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Thursday, 27 June 2019

A peace deal that will not bring peace

The Americans will soon reveal details of a new peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet a long-term settlement is unlikely

Bassem Aly , Friday 24 May 2019
Kushner, Greenblatt
File Photo: Jason D. Greenblatt, right, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law in New York , February 2019 (Photo: Reuters)
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The peace process is normally a three-party equation: the Americans, the major broker, the Palestinians and the Israelis. A new peace plan will be put on the table by US President Donald Trump after Ramadan, and he has been marketing it for a while. The Israelis are also excited about it, while the Palestinians said no to this deal even before reading its content. This leaves Trump far from bringing an end to the old conflict.

Let’s start with the Americans. A four-member team worked on Trump’s “Deal of the Century” from day one. It included Jared Kushner, Jason D Greenblatt, David Friedman and Avi Berkowitz. The first is Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, the second is Trump’s assistant and special representative for international negotiations, the third is the US ambassador to Israel, and the fourth is an advisor to Kushner.

Kushner described the deal, which will reportedly include economic incentives, as an “in-depth operational document” earlier this month. He said it contains “what we think is possible, how people can live together, how security can work, how interaction can work, and really, how you try to form the outline of what a brighter future can be”. Almost nothing else is known about the roughly 200-page document.

Does Kushner’s tone sound optimistic? Definitely yes. Other team members, after two years of preoccupation with this project, still cannot understand why the Palestinians are angry. Greenblatt “feels terrible for the Palestinian people” as “their leaders are saying they won’t even take a look at it”.

The Israelis are beyond happy with this plan. It reached an extent that Premier Binyamin Netanyahu promised, currently busy with post-election coalition talks, to “establish a community named after President Trump” in the Golan Heights.

Netanyahu suspended talks that Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, sponsored in 2014 after Fatah and Hamas concluded a reconciliation agreement. This move was then a disappointment for America’s top-diplomat John Kerry: the man spent nine months endeavouring to make a deal. Other developments catalysed this outcome, including Israel’s then settlement expansion and opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) insistence to join UN organisations.

Daniel Serwer, former minister-counsellor at the US Department of State, described Trump’s plan as an “ego trip” and that he “wants to show that he can accomplish what previous presidents could not”.

“We haven’t seen the Trump plan yet, but the rumour mill suggests it will involve much stronger support for Israel’s objectives and no support for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Trump’s move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and support for Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights is consistent with this approach: let Israel have what it wants (in particular in the West Bank and along Jordan) and try to squeeze the Palestinians hard enough so that they will accept some economic benefits,” the American scholar explained.

The Palestinians see new misery coming. They are not convinced that both sides will make, as Kushner claimed, “tough compromises”: only their people will pay the bill of the deal, and there are good reasons to believe so. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki used words like “surrender act” and “capitulation” to describe how the deal will impact the lives of the Palestinians. “This is a defining moment,” Malki said at Chatham House in London this week. “If you think action [to resist the plan] is too costly, just think of the alternative and of the path it would set us on for decades to come.”

It all started in December 2017. The PA cut ties with Trump and said the US could not serve as a peace mediator any longer between it and Israel. That was when Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moved the US embassy to the city — of which the Palestinians want its eastern part as the capital of their future state — in May 2018. Friedman, backer and fundraiser for West Bank settlements, also played a chief role in Trump’s decision in October 2018 to put Jerusalem’s consulate under the embassy’s authority. The consulate was the US diplomatic unit that served the Palestinians for long years. Now it’s called the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the embassy in Israel.

Trump also played the money card against the Palestinians. He promised in 2017 to fund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) with $365 million by the next year. In 2018, he cut the sum by $305 million, UNRWA Spokesperson Christopher Gunness told Ahram Online last July. Trump’s pro-Israel policy extended to the Golan Heights, over which he recognised Israel’s sovereignty.

Gehad Al-Harazen, a leading Fatah figure, lost hope in the United States, stressing that “it is no longer an honest broker” in the peace process. “The Palestinian leadership did not get a copy of the plan. The media and sources of political rumours know nothing about it. Only Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman have the details. They adopted Netanyahu’s vision about the settlements, refugees, Jerusalem and Golan and did everything to make him win the elections, including funding. The American administration gave Netanyahu all the support to ensure he stays on top of the Israeli government,” said Al-Harazen.

The Palestinians want a multi-party framework for negotiations that determines the basic principles for ending the occupation, establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and living side-by-side with Israel, noted Abdel-Mahdi Metawe, a Palestinian political analyst who is close to the PA. “The Palestinians have no problem for Israel’s security needs to be put into consideration. International forces can monitor the Palestinian areas geographically overlapping with Israel. Otherwise there will be no peace,” warned Metawe.

For more than a year, regular clashes between the Gazans and Israeli troops have been taking place along the border with Israel. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands injured. The unrest frequently extends to Ramallah and Bethlehem in the West Bank. The situation does not even seem auspicious for some officials on the Israeli side.

The West Bank “could erupt before, during or after you present your peace plan, and you should add this to your calculations.

Once this genie is out of the bottle, it will take five years to put it back in.” Those were the words of Israel’s ex-chief of staff Gabi Eisenkot, spoken to Greenblatt in a meeting this month, reported Israel’s Channel 13.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A peace deal that will not bring peace

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