by Omar Shaban
The current U.S. administration has chosen a new strategic approach to the Palestinian problem that is substantially different from the approach of former administrations — a shift from proposing suggested solutions to imposing solutions, from being biased toward the Israeli side to totally taking the Israeli side and adopting the Israeli government’s plans.
This new path aims to exterminate Palestinian rights through political manipulation that exaggerates the threat of Iran while mobilizing and rallying the Arab Gulf countries to form a military front to confront Iran. The U.S. condition is for these countries to abandon their support for Palestinian national rights. The Trump administration has adopted the Israeli regional plan and has started to implement it. It has demanded that the Arabs bypass the Palestinians and accept their imposed plan, while reducing its financial aid to the Palestinians and financing the confrontation with Iran.
I. The Trump Administration’s Vision Toward the Palestinian Problem
All of the Trump administration's staff assigned to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict file, starting with President Trump himself; his vice president, Mike Pence; his son-in-law Jared Kushner; his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; his peace process envoy, Jason Greenblatt; and his UN ambassador Nikki Haley are in line with the Israeli right-wing. They overstate their support for Israel and fully protect it in the international arena.
The Trump administration has undermined the international legitimacy that based the whole peace process on the two-state solution, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories along the 1967 lines. Instead, they propose a state in the Gaza Strip, and some parts of the West Bank. This framework represents what is referred to as the “deal of the century.”1 According to some leaks, the U.S. administration is offering the Palestinians either an autonomy that excludes East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, while maintaining the Jewish settlements in the OPT under Israeli control, or a confederation with Jordan. This “deal” doesn’t resolve any issue, and it doesn’t end the Israeli occupation. Therefore, the administration’s talk about a solution to the conflict raises grave doubts, reinforced by its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem.
II. Characteristics of the “Deal of the Century”: Dropping Final Status Issues
Several leaks have appeared about a so-called “Deal of the Century” that proposes a resolution of the final status issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
Occupied Jerusalem: The deal adopts the Israeli position that insists on removing Jerusalem from the negotiations2. The U.S. administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its embassy to it, providing official U.S. approval of the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem to Israel. This is in line with the law that the U.S. Congress approved in 1995 that states that “united Jerusalem” is the capital of Israel. Moreover, the Israeli Knesset modified the second article of the Israeli Basic Law on Jerusalem on January 2, 2018 to adapt it to this development3. The deal suggests referring to the suburbs of East Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, Shu’fat, Isaweya and Jabal Mukaber, as the capital of Palestine.
Right of Return for Palestinian Refugees: The deal suggests establishing projects to settle refugees in the countries where they are located4. In January 2018 the Trump administration froze the U.S. aid to UNRWA totaling $125 million and threatened to halt all aid to the Palestinian people in the future. Thus it dropped the right of return for the Palestinian refugees in line with Netanyahu’s thinking that the closing the UNRWA would mean that this right would be dropped forever5.
International law expert Dr. Hasan Johnny warned of the consequences of dismantling the UNRWA at the expense of right of return for the Palestinians. He considered any attempt to merge UNRWA with UNHCR a threat to every issue in the final status discussions. Dismantling UNRWA would affect the host countries of the refugees (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, in addition to the West Bank and Gaza), though, all host countries of Palestinian refugees refuse to resettle them6.
Settlements: The Trump administration approves Israeli annexation of settlement blocs, and it suggests annexing 10% of the land, while Netanyahu demanded 15% in accordance with the Likud Party decision on December 31, 20177.
Sovereignty, Land and Borders: According to the deal, the settlements throughout the OPT will remain under Israeli sovereignty and control, which means that any Palestinian sovereignty will be incomplete. Israel will maintain full control of security in the Palestinian occupied territories. Therefore, the deal is only an autonomy that is called a state, unarmed with a strong police force. The Israeli security forces will gradually redeploy its forces outside of areas A & B, while adding new lands from Area C, in accordance with the Palestinian performance without a time schedule, and a Palestinian state will be declared in those areas. A safe passage will be created between the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli sovereignty. The borders will be managed by the Palestinians while the security control remains with the Israeli military forces. Territorial waters, and air space, and electromagnetic waves will remain under Israeli control, without undermining the needs of the state of Palestine. The status of the Gaza Strip is less than a state, closer to autonomy.
