Several peace plans have been initiated throughout the years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and all have been pigeonholed with a veiled warning to the Palestinians “not to miss the proposed historic opportunity” and run the risk of losing even more if they don’t accept the Israeli conditions. What might seem like a logical call becomes questionable when one considers that every time it comes with a warning of catastrophic consequences for the Palestinian people. So, what makes the Trump peace plan different from the earlier peace plans?
Jerusalem and Trump’s Plan
Long before the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the direction in which we were heading was clear. The U.S. Administration published its “Peace to Prosperity” plan — also known as the “Deal of the Century” — in January 2020. The issue of Jerusalem,1 in the 181 pages plan, is addressed from a messianic religious perspective. It acknowledges that the city is sacred to three religions and to a substantial portion of humanity but gives priority to Judaism. Second place is given to Christianity, and Islam is accorded third place. The document praises Israel for protecting all the holy sites and accuses previous rulers of destroying the holy places of other religions. The plan stresses the importance of keeping Jerusalem undivided under Israeli rule and notes that this is the position held by all previous U.S. Administrations.2
Emptying Jerusalem of Its Palestinian Inhabitants
Although the plan mentions Jerusalem3 as the Palestinian capital, the reference is actually to Abu Dis, which is supposed to remain under the highest level of Israeli security control. At the same time, the plan affirms that all areas transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) will remain under Israeli control. In other words, the plan abolishes the terms of the Oslo Accords by eliminating what was defined as Area A, over which the PA holds civil and security authority, and gives Israel security control over the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, including those areas to be handed over to the Palestinians. So, if the United States were to open an embassy in the Palestinian territory, it would effectively be under Israeli control.
The plan adopts the Israeli vision of “Greater Jerusalem” by accepting its annexation of four settlement blocs: to the south, the settlements of Gush Etzion, which surround Bethlehem and extend to the borders of Hebron; in the center, the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and the adjacent Mishor Adumim and E1, which Israel plans to expand to the Dead Sea area, as well as Pisgat Ze’ev, which surrounds the villages of north Jerusalem; and to the north, the settlement bloc of Adam, Kochav Ya’acov and Psagot near Ramallah, which would prevent any future geographical growth of Ramallah.
The plan legitimizes isolating the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem beyond the Separation Wall while keeping the city completely under Israeli control. To explain: The plan calls for handing over two densely populated areas that were previously annexed after the 1967 war — the first comprising Kufr Aqab, Samiramees, the Qalandia Refugee Camp and the nearby Qalandia village on the peripheries of Ramallah city; and the second comprising the Shufat Refugee Camp, the Al-Salam neighborhood, Ras Khamees, parts of Anata, nearby Azzariya and Abu-Dis. It is worth mentioning that both Azzariya and Abu Dis are still considered Area B4 according to the Oslo II Accord of 1995. There are about 120,000-140,000 Palestinian inhabitants in these areas to be relinquished, while the Palestinian population that lives under complete Israeli control is estimated5 at 284,926 people. Thus, only 144,000-164,000 Palestinians will remain in the area under Israeli control, while some 225,335 Israeli settlers will be included in the area, turning the Palestinians into a minority in Jerusalem.
These remaining Palestinians are given three options: 1) take a Palestinian passport and relinquish their residency in the city; 2) retain Jerusalem residency with an Israeli ID card; or 3) obtain Israeli citizenship. A majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites reject the last option for national reasons. It is also worth noting that those who apply for Israeli citizenship face complicated and humiliating procedures and requirements such as security clearance, Hebrew proficiency and an oath of loyalty to the state of Israel. The option of living in the city exposes the Palestinians to Israeli harassment, while those who live outside the Israeli borders of the city — often as a result of a lack of housing for Palestinians within municipal borders — are threatened with losing their residency status. Thus, the plan proposes three options that are simply a façade. Israel has often maintained that its objective is to achieve dominance and control over the city by gradually forcing the Palestinians out of the city. In the plan, the option of Palestinians maintaining their residency status is worded dangerously:
Many of the Arab residents of these areas may want to maintain a political identity that is separate from either Israel or Palestine, and
which allows them to take pride in their unique identity and history. That option should remain available to them.6
The language makes it sound as though the Palestinians would like to maintain their rights in Jerusalem by separating themselves from their Palestinian identity.
