PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, which he had claimed would finally resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, was unveiled in late January. Grandiosely titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”, the plan’s stated goal “was to unleash the economic potential of the Palestinian people”. The Trump administration pledged a $50-billion financial package if they agreed to the terms of the deal. The money for the package is to be mostly raised from rich Gulf states and American private businesses. The plan offered, among other carrots, large-scale economic projects, including a free trade agreement with the United States and a new port in Gaza. All the previous American peace initiatives, including the Oslo Accords, had also promised statehood and an economic bonanza for the Palestinians.
Unsurprisingly, the deal on offer is one-sided and is aimed at giving the whole of Jerusalem and most of the West Bank to Israel on a platter. It envisages a so-called “Palestinian state” with virtually no sovereignty. Israel will be able to keep all the land it has stolen in the West Bank, further expand its settlements and retain security control over the Jordan valley. It has been a long-cherished Zionist goal to establish a Jewish state stretching from the Jordan river to the sea. Trump and his evangelical supporters are helping Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu realise his messianic dream.
Under the plan, a much-diminished Palestinian state, pock-marked with Israeli settlements, will have no borders with any Arab state. Trump wants Palestinians to accept that Israel will occupy 90 per cent of historical Palestine. The “deal of the century” also seeks to deny the millions of Palestinians who are forced to live as refugees the historic United Nations-endorsed “right to return”. Many of them were forced to flee from their homes after the state of Israel was created. The plan also demands that Palestinians recognise Israel as “a Jewish state”.
The plan talks about the possibility of a “population swap” whereby around 3,50,000 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship living along the border with the West Bank could be relocated and their land taken over by Jewish settlers. Such an idea has been put forward by many Israeli right-wing political leaders for a long time. A Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, Ayman Odeh, tweeted that Trump’s announcement was a “green light to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arab citizens who live in northern Israel”. The Trump administration is also seeking to give international legitimacy to the apartheid policies of the Israeli government through the auspices of the peace plan. Palestinians now refer to Trump’s endorsement of Israel’s settler-colonial project as the “hate plan” for the region.
Insult to injury
The severely curtailed Palestinian statehood proposed in the deal will only be a reality after the Israeli authorities are satisfied that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is “seriously combating” terrorism. The U.S. and Israel want Palestinians to renounce violence and have armed groups such as Hamas disarmed. Such a move is likely to trigger a civil war among Palestinians. The U.N. has recognised the right of people all over the world to fight for self-determination against outside powers occupying their lands.
Before the unveiling of the plan, Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N., wrote in an opinion piece in TheNew York Times that there was nothing wrong if Palestinians committed “national suicide” as it would then bring about peace because “surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission”. Already under Israeli occupation, more than 31 per cent of working-age Palestinians are unemployed and 29 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Not only were the Palestinians not consulted during the formulation of the plan, but they were insulted by the Trump administration from the outset. The U.S. had taken the unprecedented step of recognising Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel and moved its embassy there. It cut all humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank by suspending funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. The Palestine Liberation Organisation’s office in Washington was shut down.
The architect of the so-called “peace plan” was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who belongs to a family of avowed Zionists. His father is a close friend and backer of Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party. Juan Cole, an academic and an expert on the region, wrote: “Kushner is essentially an Israeli squatter on Palestinian land in the West Bank, and so it is little wonder that his plan for Palestinians is that they should continue under the Israeli jackboot and that a third of their territory in the West Bank should be given to Israel.”
