Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will not bring peace – the US and Israel know this | Jonathan Cook | THE NATIONAL | 29 Jan 2020
The proposal deliberately includes a host of unrealisable preconditions before what remains of Palestine can be recognised
Much of Donald Trump’s long-trailed “deal of the century” came as no surprise. Over the past 18 months, Israeli officials had leaked many of its details. The so-called “Vision for Peace” unveiled on Tuesday simply confirmed that the US government has publicly adopted the long-running consensus in Israel: that it is entitled to keep permanently the swaths of territory it seized illegally over the past half-century that deny the Palestinians any hope of a state.
The White House has discarded the traditional US pose as an “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders were not invited to the ceremony, and would not have come had they been. This was a deal designed in Tel Aviv more than in Washington – and its point was to ensure there would be no Palestinian partner.
Importantly for Israel, it will get Washington’s permission to annex all of its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. Israel will continue to have military control over the entire West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to bring just such an annexation plan before his cabinet as soon as possible. It will doubtless provide the central plank in his efforts to win a hotly contested general election due on March 2.
The Trump deal also approves Israel’s existing annexation of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will be expected to pretend that a West Bank village outside the city is their capital of “Al Quds”. There are incendiary indications that Israel will be allowed to forcibly divide the Al Aqsa mosque compound, as has occurred in Hebron.
Further, the Trump administration appears to be considering giving a green light to the Israeli right’s long-held hopes of redrawing the current borders in such a way as to transfer potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians currently living in Israel as citizens into the West Bank. That would almost certainly amount to a war crime.
The plan envisages no right of return, and it seems the Arab world will be expected to foot the bill for compensating millions of Palestinian refugees.
A US map handed out on Tuesday showed Palestinian enclaves connected by a warren of bridges and tunnels, including one between the West Bank and Gaza. The only leavening accorded to the Palestinians are US pledges to strengthen their economy. Given the Palestinians’ parlous finances after decades of resource theft by Israel, that is not much of a promise.
All of this has been dressed up as a “realistic two-state” solution, offering the Palestinians nearly 70 per cent of the occupied territories – which in turn comprise 22 per cent of their original homeland. Put another way, the Palestinians are being required to accept a state on 15 per cent of historic Palestine after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.
Like all one-time deals, this patchwork “state” – lacking an army, and where Israel controls its security, borders the shore and airspace – has an expiry date. It needs to be accepted within four years. Otherwise, Israel will have a free hand to start plundering yet more Palestinian territory. But the truth is that neither Israel nor the US expects or wants the Palestinians to play ball.
That is why the plan includes – as well as annexation of the settlements – a host of unrealisable preconditions before what remains of Palestine can be recognised: the Palestinian factions must disarm, with Hamas dismantled; the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas must strip the families of political prisoners of their stipends; and the Palestinian territories must be reinvented as the Middle East’s Switzerland, a flourishing democracy and open society, all while under Israeli occupation.
Instead, the Trump plan kills the charade that the 26-year-old Oslo process aimed for anything other than Palestinian capitulation. It fully aligns the US with Israeli efforts – pursued by all its main political parties over many decades – to lay the groundwork for permanent apartheid in the occupied territories.
Mr Trump invited both Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, and his chief political rival, former general Benny Gantz, for the launch. Both were keen to express their unbridled support. Between them, they represent four-fifths of Israel’s parliament. The chief battleground in the March election will be which one can claim to be better placed to implement the plan and thereby deal a death blow to Palestinian dreams of statehood.
On the Israeli right, there were voices of dissent. Settler groups described the plan as “far from perfect” – a view almost certainly shared privately by Mr Netanyahu. Israel’s extreme right objects to any talk of Palestinian statehood, however illusory. Nonetheless, Mr Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition will happily seize the goodies offered by the Trump administration. Meanwhile the plan’s inevitable rejection by the Palestinian leadership will serve down the road as justification for Israel to grab yet more land.
There are other, more immediate bonuses from the “deal of the century”.
By allowing Israel to keep its ill-gotten gains from its 1967 conquest of Palestinian territories, Washington has officially endorsed one of the modern era’s great colonial aggressions. Mr Trump benefits personally, too. This will provide a distraction from his impeachment hearings as well as offering a potent bribe to his Israel-obsessed evangelical base and major funders such as US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in the run-up to a presidential election.
And the US president is coming to the aid of a useful political ally. Mr Netanyahu hopes this boost from the White House will propel his ultra-nationalist coalition into power in March, and cow the Israeli courts as they weigh criminal charges against him. How he plans to extract personal gains from the Trump plan were evident on Tuesday. He scolded Israel’s attorney-general over the filing of the corruption indictments, claiming a “historic moment” for the state of Israel was being endangered.
Meanwhile, Mr Abbas greeted the plan with “a thousand nos”. Mr Trump has left him completely exposed. Either the PA abandons its security contractor role on behalf of Israel and dissolves itself, or it carries on as before but now explicitly deprived of the illusion that statehood is being pursued. Mr Abbas will try to cling on, hoping that Mr Trump is ousted in this year’s election and a new US administration reverts to the pretence of advancing the long-expired Oslo peace process. But if Mr Trump wins, the PA’s difficulties will rapidly mount.
