Trump's Peace Plan Must Guarantee A Two States Solution, or it'll be Dead on Arrival | Opinion

US President Donald Trump is pictured during a bilateral meeting with Israel's Prime Minister on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, eastern Switzerland, on January 25, 2018. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Jared Kushner was traversing the Middle East last week "to build momentum" for the Trump Mideast peace plan. For it not to be dead on arrival, the plan's clearly stated goal must be, "two states for two peoples," which, a January survey of Israelis and Palestinians found, "remains by far, the most preferred solution by the two publics."

Moreover, presenting it now, before Israel's April 9 elections, would help the administration attain its "deal of the century"—especially following the indictment announcement regarding Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It would also advance another American foreign policy objective: confronting Iran.

The plan has to be balanced and address both sides' long-term interests: Israel's, to be the nation-state of the Jewish people with a clear Jewish majority and core democratic values within secure and recognized boundaries; the Palestinians', to fulfill their self-determination by ending the half-century occupation.

And to meet both sides' needs, it must encompass the following elements: 1) a viable and democratic Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with Israel, based on the 1967 borders with equitable territorial swaps; 2) security cooperation between Israel and a demilitarized Palestine with mutual guarantees; 3) compensation and practical rehabilitation arrangements for Palestinian refugees including termination of the refugee status; 4) Jerusalem serving as Israel's capital and the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as Palestine's, with a special regime over the Old City; 5) free access to and worship in the holy places; 6) finality of mutual claims.

The vision this package reflects is not new. The Obama administration, via Secretary of State Kerry's 2013-14 negotiations, and George W. Bush's 2002 "Road Map" presented similar concepts. Yet these initiatives failed, even though there is wide agreement that the two-state vision articulated in the Clinton Parameters in December 2000 is the only realistic solution.

How can Trump's Mideast team succeed where predecessors failed? By re-designing the process and framework.

This entails discarding the bilateral negotiation-exclusive paradigm; abandoning the principle that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed"; encouraging, even incentivizing, both sides to take constructive independent steps toward disengaging from one another, thereby creating a reality of two states, and advancing gradually towards delineating a border between two distinct national entities.

Any Israeli-Palestinian deal must create a political horizon for the entire Palestinian society—including the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, whose humanitarian crisis must be alleviated through a rehabilitation program. But this must happen within the two-states context. Concessions to Hamas outside it would strengthen militant Palestinian factions by demonstrating that violent tactics produce results for Palestinians. Moreover, a Gaza arrangement has to involve the Palestinian Authority and require its reconciliation with Hamas, subordinate to the PA, and disarmed.

While Trump's Mideast team works on this bilateral track, it should coordinate a multilateral regional approach within the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Lamentably, the US and Israel have virtually ignored this Initiative, even though it offers Washington a path toward a two-state solution and Israel a vehicle for normalization with the Arab/Muslim world. The US and Israel should publicly accept the Initiative, with reservations.

"You can't achieve stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran," Secretary of State Pompeo declared at January's Warsaw Middle East Conference.

To effectively confront Iran, a regional coalition of relatively moderate Sunni regimes, headed by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with tacit participation of Israel, must be created. The US should lead this effort, but its drastically diminished influence – caused in part by Trump's abrupt Syria withdrawal announcement—undercuts its leadership capacity. Arab leaders cannot, because their peoples will not tolerate cooperation with Israel unless it enters a credible process aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until this process is underway, forming a coalition is not possible.

Thus, the sooner the US launches its peace plan—the sooner America's influence in the Middle East increases and Iran's ambitions are curtailed.

Netanyahu's abrupt December call to hold elections early provides another reason why Trump's Mideast team should present its plan now.

Israel faces an existential decision: continue on its path towards one bi-national state, which can either be Jewish or democratic – but not both, or draw its borders so that it disengages from the Palestinians, leading to two states. Nearly 60 per cent of Israelis would choose the latter, according to another new poll. Nevertheless, many in Israel's right-wing governing coalition, representing a minority in Israel's parliament (Knesset,) oppose two-states.

Israel's election offers Trump's Mideast team an opportunity, enhanced by the creation of a merged center-left party which is more amenable to a two-state solution. It has surged ahead of Netanyahu's party in the polls and given a second boost by the indictment announcement. If Trump's team presents a balanced plan now, it would become the key policy issue in the election. If it offers Israelis a path to a secure, Jewish, democratic state, a strong majority would support it, and vote accordingly.

A balanced plan would also generate political shifts in Palestinian society increasing support, as evidenced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's statement last month that dialogue with the Trump administration could be re-opened if it offers an evenhanded plan.

We acknowledge that the likelihood for real progress in the near term is slim. Yet we believe our step-by-step approach is realistic and stands a chance of succeeding. If it does, it would make Israel the Jewish democracy it set out to be and provide freedom and statehood for the Palestinians.

If it doesn't, there is real value in presenting a plan now that offers hope to both peoples and in leading a gradual process that enables them to progress toward a two-states reality. The effort alone would restore America's influence in the Middle East and international community; strengthen Washington's ties with Sunni states; enable a coalition of regional moderates to constrain Iran, and preserve the two-state solution.

Even if this does not produce Trump's "deal of the century" this year, it would become the central pillar of future progress, much like the Clinton Parameters.

Ami Ayalon is former director of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet. Gilead Sher, former Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Barak and senior Israeli peace negotiator, heads Israel's Institute for National Security Studies' Center for Applied Negotiations. Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel. They are co-founders of the Israeli NGO Blue White Future.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.​​​​​