Although there are no official texts of what is known as the “Deal of the Century,” the US, Israeli and Arab leaks concerning it have serious implications. For the deal is likely to “liquidate” the Palestine issue rather than settle it.
A year has passed since the leaks were made public, and the “Deal” still stumbles in view of the Palestinian consensus on rejecting it, Arab coldness towards it, and confusion in US foreign policy. However, these facts must not make us underestimate the seriousness of the ongoing American attempts to resolve some final status issues, while serving Israeli interests by imposing facts on the ground, especially concerning Jerusalem and the refugees. Also a change in the conflict’s compass heading must not be underestimated, where an Arab-Israeli alliance would form, and the sectarian conflict would worsen, thus blocking the way to any change or reform in the region.
It seems that the deal’s prospects are currently weak, and its failure is most likely. However, there is a third scenario that must remain under “surveillance,” which is trying to pass the deal by “rehabilitating” the Arab and Palestinian attitude to accept it. A Palestinian pro-peace party, which is “promoted” as a steadfast preserver of Palestinian rights, would forge a deal that seems to make important gains, whereas the serious issues related to Jerusalem, refugees, sovereignty and settlement building would actually be passed as sacrifices necessary for managing this phase.
It seems that the “Deal of the Century,” which US President Donald Trump and his team are promoting in order to reach a final peace settlement to the Palestine issue, is stumbling a year after it was first leaked and publicized.
The US administration introduced the peace plan with an “exciting marketing” connotation; may be to fit Trump’s real estate broker mentality. In any case, it wasn’t a new term, since it was used years earlier. However, the ugly side of the term is that it dealt with one of the most important and crucial international issues as if it were just a “deal.” It ignored the sensitivity, status, vitality and sanctity of Palestine, and dealt with it as a merchandise and not as an issue of freedom, justice and dignity. The core of the “deal” is to “liquidate” and not “settle” the Palestine issue.
This report discusses the “deal” scene and its prospects a year later.
It appears that the state of weakness and severe deterioration in the Arab and Islamic environment, and the Palestinians’ weakness and schism, have encouraged the current US administration, with its right wing and populist background to submit a peace plan commensurate with Israeli standards.
What have been leaked of the deal—officially not published yet—are more a bundle of Israeli ideas prepared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented in an American attire. As Shaul Arieli has put it in Haaretz newspaper in June 2018, “Netanyahu’s fingerprints in the ‘Trump plane outline’ for Middle East peace, which is taking shape these days, cannot be mistaken.” Perhaps some of the ideas can be traced to some suggestions by former Israeli National Security Advisor Giora Eiland in 2010, and since they are “leaks,” none can be confirmed or refuted.
Although we have no official text to refer to, following the leaks that were published by the Americans, Arab and Israeli officials, or some officials and institutions close to the decision makers, we can come up with the “deal” highlights:
1. A Palestinian self-rule under Israeli sovereignty in the W est Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS) (In form, it can be called a state). Hence the two-state solution (within the minimum accepted by Palestinians) would be dropped, and the path of Palestinian Authority (PA) convergence to a sovereign state would be blocked. Although it was announced that the self-rule may develop in accordance with the Palestinians’ “good behavior”!!
2. The final-status issues are pulled out of the peace plan and solved to the benefit of the Israeli standards, and they are:
a. Jerusalem (including the old city and al-Aqsa Mosque) remains under Israeli sovereignty; and creates for Palestinians a “new Jerusalem” with Abu Dis as its center, in addition to Israeli withdrawals from some of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods.
b. No for the return of Palestinian refugees, whose issue would be solved through naturalization and compensation.
c. Israeli settlements (around 190) in WB would remain, and settlement outposts (around 100) would be legalized.
d. No actual sovereignty for the suggested “Palestinian State” (Self-rule/canton) on the ground, and no control over the borders, airspace, and waters.
e. No withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 borders, and Israeli sovereignty over the settlements and the lands behind the Separation Wall (12% of WB) will remain. There are also suggestions that sovereignty will remain over the whole C Area, i.e., 60% of WB’s total area (pending).
f. No Palestinian army would be formed, only a police force that maintains internal security.
3. The whole world would recognize Israel as a nation-state for all the “Jewish people,” and the “Palestinian Entity” as a national state for the Palestinian people.
4. Concentrating on the “Economic Peace,” and trying to introduce the deal as an economic development process for Palestinians and the region.
