The Trump Plan Gives Security, and Takes It Away


A midst the gallons of ink that have been spilled on the Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, little has been dedicated to the security portions of the plan. Partially this is because the Trump administration’s vision upends some of the more high-profile aspects of the conflict — the division of territory, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Jewish communities in the West Bank — in marked ways from previous frameworks, drawing the most notice to these departures from past efforts. Partially it is because the security portion of the plan is so heavily weighted in Israel’s favor in ways that are unsurprising that there seems to be little upon which to comment.

However, much more focus is needed on the security issue in the Trump plan, not less. The Trump plan is indeed notable for how it treats Israeli security in unprecedented ways. But not only does it go further than previous American presidents or Israeli prime ministers envisioned in catering to Israeli security requests, it creates a new set of security problems that have never been contemplated before, significantly muddling the overall security picture.

The Trump plan is uncommonly generous in how it treats Israeli security dominance over a future Palestine. Not only is the Palestinian state demilitarized — a feature of previous plans for an Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status agreement — Israel retains the power to enter Palestinian territory without warning or necessary justification, unilaterally controls the crossings into and out of the Palestinian state, has an absolute veto over the goods that come in and go out as they necessarily transit through Israeli ports in Haifa and Ashdod, and even gets to determine how many Palestinian refugees return to the new Palestinian state. All of this is in addition to longstanding Israeli security demands with regard to control of the Jordan Valley and all airspace west of the Jordan River, and assuming the overall security responsibility for the future Palestine.

These elements of the plan are meant to give Israel the most ironclad guarantees possible that a Palestinian state will not become a security nightmare for Israelis, or a hostile neighbor that requires constant vigilance to guard against. The irony, however, is that other components of the plan place a security burden on Israel that is heavier than what it currently deals with or has contemplated in any end-of-conflict arrangement with the Palestinians.

For instance, in allowing Israel to annex territory not only in the western part of the West Bank, where the major settlement blocs lie, but also the entirety of the Jordan Valley in the eastern West Bank, the plan imposes a massively larger and more unwieldy border that is up to Israel to defend. The current route of the security barrier — which is unguarded in most stretches aside from sporadic controls — is 440 miles long, and largely in defensible terrain. The new border between Israel and Palestine under the Trump plan in the West Bank alone would be 850 miles long and contain tens of crossing points, and as an international border would have to be far less easily permeable than the current barrier. It would require a new and enormous investment of resources to secure, with the burden falling entirely on Israel given the extreme limitations the Trump plan places on any potential Palestinian security force.

The 15 Israeli enclaves that the Trump plan carves out in the middle of the Palestinian state would also have to be secured, as would the roads and security buffer zones that need to be created to link them to each other and to Israel. What this would precisely look like is impossible to say for certain, as having multiple ethnic extraterritorial enclaves inside of another state does not replicate any other territorial arrangement on the globe. The 15 Israeli enclaves contain just over 14,000 residents, and the security apparatus that will be required to protect them will be way out of proportion to their size. A good comparison may be the current situation in Hebron, where there are about 800 Jews living in a city with over 215,000 Palestinians, requiring multiple IDF battalions to protect them.

Finally, the entire territorial and security arrangement envisioned by the Trump plan relies on Israel’s border with Jordan remaining quiet and worry-free. But as the Jordanians and Israeli security officials have warned, completely severing the link between a Palestinian state and Jordan — which the Trump plan does by encircling the Palestinian state by Israel entirely — will place so much pressure on the Israeli-Jordanian relationship that it may lead to Jordanian abrogation of the 1994 peace treaty, adding yet another security problem for Israel that it does not currently worry about.

It is true that the Trump plan addresses many Israeli security concerns. It is equally true that it creates new ones and complicates existing ones. No discussion of the Trump plan and Israeli security can be complete without looking at both sides of this equation.

Michael Koplow is policy director at the Israel Policy Forum. His column appears monthly.

is Policy Director of the Israel Policy Forum.