The Israel-Palestine conflict is considered to be one of the most refractory disputes in the world today. Contrary to the myth, the conflict has not been going on for centuries and isn’t all about religious animosity. The dispute started only about a hundred years ago and while religion is involved, the conflict is mostly about two groups of people fighting over the same land. Over the years, the consequent administrations of the United States crafted many plans promising to bring peace in the region but none have delivered. The new peace plan proposed by the Trump Administration intends to do just the same but like his predecessors and their propositions, is likely to become another forgotten deal.
The New Middle East Peace Plan
The Middle East Peace Plan unveiled by U.S. President Donald Trump on Jan 28, 2020, dubbed by him as the “deal of the century” seeks to give Israel what they have long wanted — an expansive state with Jerusalem as its “undivided capital” and tight security control over a future Palestinian state. The plan of 80 pages, with political and economic plans estimating $50 billion economic revival for Palestinians, Jordan and Egypt ambitiously attempts to break the historic deadlock between Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian state would be double the size of land that Palestinians currently control and would be connected by roads, bridges, and tunnels, according to the plan. As anticipated, Trump’s plan recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital” but it allows for a Palestinian capital in portions of East Jerusalem. The plan also puts a four-year freeze on the construction of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have blown up since Trump took office. Israel would be allowed to annex the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as well as the Jordan Valley while the Palestinian refugees, who were forced out from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war would not be allowed to return.
Objections to the plan
The first obvious objection comes from the main party in the conflict, the Palestinian authority who was not even invited for the agreement making the whole deal farcical. The West Bank’s Ramallah-based government long described the Trump Administration’s plans as “dead on arrival” and insisted that America is not an honest broker in the region. The Trump plan “will not pass,” said Palestinian President Abbas, hours after the peace plan’s release. The Palestinian Authority has objected to American leadership since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency. They object to Trump’s move of the USA’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the closure of the PLO office in Washington, cutting of aids to the U.N. agency responsible for Palestinian refugees and his statement that the USA no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law” are all heavily criticised. Jordan stands to suffer most after the Palestinians, should Israel proceed with annexation. If Israel were to annex the West Bank, Jordan would then become an alternative homeland for the Palestinians. Though they have signed a peace treaty (Israel-Jordan peace treaty, 1994) and Jordan is a close ally of the United States, the treaty poses a threat to the national security of the kingdom. The Foreign Ministry of Jordan issued a statement rejecting the plan, in less than an hour of its release. The Arab League also rejected Trump’s Peace Plan considering that the so-called peace plan “does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people”. An independent panel of nearly fifty human rights experts issuing a statement to the United Nations condemned the proposed annexation as a violation of international law in June, 2020. U.S. lawmakers from both major parties, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and even long time Israel supporters have objected to the move.
USA’s interests in the conflict
The Middle East has long been of central importance to the United States as successive administrations have pursued a broad set of interrelated goals including securing vital energy resources, keeping Soviet and Iranian influence in check, ensuring the survival and security of Israel and Arab allies, countering terrorism, promoting democracy, and reducing refugee flows. At the same time, the dispute has been a core concern of the American Jewish community and Christian Evangelicals, both strong supporters of Israel. But this interest of the pro-Israeli Americans seems to be gradually fading with other developments in the region dominating the news. Prime Minister Netanyahu has come to realize this truth. He fears that Israel may not again have the support from the United States the way the Trump administration has supported him and is, therefore, building momentum to get the deal signed before President Trump is voted out in November 2020.
Why the U.S. is not a fair broker for the conflict
America has for long favored Israel and the two countries are best allies. It is no secret that certain organisations like the AIPAC, the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, Christians United for Israel and others in the United States have a strong influence in the USA’s Middle-East policy. The Israel lobbyists are not defined by religious or ethnic membership but by a common political agenda i.e devout U.S. support of Israel. Today Israel is strong, principally because of the American support. The power asymmetry in the region is partly America’s doing and even though Israel built a strong army on its own, America has provided Israel with unique support and cutting edge technology. The United States has shielded Israel from international criticism, which some say has hindered diplomacy to resolve the conflict. The only time the U.S. allowed UNSC to condemn Israel for its settlement construction was in 2016, during the Obama administration.
In the past, the USA had at least engaged in conversations with Palestine but the Trump administration is backing Israel on imposing unilateral measures on Jerusalem, in the West Bank and for settlement concern, without any consultations from Palestinians. Trump has abandoned the role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians and adopted a firmly pro-Israel stance.
Deal or demand?
Far from being the “deal of the century,” the plan cannot even be considered a compromise and there is no “win-win” situation as promised by President Trump, instead, it is a winner that takes all and, the winner here is Israel. The so-called peace plan is in every way questionable, from the most obvious flaw of the exclusion of Palestine in the negotiation to the United State’s compliance and even encouragement of Israeli domination of the Palestinians. There is no two-state solution once the deal is passed and the subjugation of Palestinians under Israel will be a normalized reality. The economic plan, introduced as “Peace to Prosperity” by Jared Kushner, senior advisor of President Trump in 2019, as promising and thought-out it appears to be, is unfortunately a pipe dream. How can there be “a better business environment” without political stability? How can “real peace” be assumed when there is no reciprocity of narratives and the main party to the conflict clearly has no faith in the moderator? America long ceased to be a rational broker in the dispute but has kept the matter exclusive, preventing any other country from intervening. The plan if passed will legalize the illegal Israeli establishments in West Bank. Around 250 Israeli settlements already exist in the Palestinian territory. Once Israel annexes West Bank, the Palestinians will be pushed from their homes to enclaves, further marginalising them. This deal is a demand on Palestine by Israel with the support of the United States.
The recent Israel-UAE deal has put the plan on hold but the annexation of Palestine is clearly not off the table. UAE is a close ally of the United States and they both have a common enemy, Iran. It is a bargain where unlike the new peace deal, all parties win. UAE is a small country with a population of 10 million while its enemy Iran is the second largest country in the Middle East with a population of 80 million. Therefore, having an ally as strong as Israel in the Gulf region is beneficial for UAE. Smaller countries like Bahrain and Oman could follow UAE and formalise their relations with Israel. The Israel-UAE deal is part of a greater strategy of the U.S. to get Arab countries to recognise Israel and build pressure against Palestine and eventually get them to agree to their biddings.
What makes the deal even more equivocal is the timing of the announcement of the deal. President Trump at the time was facing impeachment trials and Prime Minister Netanyahu has been indicted with fraud and corruption charges. It can be stipulated that both the leaders are losing the re-election race, hence, the New Middle-East Peace Plan may be their final desperate attempt for political survival.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.