers:
It would see Israel annex large swathes of the most fertile Palestinian land and gives complete security control of the West Bank to Israel in any future “state”.
Predictably, the Palestinians rejected the Trump Plan.
In doing so, they once again confirmed they are fighting the last war.
WHY TAKE RISKS?
All nations strive to keep potentially hostile neighbors weaker than themselves.
1. England strives to avoid a united continental Europe;
2. America since 1900 has fought two world wars and a cold war to prevent a single power from dominating the Eurasian landmass; and
3. Japan doesn’t want the challenge a unified Korea presents.
Israel is no different.
A strong, embittered Palestinian state presents substantial risk to Israel. Therefore, Israel’s best geopolitical outcome is the status quo: an interminably divided weak Palestine.
LEVERAGE MAKES KINGS
Deals get done when each side’s worst outcome risk reaches equilibrium. For example, settlement is reached in litigation when the defendant’s risk of a worst-day trial award equally balances the plaintiff’s risk of the same. To reach that worst-day equilibrium each side builds its case (ie: leverage) to force the other side to agree.
Arab Palestine is a weak proto-state. It has never on its own had the ability to force Israel to bargain on terms it can accept.
Instead, its historical bargaining leverage came from its Arab allies: Egypt, Jordan, Syria (sort of), and Saudi Arabia. War with them, and its threat, kept Israel at the negotiating table. Deals that Palestine should have accepted were the result.
THE EMPTY HAND
In recent years Israel has expanded its territory by building Jewish settlements on Palestinian-claimed land at an accelerating rate. This acceleration reflects the changing power structure of the Middle East: Iraq’s 2003 fall has allowed Shiite, Persian Iran to rise as a dominant Mideast power.
Iran’s rise has forced its Arab, Sunni rivals (Egypt et al.) to try to contain it (and contain a similarly rising non-Arab Turkey).
Given the relative geopolitical weakness of the Sunni Arab states, they have slowly buried their differences with and made an ally of Israel (a Mideast technical and military superpower). Their fear of a religiously hostile Iran has trumped their ethnic affinity for Palestine.
Palestine’s bargaining leverage with Israel has been the first geopolitical casualty of the new Middle East (hence the settlements and tough barganing). As the rise of Iran and Turkey are long-term trends, Palestinian leverage weakness will continue indefinitely. The Palestinians will not see a better offer for decades.
They should take the Trump Deal.
1. Israel does not want a unified, strong Palestine.
2. To reach a peace agreement, Palestine must force Israel to accept terms Palestine can live with.
3. The rise of Turkey and Iran has turned Palestine’s former Arab allies into Israel’s allies.
4. Without the backing of its former Arab allies, Palestine has no bargaining leverage over Israel.
5. Absent that leverage Israel will continue annex more Palestinian territory through settlements, further weakening Palestinian bargaining position.
6. As the rise of Iran and Turkey are long-term trends, Palestine’s bargaining position will continue to get worse. They should take the Trump deal.