Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump Tower, September 25, 2016. Credit: Israel Government Press Office (GPO)

Dumped deal

Tweets coming out of Washington this past week notified the world that the Trump Israeli-Palestinian peace plan was “finished.” Furthermore, the tweets informed us that Jared Kushner, special adviser and the president’s son-in-law, together with Attorney Jason Greenblatt, would be traveling to the region to present the plan to Arab leaders to get them on-board with the plan. Undoubtedly, the Trump “deal of the century” was conceived hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian leadership was not consulted or taken into account by the Trump administration. It is hard to imagine a Trump Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that is not a non-starter for the Palestinians. The Trump strategy, similar to Netanyahu’s own Middle East views seems to be based on getting the weigh-in from the Arab states – the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. The basic idea is that the Arab states would force the Palestinians to accept a proposal, which is a priori unacceptable to them.

The Trump mind-set translates everything into money and every deal has to be a money maker for those involved. Based on this strategy, Trump is essentially “selling” Palestine for economic benefits to the Arab states and to Israel. This follows the belief that the Palestinians will settle for less than they have demanded until now, because they will gain economically from the deal. If the Palestinians reject the plan, as planned, everyone, including the Arabs would blame them, and then all of the Arab states could heap on the table all the deals that they have already tried making with Israel before.

If the Palestinians refuse, it doesn’t really matter to Trump. Once again, Netanyahu will state that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, leaving the deal on the table. Trump and Netanyahu believe that the common cause in the region coalesces around reining in Iranian power, and believes that any influence will overtake Arab loyalty to the Palestinian cause. There is no doubt that the importance of the Palestinian issue has declined significantly in the post-Arab spring era. The decline of the Muslim brotherhood and their allies also brought about a deterioration in regional support for Palestine. The continued division between Fatah and Hamas has also impacted the ability of the Palestinians to keep their issue high on the Arab agenda. Furthermore, the rejection of President Abbas by Trump and Netanyahu has cut down the stature and political worth of Abbas in the international community and in the Arab region.

The internal political stagnation in Palestinian is also a contributing factor to the decline of the Palestinian issue. But the long reign of Netanyahu and the understanding in the international community is that Netanyahu is not interested in a genuine peace process with the Palestinians. This has also led to a waning international will to apply any real pressure on Israel to compromise with the Palestinians. The basic understanding is that the maximum that Netanyahu is willing to give is far less than the Palestinians will ever accept. The international community, including the Arab world, has largely backed the Palestinian demands for an independent sovereign state on 22% of the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea based on the June 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the capital of palestine and west Jerusalem the capital of Israel. But there is no Israeli partner for a deal based on those parameters.

It is conceivable that the Arab states could accept a Trump proposal for less than the Palestinians have demanded in terms of territory and sovereignty. Jerusalem, however; is another issue. It is totally inconceivable that the Arab states, including the Saudis under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman could agree to a deal that grants Israel control over al-Aqsa Mosque and the Old City of Jerusalem. Even if Bin Salman agrees to that, al-Aqsa and Al-Quds is too symbolic, holy and sacred for Muslims to allow their leaders to agree to allow Israel to receive legitimization for their control. While the Arab states may not have a lot of genuine sympathy for the Palestinian people, Jerusalem is a symbol and could unite Arabs all over the region against the deal of the century. As Jerusalem expert Attorney Danny Seidemann recently posted on Twitter, “However much Sunni states are willing to sell the Palestinians in a quixotic pursuit of the ‘Grand Alliance’ against Iran, Jerusalem will not let them.”

ACCORDING TO SOME Washington insiders, the Trump plan will be unveiled on May 14 or 15, a historic date marking the founding of the State of Israel and the US Embassy move to Jerusalem last year. This is also the act that led to the formal cutting of ties between the Palestinians and the US. On Tuesday, Jason Greenblatt tweeted:

“Sorry @FoxNews & @TreyYingst your sources gave you bad info. While the plan is close to complete, we aren’t there yet & we’ll continue to refine it until release. 175 pages is also inaccurate. It’s a very detailed political/economic plan but not that long.”

Regardless of its length, it may never be presented and is unlikely to be accepted by the Palestinians. The best chance of ever reaching a deal will return to the principal understanding that they must negotiate directly. It is very unlikely to happen while Netanyahu is leading the Israelis and as long as Abbas remains the leader of the Palestinians. Perhaps the Israeli elections will bring new leadership and new opportunities. The Palestinians also need their own elections and fresh new leadership to bring about new opportunities. The proposed “Trump deal of the century” will probably be stillborn . But we Israelis and Palestinians will remain here, with no deal, and no future, unless we come to terms with each other’s existence.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.

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About Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships. Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.