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Thursday, 02 April 2020

Israel counting on Arabs to foil deal

Trump’s “peace plan” is mainly for US domestic consumption, with Israel banking on it being rejected by Palestinians and Arabs, writes Said Okasha

Said Okasha , Tuesday 4 Feb 2020
Israel counting on Arabs to foil deal
A view of Wadi Ara, a 20km-long valley in northern Israel which lies 60km north of Tel Aviv, where more than 400,000 Israelis live in settlements deemed illegal under internation law (photo: AFP)
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Israeli political analyst Ron Ben-Yishai wrote on the Israeli website Ynet: “Oddly enough, if the Palestinians do in the future come to an agreement with Israel on the basis of Trump’s plan, the security picture will be far more complex and far less convenient for the Jewish state.”

Israeli Minister of Transportation Bezalel Smotrich, of the right-wing coalition which includes several extremist blocs, said on the website The Times of Israel: “Trump’s plan is not good. If we are asked to ratify it in the cabinet or Knesset, we will strongly oppose it. This plan leads to the creation of a Palestinian state and that is something we can never allow. All of the land of Israel is ours and we will not surrender one centimetre of it. This is true from a Zionist, Jewish, moral, and — most definitely — security perspective, as proven by 100 years of Zionism.”

Point taken. Contrary to general perception that Israel welcomes US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century”, the “obsession with security” and archaic ideology of Israel’s right-wing makes it highly doubtful the deal will be approved by the next Knesset. Even if Palestinians change their mind and accept the plan later.

Since Vladimir Jabotisnky, the leader of the Zionist Revisionist Movement who died in 1940, and until Benjamin Netanyahu who leads today’s right-wing front, the ideology of Israel’s right wing is founded on two principles. First, there will never be two states between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea as part of any political settlement with the Palestinians. Second, Jews and Israel are the only ones who will decide the border of their state and security arrangements that guarantee their survival. The two principles are organically linked and can never be separated.

Centrist parties that despise the right-wing’s traditional and populist ideology will in fact join ranks with the right on the second principle regarding borders and security arrangements that Israel will eventually accept. There is great disparity between Netanyahu’s position and that of Benny Gantz, leader of Kahol Lavan and primary rival of Likud and the radical right in the upcoming elections, regarding how Israel will implement Trump’s plan. Netanyahu’s attempt to quickly declare the annexation of settlements without waiting for the March elections is at odds with Washington’s reluctance on this issue and wanting him to wait. It is also contrary to Gantz’s position, as stated by the Times of Israel website: “While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will try and annex the West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley ahead of the elections, Gantz said the plan should only be implemented after the March vote and in coordination with the international community.”

Netanyahu’s statements after the deal was revealed indicating that he wants the proposal to be a framework for negotiations, not a final plan to end the conflict with the Palestinians. This demonstrates that he does not approve of the deal and wants more concessions from the Palestinians who will only receive 70 per cent of their territories in the West Bank, according to the deal, to establish their state after it is connected to the Gaza Strip through bypass roads and tunnels.

In opinion polls, the Israeli public is not optimistic the deal can be implemented and result in final peace. A survey by Channel 11 on 30 January revealed that 61 per cent of responders believe the US administration’s plan will not lead to political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

While Palestinian rejection of the deal was expected and publicly known long before it was unveiled, the reaction of the Israeli public and right-wing parties was unexpected for many since Trump has already given Israel many privileges. These include annexing West Bank settlements as part of Israel’s final border, recognising Jerusalem as a unified city and capital of Israel, eliminating the right of return of Palestinian refugees, requiring Palestinians to recognise Israel as a state for the Jewish people only, and making the anticipated Palestinian state demilitarised.

All these concessions by the Palestinians according to Trump’s plan are still unacceptable to Israel’s right-wing which, as noted above, rejects the existence of two states between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River no matter how small the proposed Palestinian state will be. Therefore, no one — inside or outside Israel — expects the deal to succeed. Most Arab countries reject the plan, and even if some have said they will work with it, this does not guarantee they will accept it in the end if Palestinians vehemently reject it.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began an intense campaign to rally European public opinion and influential countries in the EU to dismantle Trump’s plan, and call for direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations under European, UN and Arab League sponsorship. It is unlikely he will succeed in convincing Israel to return to the negotiating table at square one and not under US auspices. As for the EU, which still supports a two-state solution and applying international law to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it does not have any real power to enforce any solutions in this conflict.

Nonetheless, it is still too early to pass final judgement on the probability of Trump’s plan coming to fruition. He believes that at first Palestinians will reject his ideas but will eventually agree once they understand the consequences of turning down the deal, especially since the plan specifies a four-year timeline to accept the deal and cooperate in implementing it and making it successful. Trump is also counting on Arab countries that reject the plan or have reservations about some provisions to eventually exert great efforts to convince the Palestinians to accept it out of fear of possible US sanctions if they don’t.

Trump understands that most Arab countries have for many years, and many more to come, been immersed in their own immense economic, security and political troubles. They will seriously ponder the loss of US support if they don’t cooperate with Washington on the deal.

Only Trump will benefit from his plan on several fronts. First, because he will have fulfilled his promise of proposing a deal to end one of the longest and most implacable conflicts, whether or not it succeeds. In fact, many commentators and experts doubted he even had a plan. Second, Trump implemented decisions in Israel’s favour that no one in the American Jewish lobby ever thought a US president could take, such as recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, viewing settlements in the West Bank as legitimate, and recognising Israeli sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights. This means Trump could have unprecedented support from the Jewish lobby in the coming US elections. Third, Trump has the support of the pro-Israel Evangelical churches lobby which has even more influence on American voters than the Jewish lobby, especially since Gantz accepted the deal and an international role to make it succeed.

Trump’s deal will likely only be on the table for a few weeks, before US domestic focus shifts to the November presidential race. This means Trump will not focus on the issue much longer until next January, if he is elected for a second term. Unless, of course, there is a serious security breakdown between the Palestinians and Israelis during this year that leads to a major regional war with unpredictable outcomes and repercussions on regional security, and especially the future of the Palestinian cause. This would condemn Trump and lay blame on him for this breakdown because he proposed this deal.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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