By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
A year has passed since the “deal of the century” leaks were made public, and still the US is refraining from announcing the deal officially. At the same time, it left room for the leaks and “rumors” about the deal and its terms and clauses to spread, through interviews conducted by US officials with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders and officials, and news reaching the media and studies centers.
Pressures and Imposition of Facts
It seems that the US policy is intentionally maintaining a degree of ambiguity and delays, and continues to exert pressure to achieve some degree of psychological preparation, and to find suitable environments for acceptance. At the same time, it tries to get the parties to accept the outlines of the deal, before its official announcement, in an effort to block the way to early failure. It is also trying to isolate the Palestinian side, by taking the Arab power card from Palestinian hands, where Arab approval of the deal would be used to exert pressure on them.
The core US performance is based on “dictates” and imposing facts on the ground rather than negotiations that end with the approval of all main parties. Therefore, the US administration sought to resolve the fate of Jerusalem by recognizing it as Israel’s capital and deciding to move its embassy there. It also sought to close the dossier of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, by closing the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and suggesting naturalization projects.
As for what was leaked about the deal, it talks about a Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS) (In form, it can be called a “state”), where no actual sovereignty for the suggested state on the ground, no control over the borders, airspace, and land, and no army. It is a rule over parts of the WB (Area boundaries not final yet) and GS. Israeli “sovereignty” will remain over the settlements and the lands behind the Separation Wall. Jerusalem and especially the old city will be part of the Israeli state, while a “new Jerusalem” would be formed in Abu Dis and some neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Palestinians will be denied the right of return to the land from which they were expelled in 1948. The US seeks to achieve Arab-Israeli normalization before the peace settlement, and to deviate the conflict’s compass by forging a regional Arab-Israeli alliance to face Iran on one hand, and target regional political Islam movements and reform and change forces on the other. Thus securing the stability of the regimes that agree with US policy in the region.
In general, leaks indicate that the deal is not more than “the Israeli version” of peace. May be it was intentional to begin with maximum Israeli demands, so that Israeli retreat in the direction of the Arab-Palestinian view would seem as “flexibility,” “painful concessions,” and “sacrifices,” whereas what was considered as major obstacles to the peace process like refugees’ rights, Jerusalem’s future, and full sovereignty over the land would be conceded.
The Stumbling Deal
However, the deal of the century is stumbling and facing real difficulties, which made the US administration postpone the announcement of the deal more than once this year, the latest was on 26/9/2018, when President Trump told reporters that he would postpone the deal a few months. This is due to the Palestinian consensus on rejecting it, decline of Arab enthusiasm for it, where Saudi King Salman pulled from his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman the deal of the century dossier or what concerns the Palestine issue, and the confusion of the US foreign policy in the region.
May be the “great return marches” in GS, which started on 30/3/2018 and continued for several weeks, contributed to having an unfavorable environment hostile to the deal of the century. For it was Israel which was blamed for the state of anger, frustration and suffering, and not Hamas and the pro-resistance forces, contrary to the wish of the participants in the siege, who wanted “Hamas governance” to collapse. These marches constituted a popular and media leverage to pro-resistance forces, and they became a source of concern for the Israelis, who feared popular Palestinian infiltration of the border, and were concerned with losses caused by kites and burning balloons. In addition, these events made Israel show its “ugly face” by deliberately killing and shooting civilians.
For sure, the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem founded an anti-US environment, and fueled anger against the state of Arab and Islamic weakness, that did nothing of significance to face it.
All of the above made the atmosphere for the Arab countries to move forward with the deal embarrassing and inappropriate, prompting Egypt, KSA and Jordan to ask the US for the deal’s postponement (according to leaks by Israel Hayom newsapaer, 3/8/2018).
GS and the Deal of the Century
When trying to deduce the plans for GS in light of the deal of the century, the leaks do not provide a conclusive picture. It seems that the conflicts and instability in the region, and the overlap of forces and factors affecting the future of the Strip, have kept some issues in the “grey zone.”