'Joke of the century'
Not surprisingly, PA President Mahmoud Abbas took no time in dismissing Trump’s “deal of the century” as “the joke of the century”. Speaking at an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on February 1 held at his request, President Abbas announced that he was cutting all ties with the U.S. and Israel, including “security ties”, and declared his “complete rejection” of Trump’s peace plan. The PA has long cooperated with Israel and the U.S. in matters relating to security in the West Bank. The PA also has a security-sharing agreement with the U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency. President Abbas said that he had refused to talk to Trump on the phone or receive a formal letter from him on the subject, emphasising that he did not want the Americans to say that he was consulted on the peace plan. The Palestinian President is taking the case to the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. will of course veto a Security Council resolution, but such a move will allow the Palestinians to take their case to the U.N. General Assembly where they have overwhelming support. The Trump administration has warned the PA against taking its case to the U.N., but the Palestinians now have no option but to fight on.
Arab League Foreign Ministers issued a statement “rejecting the ‘American deal of the century’ considering that it does not meet the minimum rights and considerations of the Palestinian people”. The Arab states agreed that they would not cooperate with the U.S. in implementing its peace plan, insisted on a two-state solution based on the border before the 1967 war, and demanded that East Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent state of Palestine. Israel had occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem after that war. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 requires Israel to return to its 1967 borders. Leading members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Oman, had initially given the impression that they tacitly endorsed Trump’s plan. Oman, Bahrain and the UAE had attended the White House function where Trump, with Netanyahu standing with him, announced it. Diplomats of the three countries now say that they were not given the full details of the plan but only misleading information that East Jerusalem would be the capital of a viable Palestinian state.
Trump was facing impeachment and the Israeli Prime Minister had been indicted on corruption charges when the plan was made public. Trump wants to retain the evangelical vote in the forthcoming election. This influential segment blindly supports Israel as it tramples on the Palestinians. Trump has the full support of American Zionists such as Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire businessman who donates liberally to right-wing causes in the U.S. and Israel. Trump’s announcement has not so far helped Netanyahu in his election campaign. Trump had also invited Benny Gantz, the opposition leader vying to defeat Netanyahu in the March election, to Washington for the unveiling of his plan.
Egypt had initially indicated that it appreciated Trump’s initiative and urged a “careful and thorough study of the American vision”. President Trump boasted that he had received support from many world leaders for his plan. But even a close ally like Britain has now started expressing misgivings about some of its key aspects. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that his country was “concerned by reports about possible moves to annex the West Bank by Israel”. He said any such move would be “damaging to renewed efforts to restart negotiations, and contrary to international law”.
Jimmy Carter’s statement
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Trump’s plan would violate international law and urged the U.N. to stop Israel from annexing Palestinian land. “The new U.S. plan undercuts prospects for a just peace between Israelis and the Palestinians,” he said in a statement. “If implemented, the plan will doom the only viable solution to this problem—the two-state solution.” Netanyahu has already indicated he is planning to annex more Palestinian land with the blessings of the Trump administration.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had issued a strong statement condemning some Arab countries without naming them for being generally supportive of the American plan. “Some Arab countries that support such a plan commit treason against Jerusalem, and against their own people, and more importantly against all humanity,” he said in a speech. “We never recognise and accept the plan that usurps Jerusalem entirely.” He warned that there would be “grave consequences” if steps were taken to encourage Israel, which he described as “a rogue state”.
According to the perceptive Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, the so-called deal of the century only “reconfirms what was known: The evil thrives, this time in a particularly extreme edition of one-sidedness, racism and arrogance”. Writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz , Levy said that all that Palestinians might get would “be a caricature of an independent state after many years, if ever, and only as long as they agree to a series of degrading surrender conditions that even the lowest collaborator will never agree to”.
Palestinians all over the West Bank and Gaza have been staging protests against the proposed deal. Israeli firing and air strikes have already killed protesters in Gaza. The protests are spreading to other parts of the Arab world. Huge protests erupted in Beirut in front of the U.S. embassy.
There was criticism from Democrats, too. Bernie Sanders, who could be the Democratic candidate facing Trump in the November election, said that any peace deal “should be consistent with international law and multiple U.N. resolutions”. Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic front runner, said that Trump’s peace plan “is a rubber stamp for annexation and offers no chance for a real Palestinian state”.