At the White House on Tuesday, Donald Trump laid out his “deal of the century”: a plan for total Palestinian capitulation. It calls on Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state with all of Jerusalem as its capital, to give up the right of return that would allow Palestinian refugees to live in Israel, to accept the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the illegal Israeli settlements there, and to live in a series of Bantustans connected by roads and tunnels that would all essentially be controlled by Israel.
None of this should be surprising. Not only is the plan simply a continuation of the Trump administration’s policy towards Israel and Palestine since the day he took office, but it comes after decades of disregard towards Palestinian aspirations of freedom and sovereignty.
When the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, they were hailed as the foundation for a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestine – a stance that most international actors and bodies have continued to hold in the decades since. At the time, however, the Palestinian scholar Edward Said dubbed the much celebrated accords “a Palestinian Versailles”, a degrading spectacle that undermined the liberation struggle and any hopes for future Palestinian sovereignty. Unfortunately, he has been proven right. The division of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C under the accords allowed Israel to dominate the latter two areas while the former became pockets of limited Palestinian autonomy. In other words, it facilitated the complete Bantustanisation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza.
Meanwhile, the accords failed to properly address the key issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders and security; instead, they were designated “final status issues”, to be resolved as part of some future peace deal. Inadvertently, then, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), led by Yasser Arafat, allowed them to become disputed issues, rather than ones central to the Palestinian struggle and defined clearly in international law. This was clear at the White House yesterday when, standing at Trump’s side, Benjamin Netanyahu said that talk of the occupation as “illegal” was outrageous.
There were no Palestinians at the White House; indeed, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the architect of this plan, barely bothered to speak to any Palestinians. And there is no mention in Trump’s plan of Palestinian rights. Instead Palestinians are promised economic incentives, namely $50bn of investment over the next 10 years, in exchange for their internationally enshrined rights – another all too familiar component of previous “peace” plans. As if paying Palestinians off would make them forget the rights to Jerusalem, to return to their villages and towns of origin or to live as equal and full human beings.
It is thus clear that Trump’s plan is not only an assault on Palestinian rights and freedom but also an attempt to put forward a new world order that completely undermines international law. Whatever the White House might say, it never expected the Palestinian leadership would accept this plan or even consider some of its terms and conditions. And that means it can continue to buy into the decades-old and quite frankly racist narrative that the Palestinian people are rejectionist and unwilling to negotiate. That was evident in Kushner’s comments: if the Palestinians don’t accept this deal, he argued, “they’re going to screw up another opportunity like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence”.
Depressing as the Trump plan may be, it does suggest one possible opportunity. It stipulates that while negotiations take place, the PLO is not to take part in any action against Israel at the international criminal court – in a nod to the recent war crimes probe opened by the court’s chief prosecutor. This reveals that Israel is genuinely scared of such a move, if any international actors are brave enough to seek it.