Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’: How Might Canada Respond?

The lack of consideration for the Palestinian dilemma, as seen in Trump’s plan, is an oversight that Canada cannot ignore, and should be compelled to articulate.

by Jun 10, 2020

The recent unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s proposal for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question comes at a critical juncture in Canadian foreign policy, and provides an opportunity to solidify a shift in the federal government’s stance.

Tracing a straight line through Canadian policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict isn’t easy. The Trudeau government broke with its Conservative predecessor in 2019, voting in favour of a United Nations General Assembly resolution on the Palestinian right to self-determination. While official policy has historically rejected unilateral approaches to resolution, the Harper government, in 2011, set in motion a break with this consensus. In addition to voting against the annual resolution on Palestinian self-determination, John Baird, Harper’s foreign minister, was critical of the Palestinian Authority’s 2012 appeal for UN status as a non-member observer state. He labelled the decision an “utterly regrettable decision” to “abandon policy and principle”. This was emblematic of a period where Canada, going against the grain, positioned itself as an unwavering advocate of Israeli interests – in 2011, all but two of the 16 resolutions on Israeli-Palestinian conflict were voted against. This was more or less in lockstep with the United States; however, recent events have signalled a divergence, and one that Canada should embrace.

Official Canadian policy maintains a commitment to the recognition of self-determination, and specifically the “creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement”. This appears starkly at odds with the Trump administration’s stance – reiterated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – that Israeli’s contentious construction of settlements is not, “per se”, incompatible with international law. The Canadian government has previously asserted that the settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a “serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace”.

For context, the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV) outlines humanitarian protections for civilians in war zones and occupied territory. The prescriptions around deportations, transfers, and obligations on occupying powers in Articles 47-78 appear to be relevant. Accordingly, in a 2004 advisory opinion the International Court of Justice (ICJ) overwhelmingly concluded that Israeli settlements contravened international law, rebuking earlier Israeli arguments that the absence of a state of war absolved them of certain requirements. The unlawfulness of Israeli conduct is captured clearly in Article 49: “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”, nor are they permitted to carry out “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”.  It is imperative that Canada upholds the principles of international law regardless of political convenience. Compromise should not consist of accepting a proposal that turns a blind eye to the international legal order.

While the 180-page Trump plan does offer a concrete vision of the territorial, economic and political provisions it sees as conducive to peace, it contains fundamental flaws that Canada should not hesitate to highlight. The scope of the proposal isn’t revolutionary – it’s more of a crystallization of the status quo with some loose ends tied up. Palestinians would have to initially accept partial sovereignty over their future state, and permanently concede territory occupied by Israeli settlements. Trump’s primary carrot for the Palestinian side is a $50 billion investment fund assembled by Arab neighbours, seeking to soften cultural and political blows with economic incentives.

Nonetheless, the plan marks a sharp turn from 60 years of bipartisan emphasis on a mixture of concessions and land swaps, as the Trump administration has instead determined many hotly contested issues – such as the status of Jerusalem – as closed cases from the outset.  The political context in which this was presented, from Netanyahu’s corruption indictments and impending election campaign to Trump’s impeachment trial, colours the legitimacy of a plan assembled with no Palestinian input – diplomatic ties between the US and Palestine have been thoroughly severed. The Trump administration has very explicitly stated that it stands firmly behind Israel, and has no intention of being a neutral arbiter. Given that, it becomes difficult to envision the administration rallying international actors behind its methodology, as well as engaging Palestinian leaders in any substantive dialogue.

Canada need not totally decry the US plan. After all, setting in motion a peace process of some variant is certainly better than nothing. That being said, the Trudeau government would be right to express strong reservations to Trump’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan, particularly with regard to the manner in which it was formulated, and the domestic political conditions persisting in both the US and Israel. As Micah Goodman wrote in the New York Times, the plan should be reconfigured to focus on “transforming the character” of the debate – addressing the Palestinian demands for both independence and a right of return, while also acknowledging the inherent Israeli tension between guaranteeing security and ending the occupation. The Trump plan misses this central paradigm. Put succinctly, “the Palestinians have always refused a deal in which they would have to relinquish core elements of their national identity as the price for independence”, while Israelis “don’t want to rule over the Palestinian people, but on the other hand, don’t want to live under the threat of rockets from a Palestinian state.”

The observable lack of consideration for the Palestinian dilemma, as seen in Trump’s plan, is an oversight that Canada cannot ignore, and should be compelled to articulate. The EU has already criticized the United States’ departure from internationally accepted parameters, and noted that Israeli annexation of territories outlined by the plan would be inconsistent with international law. If an enduring peace is to be achieved, politicians cannot be satisfied with codifying one-sided aspirations, regardless of how well it serves them in the court of public opinion. Canada and other conscious partners should strive to play a role in reinvigorating a peace process with meaningful, shared progress as its lifeblood – not zero-sum games and self-congratulatory photo-ops.


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Anders Bretsen is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, pursuing a specialist degree in Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs, with a minor in European Union studies.