This article was published in Arab News in June 9, 2019.
The mountain gave birth to a mouse in the Palestinian ‘deal of the century’
The long-awaited US “deal of the century” seems to have become bogged down.
According to piecemeal leaks so far, it provides for the Palestinians to control the Gaza strip and less than half of the West Bank. Israel would retain control over the Jordan valley and corridors linking Gaza and West Bank to the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. The capital of Palestine would be in the villages around East Jerusalem. Palestinians would give up their right to return to the land from which were expelled in 1948. The borders of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank would be decided at a later date.
Palestinian officials have already rejected the deal and said neither they nor Palestinian businessmen would participate in a Bahrain conference on its economic aspects.
The first attributable signal about the US proposals came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders, he said plainly: “One might argue that the plan is unexecutable and might not get traction.” By saying this in a forum where it would be contested more than anywhere else, Pompeo seems to have chosen to take the bull by the horns. He admitted that there was “nothing particularly original” in the deal. In fact, almost all its ideas have been tried and failed in the past, and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner has now added measures even less acceptable to the Palestinians.
Pompeo realistically acknowledged that US determination alone may not be enough to solve the Palestinian issues. Surprisingly, Trump said Pompeo may be correct, a deviation from his usual policy of trying to meet all of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demands.
An additional negative note is that the political situation in Israel has become complicated; Netanyahu failed to form a government and new elections will take place on Sept. 18. The future of the deal has therefore become all the more uncertain.
Another development that may affect its success is the OIC summit in Makkah on June 1. The final communiqué emphasized the importance of the Palestinian issue, underlined that it is central to the Muslim world, and rejected “any deal or plan that contravenes these rights.”
As a businessman, Kushner may have underestimated the insistence of the Palestinians on getting their land back.
This language counterbalances Israeli demands that the Palestinians and many Arab and Islamic countries consider extravagant. The final communiqué also reiterates the expectation of an independent state of Palestine, and condemns “the illegal recognition” of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It calls on OIC member states to “boycott countries that have already opened diplomatic missions in Jerusalem and to cease any relations, commercial exchanges and visits with them.” Unfortunately, almost none of the OIC member countries translate into action this strongly worded narrative, incorporated in the communique thanks to the efforts of the Palestinian delegation.
As a businessman, Kushner may have underestimated the insistence of the Palestinians on getting their land back. The deal focuses on the economic prosperity that a solution will bring to the Palestinians, but ignores this important factor.
The disadvantage of the deal is that it came after a series of anti-Palestinian initiatives launched by the Trump administration and created a prejudice against any new idea proposed by the US.
It started with Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the state of Israel and Trump’s decision to move the US embassy there. In fact, Jerusalem is recognized by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) as “corpus separatum,” a separate entity. Strictly speaking, in terms of international law, the US has moved its embassy from an Israeli city — Tel Aviv — to another city, Jerusalem, which is not part of Israel.
The negativity continued on Sept. 2018 with the closure of the PLO office in Washington. The Trump administration said it would “not keep the office open when Palestinians refuse to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” Then came Washington’s recognition of the annexation by Israel of the Syrian Golan Heights.
After so many negative signals, it would be a surprise if the Palestinians were to welcome the “deal of the century.”