The President's Take

An Ill-named Peace Plan for Israel-Palestine

In his introduction to this month’s edition of CrisisWatch, our President Robert Malley reflects on the Trump administration's "ignominious vision" for Israeli-Palestinian peace and growing instability in the Sahel. He also marks the 48th birthday of our colleague and friend Michael Kovrig, who spent it behind the walls of a Chinese prison.

The wait was long, and not in the least worth it: in late January, the Trump administration finally released its three-years-in-the-making vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is an ignominious vision in which one side gets everything it covets and leaves to the other everything it disdains, a plan that would consolidate Israel’s occupation and provide Palestinians with a form of autonomy in a disjointed archipelago. Far from being a genuine effort to jump-start meaningful negotiations, the plan endeavours to fundamentally reshape the parameters of any possible settlement and lay the predicate for future unilateral Israeli actions.

Initial international reactions were muted, with various Arab and European governments compliantly echoing talking points penned by the U.S. administration. But – whether because the full scope of the indignities that the plan would inflict on the Palestinians became clear or because the weight of public backlash became excessive – that soon changed, and statements of rejection have begun to pour in. So much the better, and not just because of the harm the plan does to the possibility of any fair and viable Israeli-Palestinian peace. International acquiescence in a plan that would reward a project of settlement and annexation would do something more: as Aaron Miller and I argue elsewhere, it would reinforce the Trump administration’s apparently growing confidence that it can freely break with international laws and norms, and do so without consequence.

Like last month, the focus on the Middle East overshadowed other important trends. As illustrated in this iteration of CrisisWatch, the most significant of these is perhaps the growing instability in the Sahel – with jihadist violence spreading in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron organised a summit with his Sahelian counterparts; together, they agreed to boost military cooperation against jihadists, help ensure that regional states restore their presence in under-served areas of their respective countries, and bolster development assistance. All of this makes sense as long as these steps are accompanied by political measures – notably, seriously considering dialogue with insurgent groups, many of which are motivated by deep-seated communal grievances, as well as curbing some states’ tendency to subcontract the fight to self-defence militias that often commit abuses and promote their parochial interests under the banner of counter-terrorism. My colleagues have written extensively on this issue over the past several months (for example, here and here) and it no doubt will loom large throughout the year.

Our colleague and friend Michael Kovrig just marked his 48th birthday behind the walls of a Chinese prison. Over 400 days have passed since he was arbitrarily arrested. We hope that all of you will continue to press Beijing to immediately release him. Until then, each day that goes by is a stain on China’s reputation, an injustice to Michael and an act of cruelty to his family and loved ones.