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Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Analysis: The price of Middle East peace

Trump’s deal on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict displays all the arrogance of a businessman who cares nothing for those whose lives he seeks to buy

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 13 Feb 2020
The price  of  Middle East  peace
A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag as the Israeli settlement of Modiin Illit is seen in the background (photo: Reuters)
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The so-called “Deal of the Century” will threaten international peace and stability and spread the law of the jungle if urgent steps are not taken to stop the Trump administration from forcing it on the Palestinians, warn Palestinian observers and analysts. They believe that action should begin with the Palestinians who should work to conclude Palestinian reconciliation as soon as possible. Until they mend the rift that has torn the Palestinians apart for so long, it will be impossible to mount an effective challenge against that inequitable scheme that seeks to bury the Palestinian cause, especially given regional and international circumstances and a general reluctance to go beyond declarations of condemnation and censure.

The major practical thrust of the US-Israel scheme is to create an archipelago of Palestinian ghettos, said Palestinian political analyst Jihad Harb. It would consist of six isolated cantons hemmed in by the Separation Wall, that the occupation began to build in 2002, and linked by Israeli-controlled by ring roads and checkpoints. Such a condition puts paid to all notions of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and other prerequisites for a genuinely viable state.

Harb observes that the provisions for Palestinian sovereignty over the splotches of green inside Israel on the so-called “Conceptual Map” are a far cry from sovereignty as defined by international law. To the architects of the plan, sovereignty is “an amorphous concept that evolves over time.” Under their plan, it has evolved into a recipe for withholding the right to national sovereignty and self-determination, imposing an apartheid order within an Israeli state that spans the whole of historic Palestine. Regardless of the terms it uses, for all practical purposes the plan pushes the one-state option, but formulated in a way that can only pave the way for a mass civil rights struggle against an inherently racist system.

Walid Al-Qotati, a Palestinian researcher and analyst, described Washington’s deal as a plan to consolidate de facto realities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of the annexation of West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley were the concrete prelude to the plan which takes the Israeli occupation, decades long control of Jerusalem, the Judaicisation of Jerusalem, the confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes and lands, the mushrooming of settlements in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, as a starting point.

“What we are seeing is the culmination of the process that began with the Balfour Declaration and passed through the UN partition resolution, the establishment of the State of Israel, the Camp David and Oslo Accords — all episodes in the drive to gobble up Palestine,” Al-Qotati said, adding: “The phase of US conflict management is over. The phase of ending the conflict has begun against a backdrop of Arab impotence and Palestinian division.” Al-Qotati hopes that the Palestinians can now build on their unanimous rejection of the Trump plan, turning that rejection into a national programme for liberation, resistance and return.

Will Trump and Netanyahu’s actions precipitate a third Intifada or war between Israel and the Palestinian resistance? Political analyst Riham Awda predicts escalation, but limited — probably no more than some missiles fired by the resistance into Israel and Israeli bombardement in return. “I don’t expect much new to happen before the Israeli elections and a new government is formed. Taking the decision to go to war is not easy as it requires the approval of the cabinet and a comprehensive military strategy.”

In Awda’s opinion, Netanyahu’s bellicose rhetoric and threat to launch a major military offensive is election propaganda. He wants to project himself to Israeli voters as forceful and strong on security. The person who wins the forthcoming elections in Israel will be the one who will determine whether there is another war or not. Awda believes that if Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff, wins the elections, the chances of major military confrontation in Gaza will be higher. Relative calm along the northern borders with Lebanon and Syria and with respect to Iran would further increase the likelihood of an Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Dalal Arikat, professor of strategic planning and conflict resolution at the Arab American University in the West Bank, offered an explanation of the 181-page deal which was given the title “Peace to Prosperity” and that bills itself as a “Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”. The plan is divided into two main sections: a political framework and an economic framework. The former deals with the major political issues, such as Jerusalem, prisoners, refugees, borders, security, sovereignty, the state, UN resolutions and international law, foreign and regional relations.

The plan reaffirms US recognition of Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel and relegates the capital for the proposed “State of Palestine” to the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. Arab residents of Jerusalem would be given three options regarding their national identity: they could become citizens of the State of Israel, become citizens of the State of Palestine or retain their status as permanent residents in Israel.

The plan grants Israel sovereignty over security, water, airspace, roads, borders and crossings. The Palestinian state would not have an airport or seaport at first and it would not have the right to establish diplomatic relations without Israeli approval. Palestine would also not have the right to join international organisations or pursue legal action against Israel in any international court, arbitrating body or police agency, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court or Interpol.

