By Arab News
By Yossi Mekelberg*
Not many held their breath when American President Donald Trump first suggested that he would be the one to broker the “deal of the century” between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Back then, what was going to be in the deal was unclear. And now, two years on, there is still no plan, only sketchy references to what it might entail and hints about its contents and when it will be announced.
Instead of a thought-through plan with a chance of meeting the minimum requirements of both sides, a peace plan that has been one of the longest-ever in preparation is being introduced piecemeal and not even half-baked. Worse, what is now becoming clear is that a plan, as such, doesn’t even exist, and what is being suggested by Washington is disingenuous and has no chance of even being considered by any Palestinian with aspirations for a viable independent state.
To be sure, who knows what trump card this most unpredictable of US administrations is going to throw on the table. For instance, what Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told Sky News Arabia is vague, hardly inspiring and mainly states the obvious, i.e., that “we are trying to come up with realistic solutions that are relevant to the year 2019,” and that the plan will address all core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including borders. This is hardly a recipe to bring either side to the negotiating table, especially the Palestinians, who are fed up with broken promises and have zero trust in the US as a broker, let alone an honest one.
We are all by now accustomed to the fact that, since Trump assumed the presidency, Washington’s approach to foreign policy has been unprecedented in terms of substance and style. Yet, bit by bit, the method in the madness of this administration’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being revealed. It envisages no peace agreement and instead is more likely to lead to more conflict and bloodshed. It is a policy in reverse and, when it is finally introduced, conditions on the ground will have already made it a fait accompli. On two of the most important core issues — the future of Jerusalem and that of the Palestinian refugees — Washington has already prejudiced any future negotiations, causing severe and possibly irreparable damage.
Both issues have proven tough enough in the past, with negotiations ending in impasse and further friction. Nevertheless, for 25 years now, working groups of politicians, experts, international lawyers and civil society organizations have been addressing these two issues and have come up with extremely creative and innovative solutions in the face of the complex challenges they present. But, whereas there is a need for a subtle, delicate and quiet diplomatic approach, the Trump administration has been charging around like a bull in a china shop as it tramples over all the sensitivities involved in this conflict.
First was the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which set the tone of taking unilateral steps, flagrantly demonstrating that this US administration is taking sides with Israel and its political right, with complete and utter contempt for the interests and sensitivities of the Palestinians. This is not to suggest that Jerusalem cannot be the capital of Israel and the location of all foreign embassies, but rather that this should only come to pass when part of the city is simultaneously recognized as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Secondly, if moving the embassy to Jerusalem was not enough, it was followed last week by the closure of the US Consulate General in the city, which covered Palestinian affairs and for all intents and purposes acted as a de facto Palestinian embassy. Adding insult to injury, the consulate was incorporated into the new embassy in Jerusalem. The official reason for this was increased efficiency and cost-cutting. As the Americans themselves would say about such duplicitous statements: “If you believe that, then I have swampland in Florida to sell you.” It is a political statement by the US on one of the most intractable core issues, which Kushner claims are all open for negotiation. It makes it crystal clear that America’s policy on Jerusalem is finely tuned to that of the Israeli government, which is that Jerusalem is the eternal and united capital of the Jewish state, and the Jewish state alone.
Yet the undermining of the peace process has not stopped there. The decision over Jerusalem was just one of a series of actions by Washington that has already signaled to the Palestinians that, as far as the US is concerned, “negotiations” means that they are required to acquiesce with Israel’s demands as they are conveyed through the US capital. Closing the Palestinian delegation’s office in Washington, which left the Palestinian Authority (PA) with no diplomatic representation there and ended a major channel of communication with the US; cutting financial aid to hospitals in East Jerusalem; and dubious legislation stopping all funds for the PA. All these actions point in the same direction — of trying to force the Palestinians to agree to whatever is presented to them.
Equally harmful to the chances of any successful peace process has been the Trump administration’s attitude toward Palestinian refugees. It questioned the refugee status of nearly 5.5 million refugees registered with UNWRA, since they are “only” the descendents of the original refugees. And it went further by cutting all its financial support for this UN organization, which looks after the very basic needs of the refugees. With no negotiation and no plausible explanation, an issue at the core of this conflict, which is both political and humanitarian, was dismissed as if it didn’t exist.
All that remains is the vague notion of an “economic peace,” which is patronizing for the Palestinians and colonial by nature. It entails the Palestinians relinquishing their national aspirations in return for improved economic conditions. No Palestinian leadership can or should accept it; or, if it does, expect to stay in power.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg