Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz – both vying for Israel’s premiership in elections due in a few weeks – are to fly out this weekend for separate discussions with the US president on what has been dubbed the “deal of the century”.
Back home, the Palestinian leadership, which cut contact with Washington years ago and has long said the US cannot be an honest broker, allegedly found out about the plan from Israeli media.
Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh has said the Palestinians’ “clear and unwavering position” is to reject any Trump-led initiatives. The territories’ chief negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat added that any proposal that ignores that Israel is occupying the Palestinian Territories will be “recorded in history as the fraud of the century”.
Certainly, the leaks in Israeli media, if they are to be believed (Trump has called them “speculative”) point to an agreement which the Palestinians – if they have any interest in having a proper functioning sovereign state – cannot accept.
According to Israeli Channel 13, the plan includes granting Israel complete control of the contested city of Jerusalem, with only symbolic Palestinian representation. Israel will also get sovereignty over most of its settlements in the occupied West Bank, effectively handing over a third of Palestinian territory to Israel.
The leaks also say that the plan makes Palestinian statehood conditional on things like the complete demilitarisation of Gaza and disarmament of Hamas – conditions no Palestinian leader would be able to enforce.
And so this deal seems less interested in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than in eroding the accepted principles for peace, all while legitimising the reality on the ground (the de facto annexation of most of the West Bank), even if it violates international law.
With no other world power taking the initiative to put forward an alternative plan, America’s may well be successful.
Leaks aside, the words of Trump’s cadres speak volumes. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s adviser on Israel, tweeted to the UN’s Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov – who had suggested that the annexation of Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank would be a “devastating blow” to advancing regional peace – that there has to be a “reality check about Judea & Samaria/ West Bank”. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and the architect of the plan, has made it clear that the phrase “two-state solution”, the largely accepted resolution to the crisis, will not be included in the plan.
This is not entirely surprising given that, when the economic segment of the agreement was unveiled in Bahrain last year, Kushner avoided speaking about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories; the near-wars between the Israeli army and militants in Gaza; and the Palestinian desire for statehood. Instead, he spoke of a Palestinian “community” that could benefit financially if they only capitulate. As Dr Yara Hawari, senior policy fellow of Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told me: “The economy plan which was released last year was very telling: Palestinians would be offered economic incentives in exchange for their rights.”
Looking at the geographical elements of the plan that have since been leaked, she added: “I don’t think there is a possibility of a Palestinian state.”
Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy lead, agreed that the Trump administration’s plan is not a peace deal but rather “a roadmap to permanent occupation”, calling on the US congress and presidential candidates to reject it. “By legitimising ongoing rights violations and entrenching existing political divisions,” he said, the plan “further dims the prospects for peace. It also undermines any remaining hopes for the United States to serve as a credible broker between Israelis and Palestinians in the future.”
The timing and the mode of the delivery of the plan also appear to be driven less by the conflict itself than by American and Israeli domestic agendas. Trump is marching towards an election while undergoing an impeachment trial; Netanyahu is also campaigning for re-election under the shadow of indictment. According to Hawari, the two men are aware of their parallel predicaments: “We saw a conversation between [US vice president Mike] Pence and Netanyahu the other day that when Netanyahu commented on Trump’s impeachment – Pence said he was unstoppable as much as Netanyahu is unstoppable. This very much goes to go show Trump’s plan goes hand in hand with the re-election of Netanyahu,” she added.