This article was published in Arab News on March 31, 2019.
Will Trump’s Golan Heights decision affect Palestine deal?
Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights raises the question of whether this move is part of the US president’s “deal of the century,” which is being promoted by his chief adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. The deal basically aims to solve the Palestinian conflict on the basis of the two-state solution.
Could Washington’s recognition of the Golan’s annexation be another goodwill gesture extended to Israel by the US before asking it to be forthcoming in favor of the Palestinians when the time comes for the implementation of the “deal of the century?”
In December 2017, talking to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Trump described himself as committed to getting the best possible deal for the Palestinians and said “Israel would make real concessions” (in exchange for what the US has done for it). He repeated this when he decided to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
At the signing session of the Golan proclamation, he did not make any reference to the concessions to be made by Israel. So it is unclear whether Trump will also ask Israel to make concessions this time but, looking at the relieved attitude of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one may speculate that he was not expecting any pressure from the US.
The “deal of the century” is still vague and its main components are yet to be disclosed. We only know the speculation on the possible results of Kushner’s visits to various Middle East capitals, including seeing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In this visit, Kushner probably asked Erdogan to use his leverage on Hamas to agree to his undisclosed plan. It is unlikely for Erdogan to have promised anything that Hamas would refuse.
If the rumors on this subject prove to be right, Trump’s decisions to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights are part of this deal.
Many skillful diplomats have tried hard in the past to strike a deal, but to no avail. It remains to be seen whether the Trump team will be any more successful.
As a successful businessman, Kushner may have thought that, if financial incentives are offered to Palestinians, they could be persuaded to make concessions on the subject of land. This assumption disregards the importance that many Palestinians attribute to land. The easiest way to guess the answer to this question is to reverse it and ask whether the Israelis could be persuaded to give up part of their land in exchange for financial incentives. Oil-rich Gulf countries would be ready to produce considerable amounts of money to persuade Israel to back such a solution should it ever come on to the agenda.
Various unrealistic ideas were proposed with a view to circumventing Palestinians’ attachment to land. These were going to be in the form of a series of land exchanges: Palestinians would give the West Bank to Israel in exchange for land of equal value that they would receive from Jordan; Jordan would take comparable land from Saudi Arabia, which would be compensated by receiving from Egypt two islands in the Red Sea; and Egypt would receive Gaza from Palestine. But who can guarantee that such a chain would go unbroken?
Michael Wolff gave some inside information about the early months of the Trump administration in his book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” published in May last year. He wrote that many in the president’s close entourage did not expect Jordan or Egypt to be interested in taking the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. Jordan’s late King Hussein is on the record as saying in 1988 that he was not interested in taking the West Bank and that — unlike what late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin used to say — Jordan was not Palestine. As for Egypt, it is more interested in sealing its border with Gaza than adding it to its territory.
Many Arab countries regard any concession to be made on the Palestinian territories as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and that they will not be able to explain this attitude to their domestic audience. Furthermore, this scenario does not explain what will be the quid pro quo for detaching the Golan Heights from Syria. It also ignores other major actors in the region, such as Russia and Iran.
What is known so far is that Trump’s initiative is far from being a done deal. Many skillful diplomats have tried hard in the past to strike a deal, but to no avail. It remains to be seen whether the Trump team will be any more successful. The deal is due to be disclosed after the Israeli elections of April 9. One can only hope that it will not look like an attempt to reinvent the wheel.