Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, has recently concluded a visit to five countries in the Arab Gulf plus Turkey to discuss and present part of his long-awaited Israel-Palestine peace process plan. While the details of the plan remain a tightly held secret, Kushner’s decision to visit Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey might give an indication as to what’s included in the so-called “deal of the century”.
Considering Trump’s many internal troubles, the deeply divided US political scene and the latest failed summit with North Korea, the White House is looking for a major international breakthrough. Nothing could distract attention from increasing Democratic calls to impeach Trump than an announcement that the Palestinians and the Israelis are close to achieving a deal, a feat that no previous US administration managed to achieve. However, facts on the ground indicate this is nearly mission impossible.
According to the little information available, Kushner, during his tour of oil-rich Gulf nations, sought to limit his discussions to the economic dimensions of the proposed deal. However, the response he received from most of his hosts was that they would have little interest in contributing to the initiative until Kushner revealed his political cards on thorny issues such as occupied East Jerusalem, illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, final borders, the fate of refugees and water resources.
Indeed, relations between several Gulf states and Israel have improved to levels never before seen due to shared worries over Iran’s role in the region. But this improvement does not negate just Palestinian demands to end Israel’s illegal occupation of their land, or the detail of peace deals sponsored by previous US administrations since the Madrid Peace Conference held in 1991.
Meanwhile, prospects for an “ultimate deal” appears to shrink ever more on a distant horizon. Not only will close US allies in the Arab region be withholding judgement on Kushner’s ideas, but the central protagonists — Israelis and Palestinians — couldn’t appear less focused on reconciliation than they are today.
Israelis are invested fully in the campaign leading up to their national elections on 9 April. Peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbours has not been a top priority for Israeli voters, with candidates engaged in a debate over corruption charges filed against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thus, it’s hard to imagine a serious deal amid lengthy disputes over the shape of the next Israeli government. If Netanyahu doesn’t get re-elected, or if he is convicted of corruption, it will be wishful thinking to imagine any proposed deal seeing the light, however skilled Kushner and his team are.
Moreover, and after the Trump administration spared no effort to punish the Palestinian Authority (PA) for sharply criticising the decision by the US president to recognise occupied East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in clear violation of all international principles and agreements, it is very hard to imagine that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will react positively to any new US proposals. Only this week, the US State Department announced that it was annexing the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, unofficially handing relations with the Palestinians to its newly built embassy in the occupied city. That came after going as far as suspending US aid not just to the PA and UNRWA, but even to Palestinian hospitals and schools, and closing down the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington DC.
However, the key problem with the expected deal that Kushner and his aides have been working on for nearly two years is that it hasn’t learnt lessons from the past. After the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinians, late Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres painted a rosy picture of a “new Middle East”, and how joint, ambitious economic projects across the region would end decades of wars and animosity. This approach proved a major failure and a charade as Israel continued building illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and refused to recognise the right of the Palestinians to have their own independent state.
The genesis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not economic. It is about the internationally recognised right of the Palestinians to have a sovereign state, and solving the dispute according to relevant UN resolutions. The economic crisis of the Palestinians did not cause the conflict, but is one of its by-products. By merely dangling economic incentives before the Palestinians, Kushner is placing the cart before the horse.
Any credible peace effort must put the Palestinians and the Israelis at the negotiating table and apply equal pressure on both sides, not work with some outside parties who are mainly included for their potential to pay the financial bill of an uncertain deal that most clearly will fail to recognise legitimate Palestinian rights.