President Donald Trump talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the Oval Office of the White House, Jan 27, 2020.

Ron Stockton, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, has little faith in President Trump’s new Middle East plan.

Featured photo courtesy of Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced his long-awaited Middle East peace plan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side. The Jewish News asked Ron Stockton, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who teaches classes on the conflict, for some insight into the plan.

One of your research and teaching areas is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can you provide some background on recent peace initiatives?

I have followed all these various plans over the decades and have watched how they evolved. The great breakthrough was the [1993] Oslo Accords, when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized and acknowledged each other’s right to exist. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed this agreement with President Bill Clinton as their witness. This was a huge deal because before this agreement, the PLO was considered a terror organization.

When Rabin issued Oslo 2, which included a map of all the territories that would be included in the future Palestinian state, it was turned over to the Palestinians. And that is when he was assassinated, because the whole idea that he was conceding any territory was too much for the [Israeli] extremists and they killed him. In 2000, the last effort of this peace plan was called the Taba Summit and it took place in Taba, Egypt, where Israelis and Palestinians negotiated without any role from the Americans. The two leaders in charge were Arafat of the PLO and former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. From these meetings, the negotiators were very creative and came up with a draft of principles, but then Ariel Sharon was elected as Israeli Prime Minister and all plans were then called off. Since then, it has all gone downhill.

You had a chance to look over the new plan. What are some of the biggest takeaways from it?

I would say that this so-called “peace plan” is not truly a peace plan, but rather a bunch of Bibi talking points. As I look at what they have written down here, these are just the arguments of the Likud mindset. This whole idea that they are going to create a Palestinian state is kind of a joke. It’s not a “Palestinian state,” but rather a subject entity with all controls designated to the Israelis. The Palestinian state will be severely fragmented.

“The Triangle,” which are a group of Arab towns that are [located] in Israel, are now going to be transferred to the Palestinians. The Israelis will also have the power of the veto for any refugees who try and enter the Palestinian state, which will never work because the Palestinians will never accept that clause. The Palestinian textbooks now must be changed because they cannot contain anti-Israeli statements — which, to be honest, “anti-Israeli” is defined very loosely. Hamas will also have to be eliminated, and that’s something that is never going to happen. Also, Israel is not obligated to fulfill any of its agreements until the Palestinians complete all their agreements, which is just an excuse to do nothing. This is a position that Netanyahu has taken in the past. These are not sincere efforts.

President Trump’s peace plan includes two detailed maps of what a two-state solution could look like. Screenshots from WhiteHouse.gov via JTA

What have previous administrations focused on that this peace plan is lacking?

The main difference between this plan and previous administrations is that previous administrations actually dealt with and focused on fundamental issues. They understood that both Palestinians and Israelis had legitimate concerns and wanted to attempt to find a solution to these concerns. In previous administrations, both Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to mutual modifications and land swaps to the drawn-out Palestinian state. Even Ehud Olmert [Israeli Prime Minister from 2006-09], who was a Likudist, took that position.

You also need to have someone making sure that the holy sites and the Old City [are] protected from extremists, because [they’re] often a target for violence. The topic surrounding refugees must also have some revisions, because right now Israel can veto who returns to the country. They can simply say “no” to someone because they hold an “anti-Israeli” view, which in turn is any Palestinian.

However, the most important takeaway — and the real issue at hand — is whether we can prevent another war. The last time there was an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a resistance to the occupation, the Second Intifada, began and left 4,000 people dead. There is no doubt that another uprising is going to occur. I believe that this proposal is making the next war inevitable.

In your opinion, do you think this plan can bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

It’s not a peace talk or a peace proposal, because it’s never going to produce anything. You had President Trump, Netanyahu and Benny Gantz all there, but who wasn’t included? Palestinians. There are no Arab partners, no Palestinian partners, and it’s totally just unrealistic. And now, the Palestinians have stopped cooperating altogether and have already come out against the peace plan.

This is similar to the May 17 Agreement. When the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982, they were trying to work out an agreement with right-wing Lebanese leaders. Abba Eban, the famous Israeli Diplomat, was the negotiator. [The agreement] provided that Lebanon would be a security ally, and that the Syrian army that was there at the time would be pushed out. Abba Eban later said that they sat in a room, spoke in French, drank white wine and signed an agreement that had no support outside of that room. That right there is pretty much what you’re seeing here. You have an agreement that only people at that press conference support. There’s no effort to bring the Palestinians to this agreement.

We are amid President Trump’s impeachment trial, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s indictment and Israel’s looming third election. What is your reaction to the timing of the unveiling of the plan?

The timing of this is highly ironic. President Trump is amid his impeachment trial, Netanyahu has been charged in court with corruption and they are hanging on to one another in desperation. The normal rule is you don’t do anything that is going to affect political outcomes. Trump is really tied to Netanyahu and really wants him to be re-elected, and wants to throw him a bone.

This plan gives Netanyahu the Jordan Valley and big chunks of the West Bank. There is no doubt that this is an effort to help Netanyahu.

You teach a course called Middle East Politics, where you focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What are your methods to teaching your students about this?

I’ve been teaching at the University of Michigan-Dearborn since 1973. I started this course in 1978, when the Israelis first invaded Lebanon, with one of my colleagues who was a specialist in Lebanon. There was nothing in our whole university’s curriculum that discussed this matter.

I developed some rules that I give to my students when they begin my course. I tell students that you have to assume that you don’t understand this conflict. You must assume that all the things you have picked up from your parents or your neighborhood is incomplete or wrong. I begin by telling them [the] things that Israelis believe in their hearts are true, and then tell them what Palestinians think in their hearts are true. You must humanize everything. I focus on documents and tell them that their job is not to argue with someone but to understand their position so well that you can explain it to their satisfaction. Until you can do that, you don’t know if you disagree with them or not.

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