According to PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi, the American plan proposes to find a solution to the Palestinian problem through a state under siege in the Gaza Strip with a sort of economic prosperity that isolates it from the rest of Palestine. Gaza would become totally dependent on Egypt with a seaport or an airport, while this semi-state provides security to Israel. There will be no geographic continuity between this state and the West Bank. The plan is that the West Bank will be demilitarized within the borders of Greater Israel, under Israeli security control, with Israeli sovereignty and control over the borders, airspace and water space, while the Palestinian population is isolated in closed areas. Its people can call it whatever they want, while Israel annexes most of their lands8.
III. Expected U.S. Scenarios to force the “Deal of the Century”
1. Scenario of Continuous Pressure on the Palestinians
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has rejected the unofficial details of “the deal of the century” and the Trump administration's decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, boycotted any American role in the peace process and refused to meet with Vice President Pence in Palestine. The Palestinian president accused the U.S. administration of hindering the peace process, and described it as “the slap of the century” because it is a final termination of the Palestinian people’s rights.
The Palestinians, backed by international support, denounced the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, causing the U.S. to postpone presentation of the deal. However, the U.S. increased its pressure on the PA through several steps to force the Palestinians to accept this deal, while working on finding a political regional cover to accept it through managing some Arab countries normalizations relations with Israel:
- The Trump administration cut relations with the PA9 and froze its aid of $200 million in 2018, and so far has submitted only $50.5 million from a total of $251 million of aid according to official records10.
- It blocked $65 million of aid to UNRWA11. The president signed the Taylor Force Act, which prevents the U.S. State Department from transferring aid to the Palestinians as long as the PA gives social security support to the families of Palestinian political prisoners and of Palestinian martyrs.
- Additional “punitive measures” are being considered against the PLO representative office in the U.S., and by implementing the 2015 U.S. act that imposes sanctions on the PA if it approached the ICC in the Hague against Israel12.
- The Trump administration has also sought with its Arab allies to find an alternative Palestinian leadership to pressure President Mahmoud Abbas. American Ambassador to Israel Friedman stated that there are Palestinians who are willing to have direct negotiations with the Israelis if Abbas refuses to do so13.
It is possible to conclude that the Palestinian-American relations will continue to deteriorate in the shadow of the U.S. persistence to force the Israeli right-wing solutions on the Palestinians.
2) The Scenario of Bypassing the Palestinians and Imposing the Deal through a Regional Route
This scenario is built on the presence of regional U.S. allies that would guarantee that the deal would be based on a total U.S. partnership against the two blocs of Iran and Turkey, with an attempt to form an Arab NATO to confront the Iranian expansion that is supported by Russia. The Republicans in the U.S. view their interests as getting closer to traditional blocs of allies to the U.S. and maintaining them rather than losing them to the Russian-Iranian bloc that might fill the void of the chaos and violence that emerged after political Islam failed to gain control following the Arab Spring.
In this context, we should observe the strong criticism by Mohammad Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, of the Palestinian leadership in his meeting with Jewish organizations in New York on March 27, 2018. He said that for 40 years the Palestinian leadership had missed several opportunities and rejected all of the suggestions made to; it is about time the Palestinians accepted what they are being offered, and they have to go back to the negotiation table, “to shut up or to stop complaining”14. The researcher Anton Shalhat confirms that there are suspicious relations between the U.S. administration and some of the Arab regimes that are working behind closed doors to push forward with this deal, and that what is currently happening is an attempt to dismantle any form of sovereignty of a state and to establish what Netanyahu refers to as an incomplete state, a term used by Yitzhak Rabin, which means a state without sovereignty or borders and lacking any form of statehood15. Another Palestinian researcher, Mohannad Mustafa, sees that the Palestinians are alone in this fight. However, the Palestinian question remains a high priority among the Arab public, while Israeli official organizations claim that the Arabs’ main concern is Iran, as if it were the main strategic danger.
There is no doubt that there is an attempt being made by Israel, together with the U.S., to use the chaos and the political competition in the Middle East to pressure the Palestinians to accept the American deal and to terminate Palestinian rights, taking into consideration that any regional normalization between Israel and the Arab countries needs a political cover to get over this obstacle to confronting Iran. The regime in Jordan is also under pressure to accept this deal, to settle the Palestinian refugees in the country and to abandon its custodianship over the Muslim and Christian religious sites in Jerusalem.
