Rewriting Peace in the Middle East: The New Deal of the Century

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The U.S. new peace proposal for the Middle East tends to rewrite the peace parameters on the Palestine final status, deflecting from all previous peace and bilateral agreements between the parties, the UN resolutions, and international law, as well as the American long-standing approach toward Palestine. The proposal suggests “land swaps” between Israelis and Palestinians, which would further shrink the Palestinian territory in favor of Israel—though the administration tries to sell it as a “fair and equal share.” Further, the four-year transition plan denies refugees’ right to return and seeks a full and permanent demilitarization of Palestine. Jerusalem remains under Israel, too, with minor portions of East Jerusalem controlled by Palestine. If executed, the “new deal of the century” buries the “two-state solution” and opens the way for the “one-state solution.” Therefore, compromise is imperative. It is the last call for Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations and agree on the modalities. 

With Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu by his side, President Trump unveiled last week the Peace to Prosperity plan—which seeks to generate a peaceful solution in the Middle East by ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and creating a Palestinian State. The U.S. political proposal, though, was formulated without Palestinians’ input and became public without the presence of the Palestinian Authority. Further, the proposal disregards the Palestinians’ demands on the core status issues, it dismisses all previous peace plans and bilateral agreements between Israel and Palestinian Authority, including the UN Security Council and General Assembly’s resolutions and international law relating to “Palestine issue.” The “deal of the century,” too, marks a “radical departure from traditional American diplomacy,” for as Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues, it puts forward an American determination on a range of “final status” issues—which were supposed to be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, outlining the parameters of a future Palestinian state that looks “nothing like a real state at all.” (Washington Post, January 31, 2020)

The Vision for Peace (the Vision) in fact is designed with Israel’s interests in mind or “in that spirit,” as the plan outlines, giving the country everything it requires whereas Palestinians are left without options other than to concede to further concessions. The plan offers a solution to four major issues, including redrawing borders by exchanging or transferring land between Israelis and Palestinians and through legalizing Israel’s illegal settlement; status of Jerusalem—the city remains undivided—under control of Israel as its sovereign capital, whereas Palestinians take some portions of East Jerusalem; refugees—Palestinian refugees are denied from the right of return with the possibility of compensation only; permanent demilitarization of Palestine—the Palestinian state is being deprived of the right to have its army.

As such, the Vision is declared “dead on arrival” (Vox, January 28, 2020) and not a “peace plan” at all (Levy, January 30, 2020). If executed, the plan buries the “two-state solution,” too, paving the way, as Politico warns, for Israel’s de jureannexation of the West Bank territory. “This is an attempt to fundamentally rewrite the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement at the Palestinians’ expense […]. The plan gives Israel everything it wants, concedes to Palestinians everything Israel does not care for, tries to buy off the Palestinians with the promise of $50 billion in assistance that will never see the light of day, and then calls it peace.” (Politico, January 28, 2020) Worse, the U.S. new proposal, as Democratic presidential candidates alarm, could lead to either the “one-state solution” that would undermine the vision of a democratic Jewish state or a fragmented, disconnected and deeply unequal system of Palestinian islets surrounded by Israel’s territory (Council of Foreign Relations, January 31, 2020).

The fact of the matter is that Peace to Prosperity focuses on Israel’s security only—which is uncompromised in any way—rather than on Palestinians’ legitimate demands. It, according to Levy, a former Israelis negotiator, is drawn based on Israel’s exclusivist narrative, conveying a 180-page hate letter from Americans—by extension of Israelis—to Palestinians who are portrayed as a gang of miscreants, ungrateful, and corrupt. Therefore, a racist approach. “It is hard not to read in this text a white supremacist mindset.” Other than that, the new proposal is meant to serve both Trump’s and Netanyahu’s reelection campaigns. Otherwise, if it was truly aimed at breaking the diplomatic stalemate, Palestinians, according to Ziv, an Israel expert at American University, “would have been consulted in the plan’s formulation.” (Vox, January 28, 2020) Politico made a similar reference (January 28, 2020).