Also, under the “deal”, Palestine and Arab states would be required to cease support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and any other effort to boycott Israel. The plan also expects Palestine and the Arab states to work together with Israel to counter Hizbullah (since it takes as its premise that Iran is the primary threat to the region), as well as the Islamic State group and Hamas.

The plan openly acknowledges that it is “security focused” and that this focus was informed by Israeli considerations, including full Israeli control over borders, crossings, air, land and sea. The Israeli state is to be regarded as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a status to be recognised throughout the world. The Palestinian state is to be fully demilitarised but enjoy the “legal status and international standing of a state” plus “an innovative network of roads, bridges and tunnels that enables freedom of movement for the Palestinians”. The state will ensure a level of security satisfactory to Israel, adopt educational curricula that promote peace and take part in a joint commission on acceptance and tolerance. It will also be required to stop salary payments to the families of political prisoners and martyrs of the resistance.

The “vision” calls for the release of Palestinian prisoners and administrative detainees held in Israeli prisons, apart from those convicted of murder or attempted murder, or conspiracy to commit murder, which includes “murder by terrorism.” Released prisoners will be required to sign a pledge to promote the benefits of co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. Prisoners who refuse to sign this pledge will remain incarcerated. All Israeli captives and remains have to be returned to Israel first.

The plan speaks of both a Palestinian and a Jewish refugee problem created by the Arab-Israeli conflict. It also speaks of a “just and realistic” solution and, in the same breath, jettisoned the right to return enshrined in UN Resolution 194 and other international instruments. Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA would be entitled to several options, but subject to an array of limitations. Once the deal is signed, UNRWA would end its mission and refugee camps would be dismantled and replaced by housing projects. The plan calls for an appropriate mechanism separate from the Israel-Palestine Peace Agreement to deal with Jewish refugees. According to the plan, the State of Israel also “deserves compensation for the costs of absorbing Jewish refugees” from neighbouring countries.

The US plan offers a unique perspective on Gaza which should be fully demilitarised and subjected to a separate security regime and separate economic regime that offers the prospects of turning Gaza into another Singapore.

As for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, they are referred to as “pockets” that will be annexed to Israel rather than dismantled. The Jordan Valley is to be placed under Israeli sovereignty while Palestinian farms there can be allowed to continue operations under Palestinian law, but only after obtaining permits from Israel. The plan claims to avert population transfers, but it contradicts itself when it comes to territorial exchanges involving inhabited areas.

In the section covering the economic framework, the plan pledges a $50 billion investment to guarantee the creation of a million job opportunities in 10 years, to double GDP and to reduce the poverty rate by half. In addition to an “innovative” network of tunnels, roads, bridges, trains and crossing points to make the Palestinian state geographically contiguous, the plan proposes an international support fund to finance such infrastructural projects, the creation of a free trade zone between Palestine and Jordan, a mechanism to facilitate Palestinian export commerce through a Jordanian airport, a free trade agreement between the US and Palestine to boost Palestinian economic development, and access to designated facilities at Israeli seaports (Haifa and Ashdod) and the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Then, if all goes well, in five years’ time, “assuming the full satisfaction of the Gaza Criteria, the State of Palestine shall have the right, subject to the satisfaction of State of Israel’s security and environmental requirements, to create an artificial island off the coast of Gaza to develop a port to serve Gaza, as well as an airport for small aircraft.”

Arikat described the economic aspect as a “deal in every sense of the word” in that it offers a detailed plan with a strategic vision, clearly identified goals, target dates, funding and executive mechanisms, projected budgets, etc. However, she added, despite all the economic proposals that might seem attractive to some, a truly just peace in accordance with UN resolutions and international law and on the basis of a two-state solution that would establish a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders would promise the Palestinians many more times the material benefits than those listed in the deal.

She also observed that the architects of the deal are not waiting for the Palestinians to respond. The deal’s unveiling was the notification of the beginning of the implementation of a vision intended to put paid to the Palestinian people’s remaining territorial and human rights under the rubric of a two-state solution. The Palestinian leadership will never lend itself to such a ruse no matter the warnings.

“They have to stop underestimating people’s intelligence,” Arikat said. “It’s patently clear that they used the term ‘facilitator’ instead ‘mediator’ because they know the former is someone who bridges different views between parties. It is an admission the plan is a business deal and shouldn’t pretend to be a peace initiative.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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