Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ staggers after Mecca summits

First published by the Arab Weekly on 2/6/2019

While the American pair’s purpose of the visits to Jordan and Morocco was to drum up support for the Manama workshop, it appears this failed.

Consensus issue. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the Arab League Summit in Mecca, May 30. (AFP)

Mecca was the site of a record number of summits — three in 24 hours — during the last days of Ramadan. While the summits were for different constituencies, there were many issues that were important to all and for which Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud hoped to achieve unity.

Two summits were “emergency” meetings called following attacks on a Saudi pipeline and ships in UAE territorial waters, attributed to Iran or Yemen’s Houthis.

One summit involved leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council and the other included the wider Arab League leaders. King Salman was looking to the summits to show solidarity with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and to present a united front against what is seen as a threat from Tehran. There were also references to Syria, Yemen and Libya.

The one issue that had unanimous support was a commitment to a just resolution of the Palestinian issue. The summit reaffirmed the position taken at the Dhahran Summit in 2018 rejecting steps taken by the Trump administration, including recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Speaker after speaker reiterated the long-held position that the solution was the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and recommitted to the Arab Peace Initiative as the way to achieve a comprehensive solution to the conflict, which would reward Israel with normalisation of relations after the end of its occupation of all Arab land.

Those should have been reassuring words for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who made the only direct reference to US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” He reiterated, in the presence of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, that the Palestinians would not be joining the Manama “Prosperity for Peace” workshop June 25-26, though he did not call for the meeting to be cancelled.

The third summit was the 14th regular meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The final communique of the OIC reiterated the centrality of the Palestinian issue to the organisation and its members and that the way to achieve peace was through a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state established along boundaries determined before the 1967 Six-Day War and with East Jerusalem as its capital. It condemned the “transfer of embassies of the United States and Guatemala to Jerusalem” and urged its members to “boycott” countries that have diplomatic missions in the city.

While Arab and Muslim leaders were meeting in Mecca, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” architects — White House advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt — were in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It is unlikely they thought they would be meeting with the prime minister the day after his failure to form a coalition government, sending the Israelis back to polling stations on September 17.

Their plan had been to introduce economic and political aspects of the “Deal of the Century” in the coming months, having delayed the announcement of the plan until the formation of the Israeli government following April’s elections.

It is likely that the full deal will not be revealed before the formation of the next Israeli government in October. However, that would coincide with the beginning of Trump’s re-election bid, calling into question the timing of the release of the peace plan. This led the Palestine Liberation Organisation Secretary-General Saeb Erekat to rebrand the plan as the “deal of the next century.”

The US team met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Jordanian King Abdullah II en route to Tel Aviv. The Moroccans declined to comment on their discussions with the Americans. However, the Jordanians were clear in restating the position of King Abdullah that the foundation for peace is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

While the American pair’s purpose of the visits to Jordan and Morocco was to drum up support for the Manama workshop, it appears this failed.

The refusal of the Palestinians to take part in the Manama workshop, the developments in Israel and the 2020 US presidential election season seriously call into question the purpose of the Manama workshop. If the Americans decide to go ahead with it, then it can only be to provide Israeli leaders and businessmen with another photo opportunity to normalise their appearances in Arab capitals.

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