US ‘Deal of the Century’ will not fool anyone
Let us begin at the conclusion: No one should be fooled that a Trump peace plan, or a “Deal of the Century,” as the US president likes to hype it, actually exists. Most definitely, it does not exist in the stricter sense of a plan that is detailed and has a chance to lead to a final status agreement that is satisfactory to both sides, let alone a negotiated two-state solution that would provide an adequate answer to all the outstanding core issues of this intractable conflict. At best there are some half-baked ideas, mainly influenced by the Israeli government, with little to no prospect of bringing to an end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Marginalizing the Palestinian leadership, belittling their interests and aspirations, and disparaging their dignity is a recipe for perpetuating the conflict and hostilities, not for brokering peace.
Skepticism about this alleged peace plan stems not only from the fact that it has yet to reveal itself to the world two years after it was promised it would revolutionize peace negotiations between the two sides, but also because Washington doesn’t even pretend to behave in good faith anymore. It has compromised its position as an honest broker, if it ever was one, by prejudicing at least two of the core areas that are at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.
Moreover, it is also the troika that is leading the “peace efforts” on the US side — that of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, special envoy Jason Greenblatt, and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman — that has left everyone incredulous as to the real intentions of this entire exercise. All three are diplomatic novices, with no expertise in the region or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, at least in the case of Friedman, they fervently support the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem last year was as reckless as it was ill-advised. If the Trump administration sincerely meant to succeed in making peace, it should not have been so quick to take sides over one of the most symbolic and sensitive areas of disagreement between Israelis and Palestinians. It is not about questioning Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the western parts of the city. But this was never recognized internationally and, more significantly, the recognition should have been the result of peace negotiations that secured the city as both the capital of Israel and that of an independent Palestinian state.
Washington has compromised its position by prejudicing at least two of the core areas that are at the heart of the conflict.
The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of both nations is not only a symbolic act, but also one of the most invaluable bargaining chips in the hands of anyone involved in these extremely difficult and obstinate negotiations. Unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of one and not the other has compromised the ability of any Palestinian leader, present and future, to engage with Washington; whereas to Israel’s leadership it has awarded one of the most coveted prizes in this intractable conflict at no cost.
On a par with prejudicing future negotiations with its approach to Jerusalem, perhaps even worse has been Washington’s attitude to the Palestinian refugees. At a stroke of the pen and in utter disregard of their status in international law, it claims that the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees are not refugees. And the fact that 5 million of them are formally registered as such with UNRWA, in line with the mandate given to it by the UN, means nothing to the current US administration.
This crude move was followed by an equally cruel one of cutting all financial aid to this agency, which, under the most challenging of circumstances for instance in Syria or in Gaza, is still looking after the basic needs of millions of people in dire economic conditions and in real danger of their lives. Add to this the cutting of all funds to the Palestinian Authority and the picture becomes even clearer that the perception of peace in the world of Trump, viewed through the prism of Benjamin Netanyahu, is of dictating to the Palestinians every aspect of a deal that, at best, will amount to some level of self-governing. But it will be a far cry from a state with Jerusalem as its capital, leaving the refugees at the mercy of their host countries and with little or no chance of returning to a Palestinian state.
No surprise then, that when Kushner visited Amman recently he was told by Jordan’s King Abdullah in no uncertain terms that any peace plan, in order to at least stand a chance of being successful, must be based on a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. However, the plot and ploy are rather for everyone to see that the “Deal of the Century” is about facilitating the annexation of parts of the West Bank to Israel, while trying to tempt the Palestinians to accept it and give up their aspirations for a fully-fledged state in exchange for economic incentives. Convening an economic workshop in Bahrain dubbed “Peace to Prosperity” and inviting civil society and business leaders to discuss strategies to increase economic investments and initiatives is not in itself an objectionable idea, but it becomes one when the initiative’s real intention is “economic peace” aimed at sidelining the Palestinians’ political and civil rights.
And, if we should require any further evidence to add to what we already know, Friedman gave an interview to the New York Times last week in which he asserted: “Under certain circumstances… I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” He thus endorsed the annexation of occupied land. If this is the official US approach, how can he expect anyone to believe that the US can play a role in peace negotiations?
Nevertheless, there is one piece of good news about the Trump plan: Considering the current political turmoil in Israel, the ongoing crisis in the Palestinian political system, and the fact that the US will soon be entering an election year, this plan may never see the light of day.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg