Palestinian observers and analysts believe the plan of US President Donald Trump for peace in the Middle East region is essentially everything Israel’s right-wing wants without any consideration of Palestinian rights, international law or UN resolutions.
Trump’s deal dictates a “unified Jerusalem” as the capital of Israel, settlements in the West Bank annexed to Israel, and the negation of the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The deal also mentions a Palestinian state in remnants of the West Bank with its capital in the suburbs of East Jerusalem, not the city itself. The Palestinian position was clearly stated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said the deal was a “slap in the face” and the response is to hit back.
Abbas emphasised Palestinian fundamentals, unified national action, and restoring national unity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the best response to Trump’s proposal.
Experts agreed that the leadership in Ramallah and Gaza must quickly close ranks and end divisions that Israel has encouraged by supporting Gaza and separating it from the West Bank. They add that there are critical challenges and attempts by the US and Israel to eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian state altogether, turning the cause into a mockery of a people without land or rights.
Observers add that the Palestinian condition today is at a crossroads. They must choose either to live with Trump’s deal but continue to reject it without counter-action; wait for negotiations to restart under Quartet auspices in the hope that the EU and Russia will play a more effective role; or wait for an official announcement of the death of the Oslo process, starting a new chapter of implementing decisions by the Palestinian national and central councils, and revising the functions of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to begin a drive towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Ibrahim Deebes, writer and analyst, pondered the options after Palestinians rejected the deal and Abbas’s refusal to meet with Trump or receive messages from him. Abbas said he would go to the Security Council and international bodies, but the Security Council is ineffective since the US veto is ready at the drop of a hat. The UN has issued many resolutions that were never implemented, and Israel flagrantly and brazenly ignores them, including designating the West Bank as occupied territory, settlements there as illegal and prohibiting the annexing of Jerusalem.
None of this has changed anything on the ground. Israel has placed the West Bank under siege, carries out incursions even into Ramallah, could prevent Abbas from returning to his headquarters there or put him under siege, as it did with late president Yasser Arafat. Israel also wants to annex the Jordan Valley and all areas with small Arab populations.
Deebes believes that speeches don’t change anything because those who have no power have no voice, and power is not only military but also economic, commercial, revenue-based, export-based, industrially-based and in general influence, etc. “Israel possesses all these powers,” he said. “We hear a lot of support from the world but without any tangible results, because words are one thing and action is another.”
He continued: “Even we, as Palestinians, are divided. Reconciling and closing ranks is the strongest response. There are signs this is happening, and we hope they reach agreement and understandings quickly.”
Al-Sadek Al-Shafie, writer and political analyst, believes the deal in essence and wordage was intentionally written to ensure Palestinian rejection, and the ceremony of announcing the deal did not include the other party (Palestinians). “They were not even invited, even if only to embarrass them or clear Washington’s conscience,” Al-Shafie said. “The deal did not add anything new to leaked reports. Leaks were not accidental, and were never denied or corrected to ensure Palestinians reject it.”
He pointed to statements by former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who also served as White House envoy to the region under Obama’s administration, who was quoted in The New York Times as saying: “For [Trump] to take this step amid Israeli elections without inviting the Palestinians or a follow-up plan with the parties involved, means this is not a peace plan at all. It’s a joke.” The New York Times concluded the piece by saying that the deal “will not be the deal of the century, but an electoral boost for Netanyahu”.
Al-Shafie believes the timing of unveiling the plan serves two goals. First, to bolster Netanyahu in upcoming Knesset elections and as he faces corruption charges, and second to boost Trump in his re-election campaign and ongoing impeachment trial in Congress. He noted that many of the key components of the deal were already implemented through the force of occupation and approval by Washington, even before they were announced.
A unified Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state is already recognised; denying the issue of Palestinian refugees and right of return is already established; legitimising settlements and annexing them to the occupation is ongoing; removing the term “occupied” from territories controlled or annexed by Israel provides discursive support for Israeli policies; giving a green light and preapproval for Israel to take control of the Jordan Valley and the east of the Dead Sea is a prelude to annexation.
Al-Shafie explained that in the logic of business deals, the mediator, or referee (Trump), gave the first party, Israel, everything it wants and more upfront, knowing that most of the deal has been implemented and the rest (annexing the Jordan Valley) will be fulfilled soon after. Meanwhile, the referee did not give the second party, the Palestinians, anything except a mere promise of a state that has no sovereignty, no connectivity, no authority, no security, no capital in Jerusalem; a delayed and preconditional state that must wait until the details are negotiated in the next four years to the liking of Israel. “If you look at the map of the promised state attached to the proposal, it’s a black comedy or an absurd farcical cartoon,” he said.
Abdel-Majid Sweilam, another political analyst, believes that the implications of Trump’s plan are deeper, greater and more significant than a cursory political reading of the proposal. The deal, unlike anything before, highlights the historic clash between two opposite schemes. One, a racist, colonial, expansionist and hostile Zionist plot that began and gained strength over more than 70 years of aggressive and expansionist policies. With this deal, it is trying to tighten its grip over historic Palestine and force more than 13 million Palestinians to choose one of two options: live in ghettos under occupation and direct racist control without any national rights; or find a living place away from Palestine.
The other scheme is the national project of the Palestine Liberation Organisation that aims to create an independent state within the borders of 4 June 1967, including East Jerusalem, and gives all diaspora Palestinians the right of return as part of a political solution based on international law and legitimacy.
Trump’s proposal highlights the clash and contradictions between these two projects which cannot be reconciled without resolving the national cause of the Palestinian people. The Zionist plot does not recognise this solution and wants to erase it by harnessing all its powers to prevent it from happening.
In fact, it believes that consolidating the Zionist plot requires aborting and decimating the Palestinian national project. “Today, due to Trump’s proposal, we have reached the end of the dead end, and we must dig another road,” said Sweilam. “It is impossible for us to stand still and resist without taking another path and forging ahead.”
He continued that the conflict is now out in the open and under the correct light; namely, that US-Israeli “peace” is an offence that decimates the nationalist project of the Palestinian people and allows the Zionist plot to swallow Palestine, its land, geography, history and narrative, giving control to a racist, colonial Jewish state.
“Without knowing it, Trump’s plan is a gift in disguise,” according to Sweilam. “It spells out that the Zionist plot cannot tolerate or co-exist with the minimum of our national rights. Seizing these rights must come through struggle, so Palestinians can impose a favourable balance of power. Starting now, it will be very difficult for any patriotic Palestinian to continue quarrelling about confronting the Zionist plot, its tools, policies and alliances. This will re-engineer the Palestinian struggle and require every Palestinian to return to the roots and origins of the conflict — its Arab and liberation dimensions.”
Sweilam believes Trump has re-centred Palestinians to self-reflect, close ranks and fortify their position to face the new challenge of bringing the conflict back to a just path.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Dead in the water deal