Why Trump’s ‘ultimate deal’ will ultimately fail
In Samuel Beckett’s absurdist 20th century play “Waiting for Godot,” the characters are made to wait in vain for a protagonist who never arrives. There are poignant similarities between Jared Kushner’s secretive plan for peace in the Middle East, which is now more than two years in the making, and Beckett’s tragicomedy. The nuances should not be missed: It’s not what happens if Godot, or the peace plan, finally arrives, but what takes place during the long wait.
Kushner and his team have been keeping all involved guessing about what the plan will propose in order to end one of the most complicated conflicts of modern times. But, between 2017, when US President Donald Trump first announced his intention to deliver an “ultimate deal” between the Palestinians and Israel, and today, much has changed on the ground. This is no thanks to a number of unilateral steps adopted by the White House that have undermined major final status issues such as Jerusalem and the refugees.
Now, a key architect of the plan, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, has provided a sneak preview of the plan’s one-sided goals: The right of Israel to annex chunks of the West Bank. In an interview with the New York Times last weekend, the envoy, who openly backs the Israeli far right, appeared to support an election promise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex settlements within the territory — a move that is in violation of international law and would deal a fatal blow to the two-state solution. “Under certain circumstances,” Friedman said. “I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” He had the courage to admit that, while Trump’s peace plan was aimed at improving the quality of life for Palestinians, it was unlikely to lead to a “permanent resolution to the conflict.”
These statements came just a few weeks before the convening of an economic workshop in Bahrain, whose aim is to raise money for investments in the Palestinian Territories. The Manama event is said to reveal the economic part of Trump’s peace plan. No date has been set to unveil the political component of the plan. There is growing feeling that Israel’s planned snap elections in October, congressional resistance to the plan, lukewarm Arab reactions and a Palestinian boycott may postpone its delivery indefinitely, or at least until after the 2020 US presidential election.
Kushner himself appeared confused and unsure of what his plan would entail or how it will be received in an interview on HBO television show “Axios” last week. When asked if he understands why the Palestinians don’t trust him his answer was: “I’m not here to be trusted.” He added that they will judge the Trump peace plan “based on the facts and then make a determination: Do they think this will allow them to have a pathway to a better life or not?” When asked if he believed the Palestinians are capable of governing themselves, Kushner said the Palestinians aren’t yet able to govern themselves and declined to promise them an independent state.
The US damaged all prospects for a negotiated settlement by taking the side of Israel’s far-right government.
A few days earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quoted by the Washington Post as telling American Jewish leaders that Trump’s plan might not “gain traction” and might be “unexecutable.”
With such sobering statements coming from senior US officials, why should the Palestinian leadership reverse its position not to deal with the Trump administration and its much-hyped plan? In fact, why should Arab states, whose position on the Palestinian issue was reiterated a few days ago at the Makkah summit, associate themselves with the plan when Pompeo, Kushner and Friedman remain unsure of its final outcome?
The US foiled its own role as an honest broker or a fair mediator when it broke with its decades-old policy on Jerusalem, illegal settlements and refugees even before engaging the various parties. It had damaged all prospects for a negotiated settlement by taking the side of Israel’s far-right government and punishing the Palestinians. Assuming that it has finally realized that its unilateral and pre-emptive actions have torpedoed any chance of a fair political formula that could meet the bare minimum of Palestinian aspirations, it is now focusing on an economic proposal that seeks to improve the lives of Palestinians under perennial occupation. The opacity of the peace plan was never a reflection of a shrewd act of statesmanship, but a sign of a mixture of a clear religion-based bias in favor of Israel, political myopia, and deep disparagement of Palestinians’ inalienable rights.
The fact is there is no political plan. It was a ruse to give cover to a series of free concessions to a belligerent Israeli government that had no intention of ending the occupation or allowing Palestinian statehood to emerge. Else why would the Americans botch their own efforts now by diluting any major outcome and downplaying expectations?
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010