5. Normalization before the Peace Settlement: By gaining the approval of the Major Arab countries, which are concerned with the Palestinian issue (Especially Egypt, KSA and Jordan), for the deal. Consequently, the Palestinians would be surrounded and isolated, the Arab force card would be taken from their hands, and a peace settlement would be imposed on them.
6. Deviating the conflict’s compass: Through striving to form a regional Arab-Israeli alliance to face Iran on one hand, and targeting regional political Islam movements and reform and change forces on the other. Thus securing the stability of the regimes that agree with the US policy in the region.
However, there are still few issues under discussion, such as:
• The area of the WB that would be handed to the Palestinians, and according to what stages and conditions?!
• The corridor between WB and GS, its specifications and administration.
• Will a “land exchange” take place to compensate to the Palestinians the lands on which Israeli settlements are built, or which Israel has no desire to withdraw from? Will the compensation be from the 1948 lands or from Sinai? (It was “rumored” that Egypt would transfer 720 square kilometers of the Sinai Peninsula—from Rafah westward toward al-Arish—to a future Palestinian state, and in return, Egypt would be given equivalent territory in the southwestern Negev in Wadi Firan (Paran), this matter was denied by Egypt). Or there would be no compensation in the first place.
• How would the transitional form of the Palestinian entity, which will be called “a state,” evolve?!
• Will this entity be added to a confederation with Jordan, or not?!
• How will the “Hamas Governance” be ended in GS?!
• What are the neighborhoods that can be added to Abu Dis to form the Palestinian capital (For example all or some of the following neighborhoods: Shu‘fat, al-Mukabir Mount, ‘Isawiyyah, Beit Hanina, Ras Khamis and Kafr ‘Aqab).
Whatever form is promoted, we are finally and in short in the “liquidation” of the Palestine issue phase, where an Israeli state will be established based on two systems; one in which the Jews enjoy all benefits, and the other an “Apartheid” system for Palestinians.
It is noted that the US administration managed this “deal” differently from the previous traditional manner, and the most prominent features of this management are:
1. The core of the deal is based on “dictations” rather than negotiations. It tries to impose a unilateral path, rather than an agreement between two parties. Hence the word “settlement” loses its meaning and content. It seeks to resolve a number of fundamental issues in Israel’s favor by imposing facts on the ground and by putting the US weight behind them, and then push the international and Arab parties to accept the status quo, thus making conflict over them a thing of the past. This can be seen when the US administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decided to move its embassy there, and nowadays it’s trying to close the Palestinian refugee dossier, by seeking to close the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and putting pressure on Arab countries to naturalize Palestinian refugees and end their refugee status. In this context, Foreign Policy magazine reported on 3/8/2018 that Jared Kushner “pressed the Jordan to strip its more than 2 million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there.”
2. Refraining from announcing the deal officially, maintaining a degree of ambiguity, delays and leaks, continuing to exert pressure, achieving some degree of psychological preparation, and trying to find suitable environments for acceptance.
3. Exerting pressure on the Palestinian side by trying to isolate it, and using the Arab power card for pressure.
4. Trying to get the parties to accept the outlines of the deal, before its official announcement, in an effort to block the way on early failure.
5. Giving the deal some kind of “flexibility,” where it begins with maximum Israeli demands and starts to “retreat” in the direction of the Palestinian side while considering that “concessions.” However, it would not reach the minimum sought by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the PA.
6. Shuffling the cards by concentrating on the “Economic Peace” or the “Gaza First” prelude claiming the need to ease the suffering of GS. Hence, it would benefit from that to weaken Hamas and the resistance side, and put pressure on PA President ‘Abbas by suggesting he could be bypassed if he did not respond to the deal.
A year has passed since the “deal” was first known and it still stumbles. It is clear that the US enthusiasm for it at the beginning of 2018, coupled with the Arab Gulf one, have gradually receded.
