Eau Claire, WI (Special to Informed Comment) – President Trump unveiled his administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan at the White House on January 28, 2020, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that there are ‘many, many countries who want to partake in this,’ and predicting that “you are going to have tremendous support from your neighbors and beyond your neighbors.” The architects of the plan, the trio President’s Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, long-time confidant, and chief legal officer to Trump’s business, and US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, are staunchly pro-Israel, and they have manufactured a plan without any input from the US State Department and in negation of all previous US pledges, commitments, and support for a ‘reasonably-viable’ two-state solution within the framework of international law. Muriel Asseburg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs wrote earlier in April 2019… “the US Administration’s record to date suggests that the initiative will prioritize Israeli interests over Palestinian rights, ignore fundamental principles of international law, and steer well away from the idea of two sovereign states. The Palestinian leadership’s rejection must, therefore, be expected. The incoming Israeli government is likely to treat that as a green light to implement those elements of the plan that serve to maintain its permanent control over East Jerusalem and strategic areas of the West Bank. This course also risks breakdown of the already precarious Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on conflict management.”
The ‘peace plan’ essentially asks the Palestinians to surrender; a take it or leave it to offer, refuse the plan, you will be even worse of while Israel will get what it wants. The so-called peace vision would allow Israel to keep the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and a unified Jerusalem, ensuring that some 700,000 Israeli settlers can remain on lands captured by Israel and under Israeli law. The Palestinians are told to build their capital in the small town of Abu Dais in a poor neighborhood in east Jerusalem, cutting it off from the city by a concrete separation barrier. A new Palestinian state would be demilitarized, relinquishing considerable security control to Israel. Palestinian refugees also must forget their dreams of a return to their homeland. A land swap with Israel with extending Gaza strip’s territory to the south for the loss of land in the West Bank, and Gaza and the West Bank will be connected via a tunnel. A US and Arab and Western allies’ goodwill provides a $50 billion reward to pay for infrastructure and development of the proposed Palestinian State. The will-be disjointed Palestinian State’s internal and external security and sovereignty will be limited by Israel’s. Predictably, the Palestinian leadership has vehemently rejected the ‘deal of the century’ proposal, as have 94 percent of the Palestinians. So, no serious observer of the Middle East could believe the merits of the plan and its chances of success.
The question remains as to why initiate a plan with zero probability of success? Are the architects behind the plan or in the Trump administration so divorced from the realities of the Middle East that they cannot comprehend the plan’s biases and therefore its ultimate demise? Or, is it plausible that the assured Palestinian rejection will legitimize final Israel’s crawling efforts at taking full control of much of historical Palestine? A Palestinian refutation of the plan and the expected divided response from Arab countries will only set the stage for yet another ‘Palestinian rejection’ of a ‘peace plan,’ blaming the Palestinian leadership for ‘another missed opportunity’ to climb on the ‘peace wagon’ while giving Israel the opportunity to strike the final blow to the dream of the ‘two-state solution.’
The reason why all attempts at peace based on the 1967 UNSC Resolution 242 have failed is Israel’s unwillingness to ‘give up’ what is mandated and necessary. Israeli political class has since 1967 operated to ‘manage’ and not to resolve the conflict, giving the appearance of a genuine partner in peace negotiations but never willing to abide by the terms of the UNSC resolution 242. The Israeli narrative has always blamed the Arab States and/or the Palestinian leadership for the lack of success or the failure of peace negotiations while consolidating its physical control of land and resources in the occupied territories. The Israeli Jewish population even today believes ‘settlement’ can best serve Israel instead of recognition of a Palestinian state with its own viable territorial control. In Early 2018, only 39 percent of Israeli Jews favored a strive towards a permanent arrangement, with the vast majority favoring other options like annexation, the status quo, and separation from the Palestinians. Only 45 percent of Israeli Jews agree to a recognition of a Palestinian state (not necessarily the map of it) in a peace plan in January 2020.
