US President Donald Trump looked very euphoric while announcing his long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Trump has been discussing the details with Israeli leaders for at least 24 hours before the announcement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz had been briefed by the White House about the plan to get their consent to it before the official announcement.
The plan was expected to be a “rehashed” version of work done by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner over three years. Some amendments, though, were introduced to the original Kushner plan to appease some of the Arab states and win their support for the deal.
In particular, there have been amendments to the sections on Jerusalem, the reports said, a particularly sensitive issue for Arabs and Muslims.
However, the plan still did not look very different from previous leaks. Both Trump and Netanyahu talked about a completely demilitarised state of “New Palestine” and allowing Israel to annex parts of its colonies in the West Bank along with a shared capital in Occupied Jerusalem.
This “New Palestine” would control two crossings with Jordan and a tunnel would connect the remainder of the West Bank with the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians would not be allowed to maintain an army, and Israel would provide security to “New Palestine” against “external aggression,” with the Palestinians paying Israel for this protection.
The economic aspect of the deal proved a major achievement to both Trump and Netanyahu as they talked of an investment scheme over five years worth $50 billion for projects in Palestinian areas. Though leaked reports highlighted that the money is said mainly to be paid by the Arab Gulf countries, with these shouldering 70 per cent, America 20 per cent and the EU 10 per cent of the bill.
In fact, that part of the plan was unveiled in the Bahraini capital Manama a year ago but was met with a cold reaction from the targeted Gulf countries.
The US administration intends to give the Palestinians a few weeks after the announcement to make up their minds before taking up an official position.
Although Palestinians looked set to reject it, the US seems adamant on pressuring the Palestinians to yield in. According to reports, the package might include a set of sanctions on Palestinian leaders and officials and pressure on any donor country to stop aiding the Palestinians in case of rejection.
It is not only the Palestinians who might say no to the American plan, however, as some American sources have indicated reluctance from Jordan. Though Jordan is eyed as an American ally that has good relations with the Gulf, the Hashemite Kingdom would find it difficult to accept any plan that would mean Israel annexing the Jordan Valley.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II said last week in an interview that when examining the US peace plan, one should look at the glass as being “half full,” however.
Some analysts interpreted this as being a tacit acceptance from the king or an indication of coordination between Jordan and the White House. Others referred to other quotations from the king indicating otherwise. “Our position is perfectly well-known. We will not agree to proposals that come at our expense,” Abdullah is reported to have told the media, adding that “our position on the Palestinian cause is clear, and the word ‘no’ is very clear to everyone.”
Washington obviously was taking up the Israeli position that the Palestinians “always reject peace offers” and acting accordingly. “This could be the last opportunity the Palestinians will ever have,” affirmed Trump.
Former deputy minister and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was involved in drafting the plan with Kushner’s team at certain points. He told the Israeli press that “I explained [to the Americans] that anyone who conditions the process on a Palestinian agreement condemns it to failure and said that the outline should be directed at the majority of the Israeli public and the majority of the Sunni Arab world, including the Gulf states. I think this approach was accepted.”
But will the Gulf States accept the plan, or will they condition their endorsement of it on Palestinian acceptance, as has always been their policy? There is no clear answer to these questions yet. It should be noted that the relationship between the Trump administration and its Gulf allies is not as cozy as it was more than a year ago.
In private, however, some in the Gulf when talking off the record have expressed their frustration that the Palestinians have wasted many opportunities for peace and say they should grab whatever is offered now before they lose more.
The public mood in the Gulf is not much different from that in the rest of the Arab and Muslim world when it comes to the struggle with Israel. The media in the Gulf reflects the absence of a clear official position.
Some days ago, an editorial in the Dubai-based Gulf News stated that “the proposal offered by the Oval Office represents an abrogation of all of the principles necessary for a lasting peace and just settlement. Any lasting peace can only be built upon an acceptance and recognition of two states working side by side, the right of return for all Palestinians who have been forced from their homeland, a guarantee of equal rights and recognition of the shared importance of Jerusalem between both communities.”
If it were only the Gulf countries, they would go with a peace plan, but if the White House wants those countries also to “soften” the Jordanian or Egyptian stances, it will be more difficult to convince them.
As one Gulf analyst asked about both countries, “they [Egypt and Jordan] are American allies like us, so why should we do that for the White House?”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.