1. The US Position: In January 2018, the US administration talked, with confidence and superiority, about imposing a deal regardless of Palestinians’ consent or refusal, and about an Arab environment that seeks a regional peace in which Israel will be a partner on the face of Iran and Islamic extremism. However, the US administration decided to postpone the deal announcement more than once this year… until March… until May… until September… then until November after the congressional midterm elections. It may witness another postponement… as difficulties encountered increase… and as the US negotiation team, who adopts the Israeli view and is ignorant about the region, gets to know more about the facts on the ground. The statements by Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, since June 2018, express their frustration with the lack of response from the Palestinian side or the coldness of Arab interaction. Also new statements by President Trump realize the difficulty of the peace settlement and that Israel must pay a huge price for it. Lately, on 26/9/2018, he told reporters at a press gaggle with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York that he favors the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that he would postpone the deal a few months. However, this does not negate the fact that the US was and still trying to use its influence to reach what it views as an acceptable approach.
2. The Arab Position: Earlier this year, there seemed to be an Arab behind-the-scenes approval of the deal’s outlines (perhaps expandable and unfinished), with some Gulf enthusiasm, especially the KSA. However, Arab enthusiasm has been declining since the spring of this year, and when the KSA hosted the Arab Summit in April 2018, it named it the Jerusalem Summit, granting Jerusalem special consideration. News spread that King Salman pulled from his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman the Palestine dossier or what concerns the deal of the century. As for the silence of other Arab “moderate” countries, which was accompanied by rumors of implicit consent, it is gradually changing into objections on certain points or linking their approval to the Palestinians’ consent (with prior knowledge of the Palestinians’ rejection). The Egyptians clearly rejected the possibility of giving up parts of Sinai in favor of the deal of the century. Various Arab statements have rejected conceding East Jerusalem and assured their adherence to the Arab initiative as the basis for a peace settlement based on a fully sovereign Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967 (WB and GS). It was clear that what weakened the Arab official support for the deal was the Palestinian consensus on rejecting the deal’s leaks, the anti-Israel sympathetic environment with GS, which appeared in the return marches, and the anti-US environment due to its embassy relocation. This has prompted Egypt, KSA and Jordan (according to Israeli media in August 2018) to ask the US for the deal’s postponement.
In general, it seems that the Arab countries preferred to leave the deal to the flow of events, and the US to bump into reality, rather than facing the US defiance and shake its support.
3. The Palestinian Position: There is an official and popular Palestinian consensus, supported by Palestinian factions and forces, on rejecting the “deal of the century” or at least what was leaked of it. During the past few months, this consensus was strengthened through hundreds of events. The great return marches in GS, which started on 30/3/2018 and continued for several weeks, accompanied by popular activities, kites and burning balloons, played a big role in fueling anger against the Israeli occupation, and contributed to having an unfavorable environment hostile to the deal of the century.
As for the Palestinian leadership, some of its conduct was questioned by various Palestinian forces, for although there was an official rejection to the deal, there were these three remarks:
a. When Mahmud ‘Abbas met President Trump for the fourth time, in the first year of his presidency on 20/9/2017 in New York, he said in a televised interview with him, “If this is any proof to anything… it attests to the seriousness of your Excellency, Mr. President, to achieve the deal of the century in the Middle East during this year or in the coming months, God willing,” (Reuters News Agency, 20/9/2017). Four months prior to that meeting, a press conference of both leaders was held on 3/5/2017, where President ‘Abbas stated that he looked forward to working with Trump to “come to that deal, to that historic agreement, historic deal to bring about peace” (Site of the White House, 3/5/2017). So, were ‘Abbas’s statements concerning the deal improvised, and what was his input about the deal during those days? Was what was revealed later about the deal different from what ‘Abbas has originally understood? And what caused his opposition afterward?
b. If the Palestinian presidency senses the real risks resulting from the “deal” and the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, why did they not take the normal and necessary steps to strengthen the Palestinian ranks and enforce the reconciliation agreement? Why did ‘Abbas insist on not calling for the holding of the interim leadership framework, which is currently the only representative body of all Palestinian forces, capable of coordinated action on the ground? Why did he instead insist on holding the Palestine Central Council (PCC), in the absence of factions other than the Fatah movement (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was absent in the last two meetings, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was absent in the last meeting, and with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) already not participating in the council)? Why did he insist on holding the PCC under the occupation, and in violation of the Beirut Agreement in January 2017, and contrary to the Reconciliation Agreement 2011? Hence, the PCC became a council of division and a source of Palestinian weakness instead of strength, and boycotted by the PFLP as well as other factions outside the organization, specifically Hamas and PIJ.
c. If the Palestinian presidency knows the real dangers facing GS and the attempts to separate and isolate it, why does it complicate things and increase tension and pressure through its punitive measures against GS, insisting on maintaining its enormous suffering?… Why does it oppose the national consensus of all Palestinian forces and factions (except for Fatah) against ‘Abbas’s measures?