No one, least of all the Trump administration, believes that this plan will lead to peace.
Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist in Nazareth
US-Israel peace plan: Palestinians should abandon posturing and think tactically | Raghida Dergham | THE NATIONAL | 1 Feb 2020
With little international appetite to oppose the Trump peace plan, the Palestinian Authority needs to be smarter and more realistic
Who will stand up to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century”, which he unveiled alongside Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last week? That is the question the Palestinian people might be asking themselves following what was a sad day for their aspirations of nationhood.
European countries, collectively or individually, will not oppose the proposed deal. The most they can do is improve the economic and financial offer extended to the Palestinians while taking measures to prevent the inflow of refugees. Russia will not oppose the US as the erstwhile Soviet Union had done when the Arab-Israeli conflict was a key component of the Cold War. Today, Moscow could perhaps recall international resolutions and revive the “quartet”, comprising the United Nations, the US, the European Union and itself. It could also convene an international conference and encourage negotiations, but little beyond this. For its part, China will adhere to its traditional position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as international principles enshrining the Palestinian right to statehood, but Beijing will not bring this issue into the calculations of its relationship with the US.
The Arab countries meanwhile are divided in an unprecedented manner. Some have highlighted shortfalls in the proposal, while others have called for negotiations to improve the terms and others still have encouraged the Palestinians to focus on the positives.
Iran and Turkey will engage in one-upmanship, using the issue to fulfill their domestic and regional agendas. Beyond the use of shiny slogans devoid of meaning, neither country is interested in having a direct confrontation with Israel or risking further US sanctions – particularly if they engage Israel through their proxies.
Now, there is no doubt that the proposed deal – meant to serve the electoral purposes of both Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu – prejudices Palestinian rights, and defies international law and UN resolutions. Mr Trump has also in effect retracted from commitments made by several US administrations over decades to the two-state solution. However, the one positive from the proposed deal is that Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and the plan’s architect, has persuaded Mr Netanyahu to at least postpone annexing the West Bank settlements as well as the Jordan Valley. The latter is a strategic area occupying 30 per cent of the West Bank and gives Israel the ability to lock in the Palestinian state, thereby denying it sovereignty.
However, given that there would be no way for a Palestinian state to emerge without US approval, its leaders need to take a hard look at their policy of refusing to talk to US or Israeli authorities, and begin thinking of the tactical steps they could be taking in order to prevent further loss of territory to the Israelis. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority must stop engaging in verbal posturing and be smarter as the PA hopes to resist the implementation of the plan on the ground.
The leadership’s current bid to oppose the deal will not have much impact on the ground, except garnering applause at the UN General Assembly or the Security Council, which Mr Abbas intends to address. However, he is unlikely to receive as much moral support as before, and the Palestinian draft resolution might not even obtain the nine votes needed for adoption by the council.
Palestinians must no doubt engage with the rest of the world but their movements in international forums must complement a plan to rejoin negotiations in coordination with key Arab countries that would be compelled to put their weight behind a common strategy. Refusing to talk to the US only gives Israel licence to annex whatever it wants with American blessings. The posturing, which includes calling for resistance and boycotts, almost always takes place at the expense of Palestinians. They might even pay the price for incitement because they are on the verge of becoming a hopeless and possibly permanent burden.
The Palestinians should also realise that Iran, a proponent of the policy of maintaining stubborn refusal, will be unable to deliver on any promises of resistance and retaliation against the “deal of shame” – as Tehran has called it.
Indeed, the Trump administration will be extra-vigilant against Iran and its proxies, and is intent on holding it responsible for any escalation of regional tension. When he spoke about the assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani during the unveiling of the deal, Mr Trump was clearly threatening Tehran and daring it to use the peace plan as a means of presenting itself as the leader of the resistance against the deal. Some say that Tehran is developing a strategy of escalation against the deal because this would allow it to deflect attention from its internal economic problems and unrest, in addition to other benefits of engaging in one-upmanship with Arab states. Others say Iran will refrain from escalation, having fewer resources and less support to execute its schemes, especially under penalty of US sanctions.
A Palestinian source involved in the failed peace process said: “We must compartmentalise the battle and create options.” The priority, he added, must be to “move to prevent Israel from implementing the plan unilaterally” by agreeing to negotiate “on the condition that Israel refrains from implementing any terms” beforehand. This way, it might be possible to stop Israel’s rush to annex territory and thwart Mr Netanyahu’s bet on Palestinian rejection. In other words, the Palestinian leadership must have a shorter-term practical plan to prevent or postpone annexation while shoring up intra-Palestinian unity.
And as one Russian official who asked not to be named said, the Palestinians must “not to overdo contrariness” and should “adopt a flexible tactic rather than absolute rejection of what has been proposed”.
Raghida Dergham is the founder and executive chairwoman of the Beirut Institute