It is difficult to confront this harsh scenario, taking into consideration that some Arab countries have a substantial part in it. There is a need to mobilize the Arab public to pressure their leaders to reject this deal along with the Palestinians.
3) The Scenario of Imposing the Deal Through War or Humanitarian Assistance
The center of this route is to pass the deal through the given situation, without the PA, through the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, through the establishment of a political entity there that is separate from the PA, with the approval of Hamas under the leadership of the UN, which means exterminating Palestinian national aspirations for a state and establishing a semi-state in Gaza.
Concrete steps have been taken, including holding an international conference in Washington with a clear objective to find ways to solve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The conference participants were the U.S., Israel, some European countries and the Arab countries of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, while the PA boycotted the conference. Jason Greenblatt said that addressing the current crisis in the Gaza Strip is an essential step toward reaching a comprehensive peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis16. The objective of such an approach includes the disarmament and neutralization of Hamas. Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee, criticized the meeting and described it as being aimed at destroying Palestinian national aspirations by talking about a state in the Gaza Strip while enabling Israel to withdraw from its responsibilities toward that area by transferring it to other entities17.
Though the U.S. administration gave Egypt a green light to intervene to try to promote Palestinian conciliation, it hasn't presented any peace plan or enrolled in any high-risk diplomatic mediation in the Middle East while the situation in the Gaza Strip remains unclear18.
While the Trump administration is talking about an American Peace Plan, the tensions in Gaza and diplomatic disorder that erupted with the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem have reinforced doubts about the plan’s prospects19. With the setback in reconciliation efforts after the assassination attempt on the Palestinian prime minister and the head of the General Intelligence Service, and new initiatives led by Egypt and Qatar under the title of “long-term truce,” Israel has abandoned the conditions of demilitarizing Hamas and the return of the PA to the Gaza Strip, and has demanded a complete halt to shooting rockets and digging tunnels, in addition to maintaining a distance from the separation fence, and solving the issue of missing Israelis in the Gaza Strip. This would be in exchange for allowing goods and services to move across the borders to Gaza and additional Egyptian amenities on the Rafah border20.
This humanitarian plan includes creating an industrial zone in the Sinai, opening the borders with Israel and Egypt, building water desalination plants and other initiatives. What remains for these three countries is to find a safe administrative and financial mechanism to bring the money into the Gaza Strip, since neither side wants this money to reach Hamas21. The Americans approached Palestinian businessman Adnan Mjalli to create a local administration to manage these issues in Gaza and implement economic projects; however, these efforts failed. Therefore, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, proposes the implementation of a major plan, which has already been discussed in the Israeli cabinet, based on a plan formulated by the former Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai. The plan includes constructing factories and infrastructure for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip with money that would be collected from the UN and the international community22.
To conclude, it is clear that U.S. policy is in complete agreement with the Israeli right-wing concerning exterminating Palestinian national aspirations and rights. U.S. administration officials think that they are living in an historical moment that needs to be taken advantage of, because it is an opportunity that will not be repeated.
What is required from the Palestinians to confront this plan is national unity and a unified strategy based on popular resistance on the ground in dealing with the Israeli occupation. This would mobilize support among the Arab public, especially since Jerusalem has special status among Muslims and Christians. In addition to reviving the Palestinian National Movement and rebuilding the Palestinian National Project based on the unity of the Palestinian people and reaffirming the official rejection to this plan, the PA should continue its efforts at joining international organizations even if the U.S. threatens to stop its aid. It should approach the ICC and suspend the recognition of the state of Israel until it recognizes a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967. And Palestinian diplomacy should be activated to communicate with international powers that might restrain the Trump administration that is not only attacking Palestinians but also attacking the world order.
