As an organization dedicated to working for true justice and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis, emphasizing political and human rights for Palestinians, the Palestine Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF/PIN) condemns virtually every aspect of the US plan for resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict issued by President Trump on January 28, 2020.
This plan should be of paramount interest to members of the Episcopal Church, for the Church has lent ardent support to the parish, educational, healthcare, and hospitality ministries of the Diocese of Jerusalem for many years. The many Palestinian Christians who are served by these ministries will be severely and adversely affected by this plan. Our baptismal covenant to seek justice for all peoples compels us to speak out on what is at stake.
Although subtitled A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, the plan does none of this. As conceived, it does not bring peace or freedom, or especially any kind of justice, to Palestinians. It violates international law, and violates Palestinian political and human rights. Neither, in the long term, we believe, will it bring peace to Israelis.
Although it is intended as such, this plan is not a peace agreement or even a reasonably framed blueprint for a peace agreement: Palestinians themselves have had no say in its design, and there has been no negotiation between sides. The plan is rather a diktat imposed unilaterally by the United States on behalf of Israel to further Israel’s illegal consolidation of permanent control over all the territory of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
The plan essentially puts a seal of official US endorsement and recognition on the status quo, which has existed since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967. As one Palestinian has aptly noted, this simply “normalizes our oppression.” The borders and restrictions imposed are not new, only being drawn with bolder lines on maps.
The plan puts a further seal of approval on unilateral diplomatic steps already taken by the Trump Administration, including its official recognition in May 2018 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and its declaration in late 2019, in contravention of all international law, that Israeli settlements in occupied territories do not conflict with this international law.
Major provisions of the plan:
- It calls for establishment of a Palestinian state, but this is limited to a small area of disconnected land segments, together constituting far less than one-quarter of the territory of Palestine-Israel. As depicted on a “conceptual map” accompanying the plan, the area designated for the Palestinian state is much smaller than the West Bank, which itself constitutes only 22 percent of Palestine-Israel
- Palestinian state sovereignty would be limited: Palestinians would have “all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel,” meaning that Israel should retain “certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian areas” that have to do with ensuring Israeli security
- This would give Israel virtual total control over all governance in the Palestinian state
- The state would be demilitarized, with no means of self-defense
- The state would be surrounded on all sides by sovereign Israeli territory. Israel is given sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, which would enclose the Palestinian state on the east, as it is similarly surrounded on all other sides by Israeli territory
- The state would be broken up into multiple disconnected segments, making it into an archipelago of small areas, each surrounded by Israeli-controlled territory. This includes
- Israeli “enclaves” where existing Israeli settlements would remain, inside the Palestinian state’s area; Israelis living there would retain Israeli citizenship
- criss-crossing Israeli-controlled roads linking these enclaves
- tunnels and underpasses where Palestinian roads would link Palestinian towns
- Palestinian-Israelis living in the “Triangle” area of east-central Israel might lose their Israeli citizenship, becoming disconnected citizens of the Palestinian state
- Israel would maintain sovereignty over virtually all of Jerusalem, allowing the Palestinian state to establish a capital on the periphery of the city, east of the Separation Wall
- Genuine Palestinian sovereignty over this so-called capital would be virtually non-existent
- Most Jerusalem Palestinians, living west of the Wall, would be given the choice of becoming citizens of either Israel or the Palestinian state, or maintaining their present status as “residents” but not citizens of Israel
- The plan has little meaningful provision for Gaza, laying responsibility for Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation entirely at the feet of the Palestinians themselves and particularly Hamas
- There is barely any mention of Israel’s 13-year blockade of Gaza, and no mention at all of Israel’s three massive air and ground assaults on the territory between 2008 and 2014, which killed thousands and inflicted massive destruction on residential and commercial properties
- A tunnel is to connect Gaza to the southern West Bank
- As part of territorial “swaps” envisioned to expand the territory of the Palestinian state, the plan designates two small, disconnected areas south of Gaza along the border with Egypt as Palestinian industrial and agricultural zones
- There is no provision for normal entry to and exit from Gaza by land, except through the envisioned tunnel to the West Bank
- Palestinian refugees are treated in the plan not as a population deserving any rights, but as a potential security problem for Israel: no refugees will be allowed to return to Israeli territory, and those wishing to move to the Palestinian state will be vetted as possible security risks
As many observers—including several Israeli commentators—have noted, this is a de jure apartheid plan. Although it allows some Palestinians to opt for Israeli citizenship, for the most part it envisions officially separating the intertwined Jewish and Palestinian populations along ethnic/religious lines. Far from connecting geographic areas and populations, the supposedly connecting roads, tunnels, and bridges separate rather than unite, and this is deliberate.
Significantly, the plan puts a physical seal on Israel’s recent adoption of a law that officially renders it a “Jewish state.” The Israeli parliament enacted the “nation state law” in July 2018, declaring Israel to be “the national home of the Jewish people” and explicitly asserting the exclusionary claim that “the right to exercise self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” This apartheid provision would clearly extend to the areas Israel will annex under the Trump plan.
It is important to keep in mind a little-noted reality: that the number of Palestinians living under Israeli control in Israel and the occupied territories equals, and may slightly exceed, the number of Israeli Jews; there are approximately seven million Israeli Jews and also seven million Palestinians, including citizens of Israel and non-citizen inhabitants of the occupied territories. In the relatively small geographical area of Palestine-Israel, keeping these numbers of people separated by religion and ethnicity will necessarily require stringent controls and restrictions on the subordinate population, the Palestinians.
This plan is a classic example of colonialist planning and domination, designed with the participation only of parties that have the power to implement it. Israel plans to declare the annexation of West Bank territory very soon, and new Israeli settlements are being built at a rapid pace. Neither Palestinians nor anyone else has the power to stop any of this. Although the plan is being broadly condemned, not least by the Palestinian leadership that was excluded from its conception, only those with no power to undo it are objecting.
Kathleen Christison, who authored this statement on behalf of EPF PIN, is a member of the EPF/PIN Steering Committee, and the author of several books on the Palestine situation. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.