The Political Science and Model UN club hosted a discussion event last Tuesday, Feb. 18, on President Trump’s recently proposed peace deal for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
William Paterson Political Science program director Dr. Stephen Shalom led the discussion, beginning with a presentation on the conflict’s history, and the specifics of the deal.
The presentation was deeply critical of President Trump’s plan, with Dr. Shalom expressing serious concerns about how much the plan favored Israel over the Palestinian National Authority.
One of the first points Dr. Shalom made examined how the Palestinian National Authority was absent from negotiations entirely and had almost nothing to do with the deal. The deal was effectively between Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump.
Dr. Shalom explained that Israel has acquired more and more Palestinian territory over time. When Israel was established as a state, it received 55% of the territory, despite Jewish people representing only one-third of the total population. This was already a disproportionate distribution of land. By the end of the 1967 Six Day War, “all of historic Palestine was now under Israeli control,” said Dr. Shalom.
In the peace deal, officially titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” Israel’s share of the territory is increased, and the already dwindling Palestinian share is further reduced. Dr. Shalom describes the proposed Palestinian state as “more a piece of swiss cheese than a state,” quoting Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
On the issue of Palestinian refugees, Dr. Shalom cited “Peace to Prosperity” as saying there shall be “no right of return” for any Palestinian refugee. “The deal doesn’t guarantee a better situation for a single refugee,” Dr. Shalom stated.
Furthermore, Dr. Shalom explained how Jerusalem, a city of great religious significance to both Israelis and Palestinians, is under full Israeli control in President Trump’s deal.
Both groups seek to establish their capital in Jerusalem. Previous solutions proposed giving Palestinians East Jerusalem as a capital. However, Dr. Shalom discussed the proposal in President Trump’s plan of giving Palestinians a “small, remote suburb of East Jerusalem.”
Dr. Shalom also offered harsh critiques of the plan’s approach to Palestinian sovereignty. Under the plan, Palestinians are prevented from enjoying a standing army, control of airspace, and several other necessities for any sovereign country.
“In all ways, the Palestinian state that this plan envisions is not sovereign,” Dr. Shalom said when discussing this issue.
The issue of Israeli building settlements in Palestinian territories was also a critical element of the discussion. Dr. Shalom pointed out that the settlements are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and therefore are illegal. However, “Peace to Prosperity” allows Israel to keep their settlements and opens up the possibility of annexation, which President Netanyahu promised to do.
“Israel can build as much as it wants,” Dr. Shalom said when describing the plan.
At the end of his presentation, Dr. Shalom concluded by stating: “This plan will lead to annexation, it will lead to apartheid, and whatever else this plan will do, it won’t lead to peace.”
Following the presentation, the audience asked Dr. Shalom several questions, including why a lopsided deal is being taken seriously, and what the future holds for the region.
Dr. Shalom believed that though the deal has very little support, it still has an impact on how people think about the conflict.
The final question of the event asked about the possibility of a two-state solution in the region.
Dr. Shalom answered: “there are many people who say ‘every time another settler moves to the West Bank, it makes it harder for a two-state solution.'”
Because there are such a large number of settlers, it would be challenging to move them in the event that a Palestinian state is established.
However, Dr. Shalom believes that this same issue makes a one-state solution equally difficult. In a one-state solution, settlers would “get to keep their stolen land,” Dr. shalom explained. This would make peace extremely difficult and is also not a satisfactory option.
“A lot depends on November,” Dr. Shalom said regarding the future of the conflict. Several Democratic presidential candidates have proposed withholding aid to Israel if it continues building settlements. Therefore, the outcome of the presidential election will determine the direction of US policy on the issue.