1(MADAR), T. P. F. f. I. S., 2018. MADAR Strategic Report 2018. [Online] Available at: https://www.madarcenter.org/en/research/strategic-reports/ madar-strategic-report-2018
2Al-Naami, S., 2018. Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. [Online] Available at: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/2018/5/ ملامح-صفقة-القرن-تصفية-القضية-/ 20 بإسقاط-قضايا-الحل-النهائي
3Erekat, S., 2015. Israeli-Palestinian Relations: Point of No Return, s.l.: s.n
4Al-Naami, S., 2018. Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. [Online] Available at: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/2018/5/ ملامح-صفقة-القرن-تصفية-القضية-/ 20 بإسقاط-قضايا-الحل-النهائي
5Dajni, H., 2018. Center for Regional Studies-Palestine. [Online] Available at: https://cors.ps/2018/01/ /ملامح-صفقة-القرن/
6DeutscheWelle, 2018. Experts Say: Dismantling the UNRWA Threatens the Right of Return. [Online] Available at: https://www.dw.com/ar/ خبير-ل -dw-- تفكيك-الأونروا-يهدد-حق-العودة-تمهيدا-ًلتوطين الفلسطينيين /a-42037624
7Erekat, S., 2015. Israeli-Palestinian Relations: Point of No Return, s.l.: s.n
8Donia Al-Watan, 2018. Plans to Give Palestinians a State Under Siege In Gaza in Exchange for Security for Israel.[Online] Available at: https://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news/2018/06/20/1152921.html
9Muasher, M., 2018. Dead on Arrival, s.l.: The Carnegie Middle East Center
10RT, 2018. The US is About to Present the "Deal of The Century" While the Palestinians Are Threatened to Be Cut Out from Aid. [Online] Available at: https://arabic.rt.com/middle_east/ #/واشنطن-صفقةلقرن-فلسطين-قطع-دعم- 9449
11RT, 2018. The US is About to Present the "Deal of The Century" While the Palestinians Are Threatened to Be Cut Out from Aid. [Online] Available at: https://arabic.rt.com/middle_east/ #/واشنطن-صفقةلقرن-فلسطين-قطع-دعم- 9449
12RT, 2018. The US is About to Present the "Deal of The Century" While the Palestinians Are Threatened to Be Cut Out from Aid. [Online] Available at: https://arabic.rt.com/middle_east/ #/واشنطن-صفقةلقرن-فلسطين-قطع-دعم- 944921
13RT, 2018. Friedman: If Abbas Refused Negotiations with Israel, Others Will Do. [Online] Available at: https://arabic.rt.com/middle_east/ فريدمان-رفض-عباس-حوض-- 935088 /مفاوضات-إسرائيل-فأحد-آخر-سيفعل-ذلك-بدله
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15Al Araby TV, 2018.The American Objectives from Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. [Online] Available at: http://alaraby.tv/video/ -الأهداف-الأميركية-من-نقل-السفارة/ 269466
16RT, 2018.In Midst of Palestinian Boycott, an International Conference in the White House on Gaza. [Online] Available at: https://arabic.rt.com/middle_east/ دون-حضور-فلسطين-مؤتمر-دولي-- 931945 /البيت-الأبيض-غزة
17RT, 2018. Erekat: Washington Meeting About Gaza is for Weeping and Aims at Exterminating the Palestinian National Aspirations. [Online] Available at: https://ar.rt.com/jz9c
18Al-Omari, G., 2018. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the Fallen Palestinian Victims in Gaza Weaken the Hopes for a US Peace Plan. [Online] Available at: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/ar/policy-analysis/view/jerusalemembassy- move-gaza-fatalities-dim-hopes-for-u.s.-peace-plan
19WI, 2018. Three Scenarios: Role of the US in the Palestinian Reconciliation. [Online] Available at: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/ar/policy-analysis/view/the-u.s.-rolein- palestinian-reconciliation-three-scenarios
20AlNajahNews, 2018.Israel Examining Egyptian & Qatari Proposals for a Truce in Gaza. [Online] Available at: https://nn.ps/news/shwwn-sryyly/2018/05/24/125818/
21PalSawa, 2018. Details of the Humanitarian Plan to Save Gaza: Hamas Leadership is Aware of it, and These Countries Support it. [Online] Available at: https://palsawa.com/post/154893
22SamaNews, 2018. Israeli Cabinet Discusses Mladenov Plan for Humanitarian Assistance to Gaza, and Qatari Aid. [Online] Available at: http://samanews.ps/ar/post/338963