Given the disarray in Arab politics, itself a product of the post-cold war era, the September 11, 2001, and the Arab Spring movements in 2011, the timing of the proposed peace plan is suspect and promises its failure. The wider regional and global events have long overshadowed and marginalized the plight of the Palestinian people. These events include, but not limited to, the Iranian Revolution (1979) and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon (1982–2000, 2006) and the besiege of Gaza (2008, 2014, and ongoing), the first Persian Gulf War (1990-91), the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on America, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), the continuing split in the Palestinian leadership (1983 in Lebanon, 1987 Hamas-led Intifada, and 2006 Hamas electoral victory), the Arab Spring movement (2011—present), the U.S. and NATO intervention and regime change in Libya (2011), political change in Egypt (after Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory in 2015 and the consequent military Coup d’état), the Saudi Arabian intervention in Bahrain (2011) and Yemen (2015), and the ongoing and devastating war in Syria since 2011. The latest blow to the Arab States and the Palestinian leadership and people is the destruction of Iraqi and Syrian states and infrastructure and the threat of Daesh and instability to Lebanese and Jordanian national cohesion, and the new wave of Arab and Palestinian refugees.
A Palestinian dilemma is that they have been victimized for decades by both Israeli occupation and brutal Arab political classes, whose interest is in the preservation of the socioeconomic and political status quo in their respective countries instead of serious efforts in pursuit of a viable Palestinian-Israeli peace plan. The Palestinian issue has been used as a rallying cry for Arab unity and as an expression of the Arab regimes’ sacrifices for the Palestinians, e.g., loss of territories, hosting Palestinian refugees. The Arab world, for the most part, has remained divided and uncertain over domestic and regional ‘security threats,’ only to show frivolous unity in the Arab League meetings while ‘betraying’ the Palestinians in the name of regime and/or national interest, e.g., 1970-71 Jordanian civil war, 1976-1990 civil war in Lebanon, and Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) peace treaties with Israel without concessions for the Palestinians. The rise of Iranian power is the Arab States’ latest excuse to deflect their endemic problems in governance by inflaming a Sunni-Shi’a divide and the fabrication of a security threat to their respective states.
Real Intentions, False Pretenses
The history of Israeli negotiation efforts tells of an approach designed to, (a) neutralize the Arab States and thus leaving the Palestinian leadership at the mercy of its terms of surrender, and (b) to negotiate terms that at best lead not to the creation of a ‘viable’ two-state solution based on the 1967 UNSC Resolution 242 but to an outcome similar to what the ‘deal of the century’ offers—a settlement that is tantamount to a surrender. Meanwhile, Israel’s approach to the conflicts since 1967 has been one of its management of the conflict instead of its resolution.
The Madrid talks and the Oslo process began unsurprisingly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of Iraq’s military and economy in early 1991, US military presence in Saudi Arabia for the first time, and its rise as the ‘indispensable hegemonic power’. The imbalance in bargaining power between the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states on one side and Israel on the other was astonishing, especially when the lone hegemonic power, the United States, took the center-stage to finally ‘resolve’ the conflict. The Oslo process promised on paper a peace based on UNSC resolution 242, but it only prepared the road for a Palestinian failure in fulfilling its end of the deal. Article 1 of the declaration read:
The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the “Council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Palestinians agreed to the 1993 ‘Declaration of Principle that also forbade Yasir Arafat’s PLO’s participation in the negotiations (Palestine was represented by the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation from only the occupied region when PLO leadership was in exile). PLO’s Yasser Arafat did manage to come back to the West Bank and to establish a headquarter in Ramallah, a small town in the West Bank. However, the agreement provided for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) municipal—not sovereign— control over Areas A (towns) and B (villages), leaving the vast Area C that connects towns and villages via road under Israeli’s! Yasser Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian National Council in 1996 with 88.1 percent of the popular vote but with little authority and resources. The PNA remained dependent on money and logistical support from the United States, the UN, Arab countries, and Israeli returns of tax funds owed to the PNA. The US supported and encouraged the PNA to ultimately ‘settle for peace’ but not a peace deal based on resolution 242. In the end, the Palestinian leadership denunciation of violence in 1988 that jump-started talks in Madrid and the Oslo process failed after twelve years of diplomacy. Israel, however, gained a peace treaty with Jordan, added an additional one million incoming Russian immigrants throughout the 1990s that further pushed Israeli politics to the right, and doubled the population of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza during the supposed peace talks that was led by the ‘left-leaning’ labor party in violation of a promised freeze in Israeli settlement activities! The number of settlements and settlers has continued to rise since the 1990s under different pretenses and excuses.
