It is a rough time in the Middle East. An accelerating drive to counter Iran could lead to a military showdown between the United States and its Arab allies and the Islamic Republic.
Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where pro-Iran armed groups are operating, are also enmeshed in the simmering conflict. Libya has been reeling from a civil war, and popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan are rattling two other Arab countries.
But just as the Arab world is slowly and steadily drifting in a dangerous direction, a US Middle East peace plan to end the seven-decade Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens to deal a further blow to the aspirations of Palestinians for statehood and allow Israel to take over most of the land in the West Bank.
Furthermore, the controversial plan, the brainchild of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and adviser to US President Donald Trump, and widely known as the “Deal of the Century”, would usher in a new Middle Eastern order and possibly redraw the region’s borders with complete disregard for the Arabs.
The official announcement of the plan is set to be made after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in early June, but an Israeli newspaper has leaked what it describes as details of the document.
It shows that the plan offers neither an end to Israeli rule nor its policies of colonisation in Palestine.
Under the plan, leaked to the newspaper Israel Hayom, a Palestinian entity would be created in the West Bank and Gaza named “New Palestine”.
The proposed deal would be between Israel, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas. All settlements in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel, and the plan would leave “New Palestine” nominally in charge of about 12 per cent of historic Palestine.
Jerusalem would be neither divided nor shared but would be the capital of both Israel and “New Palestine”. It would be administered by an Israeli municipality that would manage all aspects of the city, except education, which would be handled by the Palestinian government. “New Palestine” would pay the municipality for all other services.
Key components of the deal include keeping the Jordan Valley under Israeli control while giving the Palestinians two land passages to Jordan under the Palestinian entity’s control.
The Palestinians would also not be allowed to maintain an army or have heavy weapons. They would only be allowed to have a police force armed with light weapons.
According to the deal, Hamas would be completely disarmed immediately after the signing of the deal, and it would hand over all its weapons while Hamas personnel would be compensated and paid salaries by the Gulf states in return.
A land corridor would connect the West Bank to Gaza. The latter, currently controlled by Hamas, would be opened up to the world, and an industrial zone, a seaport and airport would be created for the congested Strip.
The 50-page plan states that a $30 billion economic development plan for Palestinian cities over five years would be put into effect for the entity to be funded by the United States, Europe, other developed nations, and the oil-rich countries of the Arabian Gulf.
All Palestinian political prisoners would be released within three years of the election of a new government. The election would take place a year after the signing of the “deal”.
Given what Israel has been crafting for the Palestinians over the past three decades and what the Trump administration has already begun implementing over the past two years, from moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem to cutting US aid to the Palestinians, the leaked report sheds additional light on how Washington and Tel Aviv are working to write what they see as the last chapter of the Palestinian issue.
What will happen to the “New Palestine” after the five-year period remains unclear in the document, though the plan provides many sticks as attempts to batter the Palestinians into submission.
The US, the leaked report states, would cut off all money transfers to the Palestinians if they dissent from the plan. It would also hold the leaders of Palestinian factions opposing the “deal” responsible and would “back Israel in order to personally harm Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders” in another round of violence between Israel and Hamas.
File Photo: Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 71st anniversary of the 'Nakba' (Reuters)
Beyond all that, the deal has dropped the two-state solution, an option to establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip that has been supported by the international community as the best way to ensure peace in the region.
As such, the plan would reduce the Palestinian Territories to mere economic units without national political rights or individual aspirations, lacking any right to self-determination or means to escape Israeli domination.
With the “Deal of the Century” reinforcing the Israeli notion of never ceding occupied land and the removal of “unwanted” Palestinians from their communities, there is a great danger of population transfers to neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Jordan.
While Egypt has vehemently opposed any territorial concessions as part of a Middle East peace package, Jordan remains in favour of a two-state solution that guarantees the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In many ways, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is nothing more than a reformulation of the endgame of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle by the Israeli right, which believes that the Palestinian leadership’s impotence and Middle East turmoil provide the best opportunity for a Jewish state to gain de facto control over territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and most of the Arab people within it.
However, to serve any useful purpose in understanding the wide-ranging impacts of the plan, the debate will need to cut a good deal deeper than the implications for the perpetual colonisation of Palestine and the dehumanising of the Palestinians alone.
The Trump administration’s recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights is just another guide to what the “deal” could cause on the broader regional level.
Trump’s bizarre plan prescribes a gloomy future for an already unstable Middle East. If the project is implemented, it will be another major step forward in an ongoing process to reshape the Middle East that started with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The geopolitical and demographic changes that would be initiated by implementing the “Deal of the Century” would most likely create new dynamics for a changing region and ultimately the redrawing of state borders.
This would look remarkably like the redrawing of the Arab region at the beginning of the 20th century by the Western powers that inherited the Arab provinces of the former Ottoman Empire.
New countries were born, and borders were redrawn in the Middle East. The changes were marked by colonial schemes and ambitions, including the establishment of Israel, that have led to many of the conflicts that have made the Middle East one of the most volatile regions in the world today.
The “Deal of the Century” is now expected to add to a plethora of political upheavals and regional conflicts that are pushing for the creation of a new Arab order.
The new order may carve up the region in ways conducive to consolidating Israel’s claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, by means of the “Deal of the Century”.
If the Middle East is to be remapped, it will be a direct result of the Trump administration’s imperial blueprint to help the Israeli far-right achieve its dreams.
Yet, to most Palestinians, most Arabs, and even to many well-versed Middle East scholars and analysts, Trump’s “deal of the century” is like the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the many Western schemes that emerged after it as attempts to impose their desires on the region.
If the last seven decades serve as any lesson, Palestinian rights in Palestine cannot be eroded, and the Arabs’ standing will never change.
To be sure, the costs and risks of pushing this aggressive project will be enormous. The failure of the two-state solution leaves Israel with two options: either a Jewish-ruled South Africa-style apartheid state, or mass population transfers of the Palestinians after ethnic cleansing.
While the first scenario will not make Israel democratic or even acceptable to the international community, the latter will also never make it safer.
The Palestinians will ultimately survive this century’s catastrophe as they did the last and all the zero-sum Israeli politics that followed. The Arabs will also survive the geopolitical outcome of the deal, as they did when the modern Middle East states were carved up by the Sykes-Picot order in World War I and all the subsequent challenges to the system.
Without a just and durable solution to the Palestinian tragedy, which the “Deal of the Century” ignores, the Palestinians, whose national identity is tightly bound to the “old” Palestine, are bound to be in Israel’s way.
As for the Arabs, and as the peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and Jordan testify, it will be impossible for Israel to edge its way into the Middle East as the US plan envisions before it becomes a normal state.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The ‘Deal of the Century’ is not the end