The Judaization of Jerusalem
With regard to Jerusalem religious sites of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, the plan acknowledges the status quo of 1948, whereby the Western Wall was a prayer site for Muslims and Jews (not exclusively for Jews, as it is nowadays); in contrast, it demands that people of all religions have the right to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque. It calls to respect the prayer times, holidays and other elements of the different religions7 and encourages arranging flights from the Arab and Islamic countries to visit the religious places in Jerusalem. In other words, the plan divides Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews according to time schedule, giving legitimacy to Jewish groups that are seeking control of Al-Aqsa Mosque.8
The plan lists 31 religious sites in Jerusalem — 17 Christian, 13 Jewish and one Islamic — using the term “religious sites” for Muslims without any specification, merely mentioning “Islamic religious sites.”9 When referring to Al-Aqsa Mosque, however, it considers it a sacred place for both Jews and Muslims. From a Palestinian, Arab and Islamic perspective, considering Al-Aqsa Mosque a shared place for Muslims and Jews is to be totally rejected. According to an unpublished study by Dr. Hanna Issa, there are more than 40 mosques in the city and more than 70 Christian sites, not to mention the many religious sites inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and around it.
The plan includes another problem addressed in the Emek Shaveh organization report,10 which is that not all 13 of the Jewish religious places listed are sacred, such as French Hill, the Pilgrims Path that was built by Elad,11 the Gihon Spring, the City of David National Park in Silwan, the Samboski cemetery and the Hurva Synagogue. Archeological excavations to find the tombs of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi on the Mount of Olives continue, undermining Christian and Islamic religious sites, even though there is no scientific evidence to prove the existence of such places there. The plan considers the Mount of Olives cemetery as a sacred place for the Jews and ignores its importance to Christianity. In other words, the plan forges history and invents new Jewish sacred sites to justify Jewish dominance and control over the city.
Aside from these problems, the plan proposes opening religious sites in Jerusalem for tourism and prayer for people of faith from all over the world and gives Israel jurisdiction over the arrangements, while engaging Jordan through organizing regional tourism to Jerusalem and its sacred places.12 To conclude, it divides the Palestinian territory and gives priority to Israeli security, portraying Jerusalem as an open city for the entire world except the Palestinians due to security reasons.
The Trump Plan Rips Jerusalem and Palestine Apart
First, the plan uses Israeli control over Jerusalem as a tool to rip the Palestinian territory apart and to prevent the establishment of a viable, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state. The Israeli “Greater Jerusalem” plan extends to the east of the Dead Sea, the southern borders of Hebron, north of Ramallah, and to the Shilo settlement along the road to Nablus, paving the way for future Israeli expansion and diminishing any stable borders for a Palestinian state, even without Jerusalem. Israeli plans to change the Arab and Islamic nature of the Old City through different projects, such as building an aerial tramway, a biblical park and Hebrew tourist facilities, in addition to connecting the settlements to the city in order to strangle the Palestinian neighborhoods and force them outside the city.
Second, the plan doesn’t acknowledge Palestinian properties rights in West Jerusalem, as it proposes to resolve the issues of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967 by settling them in the countries where they are refugees.
Third, by imposing Israeli control over Jerusalem, the plan revokes the collective national rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem and addresses only their individual civil and humanitarian status, rights that can be easily revoked through deportation and transfer. It insults Palestinian Jerusalemites by calling them proud Jerusalemites who do not want to be affiliated with the PA. Consequently, all of these steps would lead to closing United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offices in the city.
Fourth, the plan fuels the conflict by giving it a religious nature. It encourages Jewish fanatic groups to seize control over Al-Aqsa Mosque, violating the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994 and the Jordanian custodianship over the mosque.
Fifth, Israel continuously attempts to exterminate any Palestinian presence in Jerusalem —political, educational, health, etc. — by arresting Palestinian Jerusalemite leaders, placing restrictions on movement and preventing any form of cultural or social activity in the city — in addition to banning Jerusalemite political prisoners and their families from receiving any money from the PA.
Are the Palestinians Missing Yet Another Historical Opportunity?
With every political attempt to resolve the conflict, the Palestinians are reminded of their lost historical lands, their refusal to accept the Partition Plan of 1947 and of how Israel was established afterward on 78% of that land. They are reminded that they rejected Ehud Barak’s plan of 2000 to withdraw from 80% of the occupied Palestinian territory of 1967 and then rejected Ehud Olmert’s plan of Israeli withdrawal from 94% of the West Bank in 2008. Recently, they were reminded that the outcome of all of these rejections is that the Trump plan proposes an Israeli withdrawal from 70% of the West Bank and that if they reject it, the next step will be Israeli annexation of all of the Palestinian territory, and the Palestinians will end up with nothing.
