Trump’s peace plan likely to polarize Arabs and Europe
Just a few weeks separate us from two significant events for the region: The April 9 Israeli Knesset elections and, following that, on an as yet unspecified date, the release of US President Donald Trump’s much-hyped Middle East peace plan, known as the “ultimate deal.”
A small White House team, headed by Trump’s close adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been working behind closed doors on the plan for almost two years. Surprisingly, there have been no leaks in the press regarding the plan, which has already been rejected by the Palestinians, who severed political ties with the Trump administration more than a year ago. President Mahmoud Abbas was outraged by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv in May last year.
In a meeting in Warsaw in February, Arab foreign ministers pressed Kushner — who had briefed officials on the economic components of the plan — to respond clearly if the plan recognizes an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He evaded a direct response but, after being questioned again, stated that the Palestinians can call it a state if they wished to, or anything they want.
His answer falls short of the minimum conditions set out by the Arab states in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API). That initiative has come to be the only basis for a political settlement that is acceptable to Arabs and almost every country or bloc of states. The API was once again endorsed by Arab leaders at a meeting in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, last April. The main features of the initiative were also adopted by leaders meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in the first ever EU-Arab League summit last month. The final communique from that meeting reaffirmed support for the two-state solution based on a territorial compromise along the lines of the 2002 API. It also stressed that the Israeli settlements are illegal according to UN Security Council resolutions.
Special adviser to Trump on the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, who is a key member of the White House team under Kushner, said last week that the proposed plan would be detailed both in its political and economic aspects. He was briefing the Security Council and had reportedly said that, when the US vision becomes public, the White House will seek to carry it out in conjunction with the Middle East Quartet (the US, EU, Russia and UN). But Kuwait’s representative at the Security Council, Mansour Al-Otaibi, told reporters after the meeting that “there were no details but there was a discussion from our side about the plan.”
Trump will not be shy in applying pressure on his country’s allies, as he has done in the past
Moscow’s position on the plan was made clear last month, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it would destroy the Palestinians’ achievements in the Middle East to date. He told representatives of Palestinian factions meeting in Moscow that the plan does not include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Kushner and Greenblatt toured a number of Gulf countries last month, reportedly to brief leaders on the economic aspects of the plan in a bid to get financial commitments. The outcome of their visits were not disclosed.
There is a feeling now that nothing can stop Trump from revealing his plan in April or May. Following that, the White House is expected to rally support from European and Arab countries in what promises to be a polarizing phase for both. How Arab countries, especially those with close ties to Washington, will respond is a major question. Trump will not be shy in applying pressure on his country’s allies, as he has done in the past, especially with NATO and the EU.
Will the EU’s commitment to the classical two-state solution stand? Trump may be able to change the position of individual countries within the EU bloc. The same formula may apply to Arab League members. The Trump logic will be like this: For decades, the solution you support has failed to work; why not give my plan a chance?
While the plan has been shrouded in secrecy until now, it will probably include recognition of an independent Palestinian entity with a capital in parts of East Jerusalem, although not the old city; will suggest redrawing border lines and land swaps with Israel, thus avoiding reference to the June 1967 pre-war lines; and will include the right of return to Palestinian territories but not to Israel. The economic incentive will be based on long-term financial support of the Palestinian entity.
The big question is how the Arabs and the rest of the world will react. Even if the plan fails to deliver, it would have set new standards and a benchmark that would bring an end to the classic two-state solution.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010