In late 2017 and early 2018, “rumors” spread that the deal of the century includes some ideas written by Israel’s former Head of the Israeli National Security Council Giora Eiland in 2010. They suggest the inclusion of 12% (720 square kilometers) of WB in the Israeli state, which would include the settlement outposts and lands behind the Separation Wall. In return, Palestinians would be compensated by owning new 720 square kilometers of the Sinai Peninsula, thus expanding the GS with a territory connecting Rafah westward toward al-Arish. In return, Egypt would be given equivalent territory in the southwestern Negev (i.e., the 1948 occupied Palestinian territories) in Wadi Firan (Paran).
Consequently, Palestinians would be “repatriated” from the congested GS to areas added from Sinai. An international airport and seaport would be built there, and a corridor is provided between WB and GS, and between Egypt and Jordan to stimulate economic life, trade and tourism through the seaport and airport. However, Egypt denied knowing any of the deal’s details, refusing to cede any of its territories. Also, the Palestinians refused naturalization.
As for Hamas, its control over GS imposes itself on any current calculations or arrangements and obstructs any peace process, whether according to the vision of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah or according to the US vision seen in the deal of the century. It is a movement that not only has majority representation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), but also an actual military force that went through three wars with Israel. For 11 years, it stood steadfast against a suffocating siege, while at the same time refusing the peace process and the recognition of Israel.
Therefore, Hamas—in the eyes of the key players—has two problems: First, it adopts armed resistance, and second, it is part of the “political Islam” movement. That’s why there was an overlap of interests in its siege and strangulation by Israel, US, Arab “moderate” states, and even the PA. That’s why perhaps, in the first few months of leaks, there was hope that Hamas would cede the governing of GS to the PA (Over and under the ground) due to the harsh sanctions imposed by President ‘Abbas on GS that were added to the years old strangling siege.
However, the steadfastness of the resistance forces in GS, the failure of sanctions and siege, and the launching of the return marches imposed a new criteria on how the situation of GS must be approached, especially since May 2018. The Israelis found that it would not serve them well if conditions broke out into explosions, chaos and collapse, Palestinians crossing the 1948 lines, or entering into a new war.
Egypt found no interest in the collapse or explosion of the situation in GS, due to its negative impact on its national security. The US and Arab “moderate” countries also found that it is in their interest to calm the GS conditions so as not to spoil the atmospheres of “normalization” and “the deal.” Consequently, there were wishes (for various reasons) to separate the political file from the humanitarian file in GS, and try to meet humanitarian needs there without severely tightening the GS siege to bring down Hamas and the resistance. Based on that, some forms of siege were suggested, such as the movement of people and goods, providing electricity, talking about a several-year “lull” between GS and Israel accompanied with easing the siege, and opening the seaport and the airport. This was considered by Hamas as accomplishment by the movement itself and the GS people, without paying political prices.
Nevertheless, for the PA, the lull would make the sanctions ineffective and an obstacle to its view of how the reconciliation would be implemented in GS. It is a view rejected by various forces, since it is a selective implementation of the reconciliation agreement, based on the dominance of Fatah and the peace process on GS, without real progress in the reconstruction of the Palestinian national project on firm bases, and not in accordance with the Reconciliation Agreement 2011, and the Beirut agreements in 2017.
Consequently, the PA insisted on the sanctions to continue and on linking the lull to reconciliation. This made the other parties wait, trying to accommodate Abbas’s demands while avoiding the conditions that may lead to an explosion in GS.
Finally, if GS has stood steadfast against the Israeli version and implementation of the “peace process,” it was for sure to stand steadfast against the deal of the century, where the return marches contributed to having an unfavorable environment hostile to it. As long as “resistance forces” are in control in GS, it is clear that the deal will be rejected there. In return, the GS siege is not expected to be lifted as long as these forces are in control, Palestinian schism continues, and the Arab environment is governed by regimes that have interests with the US or are hostile to the forces of resistance and political Islam movements. This means that conflict and instability in GS would continue in the near future.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 8/10/2018