This approach toward the Palestinian people ignores basic facts — such as how the Palestinian people have already made critical concessions after they seized what seemed to be a historical opportunity in the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 and then agreed to continue negotiations without the condition of freezing illegal Jewish settlement activities and to postpone crucial issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders and security until the final-status negotiations which, according to the 1993 Oslo Accords, were supposed to start after three years. The collapse of the peace process following the Camp David summit in 2000 is known, and settlement activities have continued at such a rate that the number of settlers increased from 90,000 in 1991 to over 671,000 in 2018.13
The Palestinian people are still struggling with a settler colonialist plan that was started in the 19th century by the Zionist movement and its allies. Since then, the Zionist movement has never stopped its actions to gradually uproot a nation from its native land and seize control over it. In this context, any proposed peace plan is nothing but a “time out” that enables the colonialist entities to expand their dominance over the entire land. These so-called “historic opportunities” given to the natives are merely a cover for the actual opportunities given to the settler colonialists, and they are designed to enable the latter to expand their dominance without resistance by lending Palestinian legitimacy to it.
All these so-called opportunities are a scam, as they are used as a tool to strengthen settler colonialists’ gains not only in Palestine but throughout the region.
Options and Alternatives from a Palestinian Perspective
To simplify, the plan is an attempt by a superpower, i.e., the United States, to wipe out the accomplishments of the Palestinian people by bringing the conflict back to point zero. This is obvious in Jerusalem.
The state of Palestine has been recognized by 141 countries and maintains its commitment to international legitimacy. By contrast, the objective of the Zionist-American coalition is to destroy Palestine on the ground in order to render this recognition and the related international resolutions irrelevant.
Consequently, the battle for Jerusalem is not separate from the battle to reclaim Palestine on the ground. This requires the participation of all Palestinians; each and every Palestinian has duties and responsibilities, including those in the diaspora, in the U.S. and Europe and the rest of the world, to influence change and enable the refugees to rise up again to reclaim their dignity through a collective struggle for the right of return. This is what the Palestinians have been doing on a daily basis through creative methods such as rebuilding the demolished village of Al-Araqeeb dozens of times and establishing the villages of Bab Alshams and Karamah in the West Bank, and through the ongoing development efforts of the local communities which strengthen the Palestinian steadfastness and work toward a sustainable future. All these efforts must be coordinated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its continuous diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis international organizations and the world. However, it is important to achieve full harmony between the “people’s resistance and developmental” dimension and the “official, legal, diplomatic” dimension of resistance. If coordinated well, we could overcome this crisis and regain Palestine within a few years.
1 TheWhiteHouse, 2020. Peace To Prosperity, pp.9-10,14-19. [Online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/
2 JERUSALEM EMBASSY ACT OF 1995 - United States Congress. [Online] Available at: http://www.congress.gov/104/plaws/publ45/PLAW-104publ45.pdf
3 TheWhiteHouse, 2020. Peace To Prosperity, p17. [Online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/
4 According to this division, the area is still under Israeli military control, while the Palestinian Authority holds civil responsibilities.
5 PCPS, 2019. Localities in Jerusalem Governorate by Type of Locality and Population Estimates, 2017-2021, s.l.: The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. [Online] Available at: http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_Rainbow/Documents/JerusalemE.html
6 TheWhiteHouse, 2020. Peace To Prosperity, p17. [Online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/
7 TheWhiteHouse, 2020. Peace To Prosperity, pp.16-17. [Online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/
8 Mohareb, M., 2016.Israeli Policies towards Al-Aqsa. SIYASAT ARABIYA, 19 March, VOL II (19), pp. 5-22. [Online] Available at: https://www.dohainstitute.org/ar/ResearchAndStudies/Pages/art696.aspx
9 TheWhiteHouse, 2020. Peace To Prosperity, p16. [Online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/
10 EmekShaveh, 2020. The sanctification of antiquity sites in the Jerusalem section of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan, Jerusalem: Emek Shaveh. [Online] Available at: https://alt-arch.org/en/the-sanctification-of-antiquity-sites-in-the-peace-to-prosperity-plan/
11 Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad [El'ad]
12 TheWhiteHouse, 2020. Peace To Prosperity, p19. [Online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/
13 PCBS, 2018. Number of Settlers in the Israeli Settlements in the West Bank by Governorate and Type of Settlement, Ramallah: Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.[Online] Available at: http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_Rainbow/Documents/SETT8E2018.html. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Israeli Settlements and Land Grab Database 2019. Ramallah- Palestine. Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract of Israel. Jerusalem, Various Years, (2003 - 2018). The Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies 2019, Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem 2019 (No 33). Jerusalem.