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Editorial: The plan, the vision, and the illusion

Thursday 12 Sep 2019
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a few days ago that the United States will present its long-awaited Middle East peace plan “within weeks,” probably depending on the outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections on 17 September.

However, the general consensus among countries in the region, and more importantly among Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation, is that regardless of the outcome of Israeli elections, US President Donald Trump’s administration is not going to present any offer that would meet their aspirations for self-determination and to have their own sovereign, independent state.

If Trump’s close ally, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, wins we will likely see some announcements and statements providing more details on what was once dubbed the Deal of the Century. However, if the veteran Israeli premier is defeated, or fails for the second time to form a government, it will be a great excuse for Trump — who is facing his own elections in a year — to shelve the plan indefinitely.

The key problem for Palestinians, and those all over the world who support their legitimate rights, is that the Trump administration has left no room for optimism that it will adopt a “fair” or “even” stand when offering proposals to settle this extremely difficult, 70-year-old conflict.

Since Trump took office in January 2017, blind support for Israel has been a matter of ideology and the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. The US president takes pride he was the first White House occupant to disregard dozens of UN Security Council resolutions confirming that East Jerusalem is part of Palestinian territories illegitimately occupied by Israel in 1967. Thus, he poked his finger in the eyes of the entire world and recognised the occupied city as Israel’s so-called “eternal capital”.

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vehemently rejected this decision, that denies Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and their aspiration that it will be the capital of their future state, Trump responded by severing diplomatic links with the Palestinian Authority, closed down the US consulate in occupied Jerusalem which handled relations with Palestinians, and shut down the PLO office in Washington. Moreover, Trump signed orders to cut off all aid to the Palestinian territories, including medical aid. And to confirm total disregard for Palestinians, or considering them an equal partner in the peace talks, the US State Department last week removed the term “Palestinian territories” from a web page listing countries and areas covered by one of its bureaus.

Furthermore, the only part revealed of the so-called Deal of the Century, which Trump’s son-in-law, Jarred Kushner, has been working on together with now former US Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, was an “economic workshop” that was held in the Bahraini capital late June. 

In Manama, Kushner and Greenblatt dangled $50 billion in investment for the region if the Palestinians agree to their proposals, which are mainly a wish list of economic projects that makes no mention whatsoever of indispensable Palestinian political rights. Palestinian President, Abbas — as well as the vast majority of Palestinian businessmen — boycotted the workshop, accusing the administration of ignoring key political issues and trying to buy its acceptance of Israeli occupation.

Many analysts wondered if Greenblatt’s decision to resign, announced late last week would simply mean an end for the Deal of the Century. However, Pompeo dismissed speculation of a substantial new delay, and quickly appointed 30-year-old Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz as a replacement for Greenblatt. Berkowitz graduated from law school in 2016 and has no experience in Middle East peace talks, except for his strong personal connection to Israel.

While the Trump administration cannot be blamed alone for the failure to finalise a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, everything Trump’s administration and Middle East peace advisers have done since taking office has made it even more impossible to achieve a breakthrough.

Whether Kushner, Greenblatt or now Berkowitz, their record shows that their key contribution was to act as apologists for the most extreme, hard line government in the history of Israel. This is unlikely to change after the upcoming Israeli elections, and regardless of the results.

When Trump first announced his intention to work on a peace plan, he repeatedly spoke of the “ultimate deal”. In recent statements, US officials now refer to a “vision” for peace, and until Trump’s own election comes up at the end of next year, Palestinians can only expect an illusion.

 

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