Ever since President Donald Trump entered the White House on 20 January 2017, he has not stopped talking about an “ultimate deal” that his administration would propose to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In order to do so, he appointed a Jewish trio to handle the question, and come up with a magic deal. The three included his son-in-law, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt and David Freidman. The latter, a non-career diplomat, was appointed US ambassador to Israel. An alarming detail about him raised some suspicions from day one. He has been known to be an ardent supporter of the colonisation of the West Bank. Later on, people thought that because of his pro-Israeli statements that he was the Israeli ambassador to Washington and not vice versa.
In parallel with the “search” for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Trump administration worked on two levels in order to make its “ultimate plan” acceptable to Arabs and the Islamic world. In order to woo Saudi Arabia and the Islamic world, the first trip of the newly-elected US president was to Riyadh to hold the first Muslim-American summit in May 2017. This presidential trip was unprecedented insofar as it had been customary in the presidential history of the United States that the new president pay his first visit to Great Britain, or either Canada or Mexico. Needless to say, the Riyadh visit sent waves across the Muslim world. Muslims and Arabs thought that a new, more promising chapter with the United States would be ushered in, a chapter that would mark a complete departure from American policies in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world from the previous decade and a half in the post-11 September period. His speech before this summit reminded many Muslims and Arabs of the Cairo speech of former president Barack Obama on 4 June 2009. This comparison in itself was not a very good omen.
The second level was the one dealing with Iran. In the election campaign of 2016, candidate Trump kept launching attacks against the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had signed with Tehran in July 2015. And he promised to withdraw from it if elected. The policy was not only to withdraw from this accord but to adopt a campaign of “maximum pressure” on the Iranian regime, a policy that did not differ a bit from Israeli policies against Tehran. In fact, the withdrawal from the accord, which took place 8 May 2018, was a step that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had always called for since 2015.
In the last three years, the Trump administration, while working on the details of the “ultimate deal”, has taken four explosive decisions that upended Middle Eastern order, in addition to breaking all United Nations resolutions, be it on the Arab-Israeli conflict or on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. All while postponing the release of the “deal”, called sometimes the “Deal of the Century”. The first was the recognition of Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of the State of Israel. Three former US presidents, Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican George W Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, covering a timespan from 1992 to 2017, declined to take such a step because they had determined that it would not be in the national interest of the United States. Six months later, the US administration moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish state.
These two decisions were accompanied by the closing down of the representative office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Washington DC, and the cutting off of financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which was established according to the Oslo Accords signed between the PLO and the government of Israel on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993 in presence of former president Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, the Trump administration stopped funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that has catered for Palestinian refugees across the Middle East since 1948. They had been 700,000 when it started its operations; now they number five million souls looking for their lawful Palestinian lands in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Further, in the last quarter of 2019, the Trump administration concluded that Israeli colonisation of the West Bank is not “inconsistent with international law”. That was the last nail in the coffin of any peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Before its official release, the “Deal of the Century” was the great giveaway of the century, the scandalous denial of UN resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian question, which have been the basis of all peace proposals in this regard. In the meantime, the US administration recognised, last March, Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights.
All these decisions made hollow any peace plan advanced by the Trump administration. This is the reason why, when President Trump, flanked by Netanyahu, unveiled his “ultimate deal” on Tuesday, 28 January 2020, at the White House, the deal was almost dead on arrival. The effusive thanks that the Israeli prime minister showered on Jared Kushner that day, telling him that history would record that he is the one behind the generous giveaway to Israel, was distasteful. That is why I call the proposals put forward on 28 January, that wrongly purport to solve the Palestinian question, the “Jared Blueprint” because, simply put, what has been offered by Jared Kushner to the Palestinians is tantamount to an ignominious surrender to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and a directive live within the boundaries of a Palestinian Bantustan under the full control of Israel.
To make matters worse, his blueprint empowers Israel to annex the Jordan Valley, thus posing a serious threat to the territorial integrity and independence of Jordan.
Another dangerous aspect of this failed blueprint is the idea that the five million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank would remain where they are right now. In other words, it deprives them of the right of return or compensation.
The Jared Blueprint is a recipe for more destabilisation in the Middle East.
Arab countries are in a very critical situation. Some of them have been hand in glove with the Trump administration when it comes to regional crises, foremost among which the near-perpetual confrontation with Iran that keeps simmering without an end in sight. As to the Palestinians themselves, their disunity is a serious obstacle that should be addressed forthwith if they want really to engage the international community on their side in pushing back against Kushner’s proposals.
Arab foreign ministers met in an emergency meeting last Saturday, 1 February, in Cairo, at the urgent request of the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. There was full support for the two-state solution, and a call for inter-Palestinian unity.
In the meantime, Chairman Abbas addressed two letters to the American and Israeli governments, notifying both that the Palestinian Authority will no longer abide by the Oslo Accords on the grounds that the Israeli government, by adopting the American peace proposals of 28 January, has reneged on its commitments under the accords. If fully implemented, this means that security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli army in the West Bank would end, returning to Israel full responsibilities and obligations under international humanitarian law as an “occupying power.”
The most important task before the Palestinians and Arab countries is to commit to a unified position as adopted in Cairo last Saturday and provide unwavering financial, economic and political support for the Palestinian Authority as well as UNRWA. Arab countries cannot afford to let the Palestinians down in these very challenging times, leaving them at the mercy of the Israeli army and settlers.
We should not be coerced either by the Americans or the Israelis into surrender.
*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.