Whereas Netanyahu announced that Israel will move forward by annexing portions of the West Bank as soon as this week, the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas, rejected the plan, calling it the “slap of the century.” The UN, on the other side, reiterated that any solution should be based on the Security Council and General Assembly’s resolutions, the international law, and bilateral agreements between Israelis and Palestinians on the “two-state solution” and the “pre-1967 lines.” (BBC, January 29, 2020) The Arab nations, meanwhile, are divided—with Saudi Arabia and Egypt on board with the U.S., and Jordan opposing it. Russia and Turkey are against it, too. For Trump, it is “Take It or Leave It.” Nevertheless, the architect, Kushner, said that the “deal of the century” is subject to change if Palestinians “don’t like where the line is drawn.” (Jerusalem Post, February 3, 2020)

Peace in the Middle East—As Said by Americans

While unfolding his proposal for the Middle East, Trump—once again—praised himself as a dealmaker—managing to solve the world’s “biggest problems,” which, as he said, his predecessors from President Johnson to Obama have bitterly failed. “[…] But, I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems.” Trump has made a dramatic shift in the U.S. long-standing policy toward Palestine, starting by relocating the embassy to Jerusalem and eliminating all financial assistance for Palestinians. Then, it was the Peace to Prosperity—whose economic part was revealed in Bahrain in July 2019, followed by the political section released in the White House in the last week of January 2020. Next move—recognition of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, as Kushner announced (Jerusalem Post, February 3, 2020). (For the sake of the truth, former President Obama was the first American president to publicly support a future Palestinian state—but based on the pre-1967 borders—in an address in May 2011, while acknowledging the possibility for necessary land swaps) (CNN, May 19, 2011).

The Peace to Prosperity lays out the foundation for the creation of a “Palestinian State” based on a “realistic two-state solution” that guarantees “Israel’s security” and the “safety and security of its citizens.” Therefore, Palestinians are given power enough to govern themselves in a state legally and internationally recognized—but not powers to “threaten Israel’s” existence. That said, the future Palestinian state will be limited in executing certain sovereign powers relating to security matters. Whereas Palestinians’ claims are largely disregarded, Israelis, as the proposal outlines, never should be asked to compromise unless it (compromise) is bearable for Israel and necessary to move forward. The designers are clear: Vision for Peace is not a “reciting of past narratives”—nor it follows the UN Security Council resolutions and international law—deemed “unachievable” in the current conditions. The solution, the proposal holds, must be the forward-looking, most realistic, and most achievable outcome for the parties, and includes four major issues: borders, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and Palestine’s security arrangements.

Redrawing borders: Definitely, there is no going back to pre-1967 borders. Instead, a compromise of the UNSC Resolution 242 (1967), calling for the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories captured as a result of the Six Days War with Arab neighbors, is suggested. In 1967, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip from Egypt and West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan—among other lands—tripling the size of its territory, thus violating the UN Armistice Line 1949 signed between Israel and Arab neighbors. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights, too. In 2005, former Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza, which since 2007 has been under the control of Hamas (The Atlantic, May 20, 2011).

The new plan suggests exchanging territories or “land swaps” between Israelis and Palestinians, which according to the Trump administration, is based on a fair and equal share: approximately 97 percent of Israelis’ and 97 percent of Palestinians’ territorial exchange. Palestinians would get a sizeable territory comparable to “the territory of pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza.” The plan, as Trump tweeted, would “double” the Palestinian territories as indicated in the map, though it, as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Friedman explained, demands Palestinians giving up on claims to nearly 30 percent of the West Bank (CNN, January 28, 2020). The Jordan Valley will belong to Israel, too.

Further, the Vision calls for temporary freezing (for four years) but legalizes Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights, giving Israel more land in the West Bank Palestinian-controlled territory in exchange for “land swaps” that include two areas in the Negev Desert (Vox, January 28, 2020). Yet, the map that clearly shows Palestine’s further contraction, defining borders between Israel and the West Bank, is called by drafters a “significant territorial compromise.”

Illegal under international law, Israel’s settlements—incepted in the 1880s—were reintroduced in 1967, and tripled in size from 995 in 1992 to 520,000 settlers in 2012 (Abdallah and Parizot, 2016). Israel continued with settlement planning until 2015, violating the UNGA Resolution 68/15 that called Israel to “immediately freezing the construction process.” (UNSG, 68/15/2014) Settlements have been a continuing source of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, forcing many Palestinians to flee their homes due to the settlers’ violence (Id.). Moreover, they have weakened the Palestinian economy by hampering development and creating deep inequalities among local populations (DFID, 2014). While the Palestinians’ living conditions deteriorated, the growth rate of the settlers doubled even in relation to the overall Israeli population (World Bank, 2008).

Status of Jerusalem: The Peace to Prosperity proposes Jerusalem remain under Israel’s sovereignty as the capital of Israel, while Palestine takes a section of East Jerusalem in all areas east and north, Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis, which would become its capital with a different name. Refugee issue: Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return and repatriation. The proposal is expressively against the idea of uprooting the population from the current residence, agreeing to a compensation policy only. The proposal provides three options for refugees, including absorption into the state of Palestine—with limitations; integration in the host countries upon their consent; or resettlement in the neighboring countries with a total of 50,000 refugees resettled for up to ten years. Compensation, meanwhile, will be achieved through the economic program—and would involve a large-scale aid and investment package, and a trust fund.