At any case, this behavior weakens the Palestinian national situation in an environment that is in dire need of unity and overcoming differences.
First Scenario: The deal’s failure: Based on the fact that the deal, as leaked out, is an Israeli project in its core, and that it does not offer the acceptable minimum for any Palestinian party, including parties supporting the peace process; and since there is no Palestinian party authorized to agree and talk on behalf of the Palestinians, there will be no peace settlement or deal.
Second Scenario: Passing the deal by “rehabilitating” the Arab and Palestinian attitude to accept it: A Palestinian pro-peace party is promoted as a steadfast preserver of Palestinian rights, and at the same time a US and Israeli “retraction” from some leaked demands is announced, to make it seem as if the Arab and Palestinian sides have made important gains. At the same time, pending core issues would be solved, so that the final outcome would be a new agreement with new concessions, especially concerning Jerusalem, refugees, and sovereignty issue.
For example, Israel’s tightening grip on the Palestinian controlled area WB is reduced from 60% to 40%, or 12%, or even 6%… Israeli “redeployment” is scheduled in a promotional manner.
Or expand Palestinian influence in East Jerusalem, and grant some joint administration over the old town.
Or settle for existing settlements without annexing settlement outposts…
Or the declaration of a Palestinian state is approved within a time frame, while granting some form of “sovereignty” and economic independence, lifting the GS siege and approving the construction of a sea port and an airport, and providing a secure corridor between the WB and GS, etc.
It may include a confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan.
Accordingly, Hamas must hand the PA leadership in GS to the Ramallah government (over and under ground), which will seek to disarm the resistance and provide a suitable environment for the peace process.
Third Scenario: The deal’s success according to current US conditions and criteria or as leaked from the deal: The US would insist on implementing its peace plan, and keep exerting pressure on Arab countries to support the deal while threatening them that it would leave them to their destiny in their regional conflicts or their internal conflicts with their people. ‘Abbas would be threatened with replacement, and with introducing a new Palestinian leadership that provide a Palestinian cover for the peace process.
Most Probable Scenario: Due to the current criteria, the first scenario “The Deal’s Failure” is the most likely. Palestinian consensus still rejects it, resistance is still strong on the ground, Arab enthusiasm has been declining, and there is confusion in the US foreign policy in the region.
The third scenario is still unlikely, even if some are waving names from the Palestinian security forces, or Arab-supported names, or even names of some renowned figures or business persons who seek to climb the political scene ladder.
As for the second scenario, it must remain under “surveillance,” especially with the fact that the PA and PLO conduct is not consistent with the need to unify the national movement and rebuild the PLO, it rather opposes signed agreements and the almost total Palestinian consensus. This conduct aggravates and weaken the Palestinian situation, and insists on the dominance of a certain “leader” and faction, in a realm that only tolerates a unified national project on solid foundations.
The “Deal of the Century,” according to leaks, faces a real crisis due to the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their influential movements and factions, Arab coldness towards it especially from the countries that might support the deal, and due to the confusion in US foreign policy. However, this should not diminish the seriousness of the ongoing attempts to impose facts on the ground, especially concerning losing Palestinian right in Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees to their land. Prospects for the failure of the deal are high, as long as there is no Palestinian party agreeing to provide a cover for it.
1. Strengthening Palestinian national unity and coordinating all efforts to face “the deal.”
2. Issuing a covenant in which Palestinian forces, factions and symbols are committed to preserve fundamentals, reject the “deal of the century” or any deal or compromise that undermines Palestinian rights.
3. Implementing the Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement signed in 2011 and the Beirut agreements in 2017. Convening a unifying Palestinian national council and rebuilding the PLO and PA to strengthen the Palestinian national project.
4. Immediately lifting the punitive measures imposed by President ‘Abbas on GS.
5. Urgently calling for holding the unified leadership framework of the Palestinian people, and activate it as a framework for the protection of Palestinian rights and fundamentals, until the reconstruction of PLO.
6. Activating the institutions of popular and union work at home and abroad.
7. Stop security coordination with the Israeli occupation.
8. Giving people more freedom in PA territories, protecting the dignity of Palestinians, and activating their role in political, social and struggle development.
* Dr. Mohsen Mohammed Saleh wrote this strategic assessment.