After much anticipation US President Donald Trump disclosed his peace plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace last month, but even before it was taken up for discussion in diplomatic circles the plan appeared to be stillborn.
Immediately after Trump’s announcement of the plan, dubbed the “Deal of the Century” by the US, the Arab countries’ reactions were varied.
The Palestinians led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, the Arab League and Syria all rejected the plan out of hand. The Gulf countries said it could be a “starting point” for negotiation and said they “appreciated the US endeavours to find solutions to the conflict.” Egypt and Jordan called for the resumption of the peace talks that have been halted for years.
The staunchest reaction in opposition to Trump’s plan came during the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo at the end of last week. Before arriving in Cairo, Abbas dismissed the plan as “a conspiracy.”
“I won’t go down in history as the leader who sold Jerusalem,” he said, referring to the city whose eastern part the Palestinians and the majority of Arabs claim as the capital of Palestine.
“We informed the Israelis and the Americans that there will be no relationship with them, including security relations, in the light of their disavowal of signed agreements and international legitimacy,” Abbas said.
Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit said that “the Palestinians reject the status quo because it does not meet their aspirations and effectively puts them under occupation. It would be absurd for a peace plan to lead to the consecration and legitimisation of this occupation.”
Abul-Gheit added that the meeting sent a “message to the whole world that the Palestinians are not alone and that the free Palestinian decision has Arab backing,” explaining that the two parties must negotiate with each other to reach a solution that both can accept and coexist with.
He criticised the neglect of the Palestinian side in the announcement of the plan during which Trump appeared alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House. “The starting point for this negotiation cannot be meeting all the demands of one side and completely disregarding the vision of the other,” he said.
According to the plan, Israel would control the majority of the West Bank, to include the settlements it has built there, Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty (after Trump moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem), and a disintegrated Palestinian state would be established on less than half of the West Bank.
Israel has vowed to limit settlement activity in the West Bank for four years, which is the period granted to the Palestinians to decide to negotiate with Israel on the basis of the plan.
Nevertheless, even before returning to Israel Netanyahu decided that he would present a proposal to the Israeli parliament the Knesset to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley and the West Bank settlements to Israel.
The plan gives the Palestinians a suburb near Jerusalem to be their capital instead of East Jerusalem. Jordan would retain its responsibilities towards the Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa Compound, known as the Temple Mount, under the plan.
According to Trump, the plan will generate one million jobs for the Palestinians, with $50 billion set aside to develop infrastructure in Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
The Arab foreign ministers meeting decided not to deal with the US peace plan or cooperate with Washington on it, considering that the Arab Peace Initiative launched in 2002 was the minimum acceptable for the Arabs to achieve peace. The Initiative called for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands that began in 1967 and establishing an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Before the meeting, Jordan called on international law to resolve the conflict. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said that “a two-state solution that meets the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people, especially its right to freedom and in a state according to the 4 June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, to live in security and peace alongside Israel... is the only way to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said his country wanted “a just and comprehensive peace that will end the occupation and preserve the rights of the Palestinians and the interests of Jordan.”
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry called for a “meticulous study” of the US peace plan and urged the two parties to “open channels of dialogue to resume negotiations under US auspices, to put forward the visions of the Palestinian and Israeli parties.”
Lebanon and Jordan were concerned that Trump’s declaration of the plan made no mention of the Palestinian refugees, meaning that there could be a US intention to resettle the refugees in the two countries. The move would have important economic consequences and introduce a far-reaching demographic imbalance.
Some observers believe Cairo, Amman and Beirut’s positions are basically in rejection of the majority of the US peace plan, but they do not want to raise problems with Washington, knowing that “the Deal of the Century is stillborn,” as was plain at the Bahrain conference that paved the way for Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to present the plan last year.
“On that day, Egypt and Jordan sent delegations represented at a lower level than their foreign ministers, indicating that they rejected the plan,” commented Saad Hattar, a Jordanian journalist. “Like other such plans, Trump’s cannot be passed. But unless we do something about it, things will go downhill,” he added.
Riyadh announced that Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz had “affirmed the Kingdom’s steadfast position on the Palestinian cause” in a telephone conversation with Abbas. However, the other Gulf countries had no objections to Trump’s plan.
Qatar welcomed what it described as “US efforts to find solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict as long as they fall within the framework of international legitimacy.” The UAE saw the Trump plan as an “important starting point for returning to the negotiating table,” confirming that it welcomed this “serious initiative.”
“The UAE appreciates the continued efforts of the US to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement,” UAE Ambassador to Washington Youssef Al-Otaiba tweeted. The ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain and Oman were also present when the Trump plan was announced.
The Arab capitals did not witness mass demonstrations condemning the US plan, except in Amman. “The majority of the capitals are busy with other issues, such as in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Tunisia,” Hattar commented.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.