It’s estimated that some 750,000 Palestinians were driven or forced to flee their homes during the 1946-48 war between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs and another 500,000 in 1967, making up to 13 million Palestinian refugees worldwide (BADIL, 2011). Palestinians maintain that any peace deal must include the refugee rights to return, but for Israel’s leaders, “this issue could only be resolved outside Israel’s borders.” (Fisas, 2014) In a possible situation, if Palestinian refugees were allowed to return to their ancestral home in Israel, that would shift the demographics in Israel, changing Israel’s identity as a “state of Jews.” Currently, Israel’s total population accounts for over nine million, according to Jewish Online Library: Jewish population makes up 6.7 million and Arabs 1.9 million. Adding up to over seven million Arabs in Israel would reverse Israel’s population composition in favor of Arabs. Israel would no longer be defined as the state of Jewish people, which would suggest the amendment of its Basic Law.

Palestine’s permanent demilitarization: Last and most importantly, the state of Palestine shall be fully demilitarized and remain so. Accordingly, Palestine will not be allowed to have its own military force to defend itself against Israel (or to threaten Israel). And why should Palestine aspire to have a military force—which would be a burden for the new state—when Israel has the capacity to protect the state of Palestine, the architects of the plan ask? Instead of wasting money on military spending, the state of Palestine would use funds for economic development, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and other matters to improve Palestinians’ well-being. Instead, the state of Palestine will have security forces in charge of public order, law enforcement, counterterrorism, border security, and disaster response.

Literature cited:

Akram, S. M. & T. M. Rempel. 2009. “Temporary Protection for Palestinian Refugees: A Proposal.” In Rights in Principle, Rights in Practice: Revisiting the Role of International Law in Crafting Durable Solutions for Palestinian Refugees, ed. Rempel, T. M. BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency& Refugee Rights.

Alex Ward, “Trump’s Israel-Palestine peace plan, explained,” Vox, January 28, 2020.

BBC, “Trump Middle East plan: Palestinians reject ‘conspiracy,” January 29, 2020.

Carmel Madadshahi and Tovah Lazaroff, “Kushner: ‘Deal of the Century’ map can be changed by Palestinians,” the Jerusalem Post, February 3, 2020.

Daniel Levy, “Don’t Call It a Peace Plan,” the American Prospect, January 30, 2020.

DFID. Palestinian Program: Operational Plan 2011-2016, 2014.

Fisas, Vicenc. 2014. Israel-Palestine, Yearbook of Peace Processes 2014. School for Culture of Peace. Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. 2014.

Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump’s Middle East plan marks the end of the two-state solution,” Washington Post, January 31, 2020.

James M. Lindsay, “Campaign Foreign Policy Roundup: President Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 31, 2020.

Jeremy Diamond, “Trump unveils Middle East plan that caters to Israel and was swiftly rejected by Palestinians,” CNN, January 28, 2020.

Jewish Library Online, “Vital Statistics: Latest Population Statistics for Israel,” February 4, 2020.

Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller, “The Real Goal of Trump’s Middle East Plan,” Politico, January 28, 2020.

Tom Cohen, “Obama calls for Israel’s return to pre-1967 borders,” CNN, May 19, 2011.

Uri Friedman, “What Obama Meant by ‘1967 Lines’ and Why It Irked Netanyahu,” the Atlantic, May 20, 2011.

White House, Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian

and Israeli People,” Washington, January 2020.

World Bank. “The Economic Effects of Restricted Access to Land in the West Bank.” 2011.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Shala,

    I enjoyed the information presented in your article and agree with a previous comment that the UN needs to be involved. No agreement can be reached without all parties being involved.

    1. Sebahate Shala

      Thanks Charalee for your comment. I think UN is the most credible institution to deal with this situation in cooperation with the EU and Arab League and Islamic Organization. Any solution provided by a state or a group of states would be short-lived, and consequently would worsen the conflict instead of resolving it.

  2. Stephen Akpe

    Dear Shala,
    May I thank you for detailing the peace-deal put forward by America, which appears narrow and exclusive, since it did not take the Palestinians along. There shouldn’t actually be anything (any decision) about them without them. While it comes with many good intentions for both sides, I think the plan should be subjected to the Security Council and the General Assembly through the UN to give it an inclusive domain and the legitimacy it needs.

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