Oslo’s legacy read like a litany of promises deferred or unfulfilled. Throughout the 1990s, the Oslo process avoided negotiations over all central issues—the status of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, the right of return of refugees, questions of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, allocation of water resources, and the final map of the Palestinian state—postponing them to the final stage of negotiation! The Oslo peace process achieved what it meant to do: to neutralize Jordan where seventy percent of its population were Palestinians and to blame the Palestinian leadership for its eventual collapse while allowing Israel to expand its settlements in the occupied territories with the US muted support and finance through different military and non-military schemes, including guaranteed loans that has allowed Israel to borrow money and finance its settlement activities at lower interest rates at the expense of American taxpayers! As the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, noted in late 2016 the settler population in the West Bank alone — not including East Jerusalem — had increased by nearly 270,000 since the 1990s-era Oslo peace accords and by 100,000 since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The failure of Camp David II in 2000 effectively declared the demise of the Oslo Process.
The collapse of negotiations in 2000, with most Palestinians still living in poverty and growing increasingly desperate, led to a new wave of violence. Israel continued to blame Arafat for the violence–even that which was perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, groups that had probably never been under his control. The collapse of peace talks and the declaration of intifada II by the Palestinians led to the election of a hawkish right-wing government in Israel. Then, Mahmoud Abbas became the new chairman of the PLO and was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 but without much power to pursue a final peace deal. Instead, Abbas could not stop Hamas’ electoral victory in Gaza in 2006 that brought more division within the PNA leadership, as well as within the divided Arab world.
Since 2001, the ‘Arab radical camp’ (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Algeria, and Hamas and some Palestinian factions) are all either neutralized through direct military action (Libya, Syria, Iraq) or are rendered ‘tamed’ (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco) or are weak and almost irrelevant (Hamas, Islamic Jihad). As expected, the Persian Gulf Arab States have cautiously welcomed the plan, balancing their concerns over regime survival and the will of their respective populace in an already turbulent region. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, has called the plan “a serious initiative that addresses many issues raised over the years,” and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a muted statement saying that it “appreciates the efforts of President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan.” Kuwait and Morocco have stated that they ‘appreciate’ (Morocco) and ‘highly appreciate’ the peace plan while Jordan and Egypt are juxtaposing their financial and security dependence on the United States and Israel with popular demand from their respective population. The only potential serious threat to the plan comes from the ‘Resistance Front’ consisting of Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and much weakened Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and what is left of Syria.
Israeli settlement activities without US financial and political support would have remained limited. Israel remains the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $142.3 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although from 1971 to 2007 Israel also received significant economic assistance. According to Congressional Research Service, as of 2019, Israel has issued $4.1 billion in U.S.-backed bonds, and might still be authorized to issue up to $3.814 billion in U.S.-backed bonds. Although Israel must not spend the money for settlement activities, “U.S. officials have noted that since Israel’s national budget is fungible, proceeds from the issuance of U.S.-guaranteed debt that are used to refinance Israeli government debt-free up domestic Israeli funds for other uses” (p. 29). Israel unlike any other recipient of US financial aid receive its aid in a lump sum during the first month of the fiscal year, allowing it to invest the funds in the U.S. and earn interest on them. The foreign assistance appropriation bill signed on November 5, 1990, provided this special treatment for Israel.
