First published by the Middle East Monitor on 17/7/2020
As US President Donald Trump’s term nears its end, his deal of the century to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has stuttered, and is possibly defunct. To Palestinians, it is a plan constructed on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desk and does not meet the bare minimum of their demands for freedom, justice and equality. Instead, it begrudgingly offers a “United States of Palestinian Cantons” in the West Bank, rewarding their decades of resistance and thousands of martyrs with even less than a state minus, as Netanyahu has in the past characterised the entity the Palestinians should accept.
For ardent Israelis, especially the illegal settlers, it fails to help them achieve what they want – a purely Jewish state. The Palestinians would still be there, within touching distance, on what they consider their biblical land.
The latter is exemplified by Jericho, the world’s oldest continually inhabited city that is home to 20,000 Palestinians, and whose population is twice that of the illegal settlers in the Jordan valley. Under Trump’s deal and Netanyahu’s annexation plan, Jericho would remain “Palestinian”, in that its residents would not become Israeli citizens – according to Netanyahu – or holders of Israeli residency cards like East Jerusalem Palestinians, but instead, holders of Palestinian Authority (PA) identity cards in the middle of Israeli territory. They might even be provided with their own identity cards with a different colour to those of other Palestinians. Therefore, although the Israelis would have gained more of the geography through formal annexation, the demographic conundrum would remain for Israel in perpetuity.
Palestinians would still partly share “their” roads, work in “their” illegal settlements, share “their” water and resources, but more importantly, they would be a daily reminder that Zionism has failed to achieve its goal of a purely Jewish state. How can a deal that results in this be acceptable to the settlers?
How can Israel, the Jewish homeland, be a Jewish state when half the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is not Jewish? How can Jerusalem be the united capital of a Jewish Israel when 40 per cent of the population is not Jewish, but Muslim and Christian Palestinians instead? Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not specify the borders over which this recognition falls, or the mechanisms for ridding the united Jerusalem of its non-Jewish residents.
For their part, and stated more clearly than by the Israelis, Palestinians rejected the deal from the outset, as it does not even deliver a genuine two-state solution, which is what the Palestinian leadership continues to push for. East Jerusalem would not be the Palestinian capital and with the annexation of the Jordan River, still an Israeli security requirement, the state the Palestinians would secure in four years’ time, if they behave and show themselves to be worthy, would have no border with Jordan and the refugees would not be able to return.
In essence, the Palestinians would have to accept that all final status negotiations issued under the Oslo Accords would have to be dropped and they must accept what Israel and the US dictate. They are namely Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbours, as well as other issues of common interest.
Trump’s deal takes all of the above final status issues off the table.
Trump has already recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, the deal might allow for a Palestinian capital not over the whole of East Jerusalem, but “in East Jerusalem”. This is not only tokenism, but extends Israeli sovereignty over the Old City, including the holy Christian and Muslim sites.
The refugees have no right to return. What happens to them?
The settlements, which are not acknowledged as existing on occupied land, would remain. They would remain inhabited only by Jewish Israelis.
Israel would have security sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine, except that it would allow the Palestinians to police themselves. However, if they do not meet Israel’s security requirements there, Israeli security forces would have the right to enter to “sort matters out”.
The borders would be drawn by a committee, which bizarrely includes the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman. This is another occasion in history when the fate of Palestinians was decided by others. The first, of course, was the Balfour Declaration of 1917. There is also provision for the border to be set to transfer Palestinian citizens of Israel in the triangle to the future “United States of Palestinian Cantons”. Yes, Israel would cede some of the geography, but would gain on the demography side of the equation.
When it comes to relations and cooperation with other neighbours, with an escalation of normalisation with Arab neighbours, Israel hardly needs the Palestinians to broker such cooperation.
The best that the Palestinians would get out of the deal would be an economic package to buy their surrender and their agreement that their inalienable rights are no longer demanded.
The Palestinian leadership ended all contact with the US when Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2016. They insist that the US cannot be the only brokers in a peace deal. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an international conference, but this suggested alternative did not gain any momentum.
The US has made it clear that any future negotiations can only follow Palestinian acceptance of Trump’s deal. The PA has rejected this, and in the wake of the formation of the new Israeli government which has at its heart a plan for annexation, has instead pushed for a return to negotiations through the Quartet, made up of the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), Russia and the US. That surely will also flounder. As far as the US is concerned, they will not allow another party to enter the scene, unless this is based on Trump’s plan.
There is therefore a deadlock.
Had Netanyahu announced that he is proceeding with annexation, there may have been consequences on the ground through a new Intifada, accompanied by possible actions by some members of the international community. The fact that Netanyahu has delayed the introduction of the annexation plan has left the whole situation in deadlock – or at least settlement activity can continue without a formal announcement.
Whatever future events stir the situation, it is clear that talk of a two-state solution is now behind us, particularly because Israel will not drop its claim to security control over the whole land.
So, what could be the possible direction of a future initiative? It certainly will not come from Trump’s deal, which neither meets Israeli nor Palestinian aspirations. The “Peace to Prosperity” plan should be more aptly named “From Occupation to Apartheid and Submission”.