According to the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, more than 3 million people live in the West Bank and 86% of them are Palestinians. There are 132 settlements and 113 outposts – settlements built without official authorization – in the West Bank. The group says more than 413,000 settlers live there, with numbers increasing year on year. (Out of 126 outposts established: 2 outposts were evicted (Migron and Amona); 15 outposts were legalized (three as independent settlements and 12 as “neighborhoods” of existing settlements); at least 35 outposts are in the process of being legalized. The outposts phenomenon started mainly under Netanyahu as Prime Minister in 1996 (during the Oslo), and it was stopped only in 2005. In 2012 the government of Netanyahu started to establish illegal outposts again. The rise of Hamas and the split in leadership since 2006 has eroded the Palestinian position. Today, the Palestinian Authority (PA) oversees merely 18% (Area A) of the West Bank, where it can control internal security but not complete sovereign control. Areas B (21%) where PA controls education, health, and the economy, and Area C (60%) is outside PA’s sovereign control, where Israel has the ultimate say in matters of security and all that falls within its security parameters, including, communication, transportation, and governance in general. The Palestinian people remain divided between those living in the West Bank under the PA rules and those living under Hamas control in the Gaza Strip.
Under the Trump Administration, U.S. policy toward the Palestinians has revealed its true partial bias favoring Israel. In 2018, the Administration significantly cut U.S. funding for the Palestinians, closed the PLO’s representative office in Washington, DC, and merged the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem (which had dealt independently with the Palestinians for decades) into a single diplomatic mission with the U.S. embassy to Israel. The U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018 has de facto meant the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem, leaving the small town of Abu Dais on the outskirts of Jerusalem as a future Palestinian State framed within the ‘deal of the century offer.
Israel has always considered the Arab states and not the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as its true adversary. That is, the road to a peace settlement must travel to Arab capitals—mainly Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Beirut, Riyadh, Baghdad, and Libya’s Tripoli. The peace treaty with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) left PLO without the support of its two major allies and made sure of the defunct 2000 Camp David II settlement offer’s failure.
I wrote in 2017 that “Arab governments have been too inept and corrupt to effectively negotiate on behalf and in the interest of the Palestinians,” and second, “successive Israeli governments have had the upper hand in power parameters and in negotiations, with the intention to dictate the terms of a Palestinian surrender while neutralizing Arab States’ security threats,” and that “the United States has been far from a neutral third-party mediator, using its hard and soft power in the service of a ‘peace settlement’ or a ‘conflict resolution’ instead of a genuine peace.” The Oslo process only neutralized the Jordanian threat and left the Palestinian leadership at the mercy of the Israeli protagonists and their American supporters. The failure of Camp David II (2000) showed the total weakness and dependence of the Palestinian leadership on their Arab patrons and the United States who in the end blamed Yasser Arafat for its failure. Abandoned by the Arab States, Yasser Arafat in 2000 could not betray the Palestinian people’s trust and agree to the terms of the agreement: to effectively forsake the dream of statehood and control over East Jerusalem and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
Today, with the Arab world divided and in its weakest point in recent history, the Palestinian leadership remains more vulnerable than ever to the Israeli and American pressure. Israeli settlements have expanded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where settlers’ population now is about 700,000. Gaza is a vast prison camp surrounded by Israeli and Egyptian soldiers, and at the mercy of political events happening outside its borders. Syria’s Golan Heights and its precious water resources also remain under Israeli control. Palestinian refugees’ number in the millions and there are no signs of hope of a return now or ever!
Far from being a neutral mediator, the United States’ policy preferences have helped perpetuate a dominant Israeli position in its relations with the Arab states and the unresolved Palestinian dilemma. The U.S. policy has also continued with its traditional support for Israel and the defense of authoritarian but friendly Arab regimes, significant arms transfer, and a ‘declared war’ on terrorism that has effectively brought chaos and destruction to much of the region. The U.S. continues to overlook Israeli stockpiles of nuclear weapons and its illegal occupation of Arab lands and settlement activities. The Trump administration has finally revealed the true US defunct declared neutral mediator role in the conflict, boldly offering a deal of the century that simply is ‘the sale of the century’. The deal of the century has, at last, revealed the decades-old-open-secret U.S. partiality as a mediator in the conflict, ensuring Israeli preeminent power superiority over the Palestinian leadership and the Arab States, and tolerating Israeli territorial expansion and annexation of territories in dispute while helping with its management of the conflict. Now that the two-state solution is practically dead and the one-state solution is extremely unpalatable to Israel, the stage is set for more years of violence and bloodshed ahead. Such an offer is befitting a president who is a ‘real estate deal maker’ in his heart and impervious to the long-term consequences of US policy.
Bonus Video added by Informed Comment: