Summary:

It seems that during 2019 the US will be inching closer towards the official reveal of the articles of the “Deal of the Century.” Despite the fact that what was leaked does not meet the acceptable minimum for any Palestinian party, including parties supporting the peace process, the US will strive to establish a balance of local, regional and international forces to make the rejection of the deal impossible. Furthermore, the deal will remain commensurate with Israeli requirements and conditions.

However, the deal is encountering big challenges; real failure possibilities, foremost among them the Palestinian rejection; decline of the official Arab environment favorable to the deal; the unenthusiasm of the international community, especially the EU, China and Russia; the internal problems faced by Trump; the internal problems faced by Netanyahu; in addition to the possibility of Palestinian resistance escalation and explosions in the regional environment, characterized currently by tension and instability.


 Introduction

In November 2016, the US President Donald Trump announced that he has crafted “the ultimate deal” that would solve the Arab Israeli conflict. Since then, the US was active on the diplomatic, economic and military fronts for this purpose, without making an official announcement of “the official text” of the plan, which has become known as the “Deal of the Century.”[1] As a result, the political analyses of the Deal of the Century, which is officially unannounced yet, depended on two aspects:

1. Press leaks and some hints made by the political team entrusted by Trump to manage the project.

2. The actual US political conduct in the Middle East, which indicates what is really enclosed in the plan.

The concealment of the terms of the deal so far—though more than two years have passed since its first leak—seems to be aimed at building a favorable political environment at the local level (Palestinian and Israeli), regional level (the Arab one in particular) and the international level (in general).

Various parties are being convinced of the deal’s articles, one by one, so that the announcement would come after ensuring that sufficient promotion was done among the key forces at the three levels mentioned above. The statements of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicate that the political conditions and the announcement of the deal are interconnected, for he had stated on 23/1/2019 that the announcement has been postponed until after the Israeli elections of 9/4/2019.[2]
 

Press Leaks of the Deal’s Articles

One can pinpoint the articles that are most repeated in the press leaks, or the general hints that were stated by some officials that are closely connected to this subject and are as follows:[3]

1. Let go of the issue of establishing a Palestinian state side by side with the “Israeli state” or choosing the one-state solution for the conflicting two parties, and leave them to decide what suits them best. This means that the deal would not necessarily adhere to the two-state solution.

2. The Palestinian entity, whatever its final form will be, will be established on 40–60% of the West Bank (WB) area; however, new leaks proposed a Palestinian state on as much as 90% of WB.

3. Some East Jerusalem suburbs would be the capital of the Palestinian state, while the whole of Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel.

4. The Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem would be under Israeli sovereignty, provided that its “administration” would be left to a Muslim country such as Jordan, Turkey and KSA.

5. International aid would be provided for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their host countries, and these countries would improve the refugees’ integration by making investments and other economic tools available.

6. Connecting the various parts of the Palestinian entity in WB to Gaza Strip (GS), and providing international assistance to enhance the economic situation in both suggested parts of the suggested entity.

7. The proposed Palestinian entity will be demilitarized, where arms are carried only by the security forces, whose weapons are commensurate with the tasks of maintaining internal security.

8. The annexation of the main Israeli settlement blocs in WB to Israel, whereas the outposts would be dismantled, evacuated or put under the Palestinian Authority (PA).

9. Granting the Palestinians in the WB territories that would be annexed to Israel, the Israeli nationality.

10. Israeli troops would spread all along the west side of the Jordan River.

11. Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State.”
 

The US Perspective to Achieve the Deal

The US President Donald Trump is seeking to build a certain environment to make his plan succeed. A number of indicators can be identified whose core is to establish a local, regional and international balance of power, making the rejection of such a deal unlikely, whereas Israeli security is the central function of the deal.

Consequently, President Trump took the following steps to secure the two principles (the balance of power and Israel’s security):

First: The Deal’s Team

The selected US team believes in the above two principles, and works on drafting, suggesting and executing the deal, and it includes the following:

1. Mike Pompeo: He is the first person in US history who moved from being the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director to become the Secretary of State. Among US officials, he is considered one of the hawks of the current US administration and one of the most critical of the stabbing attacks executed by Palestinian resistors in WB. He is the one who said, “Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.”[4] Pompeo has been one of Congress’ most outspoken critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, particularly the Iran nuclear deal.[5] He’s also advocated for keeping the US prison at Guantanamo Bay open, and supported the brutal CIA interrogation of suspects there.[6]

2. Jared Kushner: According to the Israeli media, Kushner is the least experienced in Middle East affairs, however, he was the one chosen for the task of peace settlement in the Middle East.[7] Both The New York Times and The Independent,[8] as well as other western media outlets reported that the “charitable” foundation of Charles and Seryl Kushner, the parents of Jared, has donated $38 thousand to the Beit El settlement in WB in 2013, that same settlement to which the Donald J. Trump Foundation gave $10 thousand in 2003. Kushner is very popular among the settlers in WB and Jerusalem.[9]

3. David Friedman: The US ambassador to Israel chairs the American Friends of Bet El Institutions fundraising group.[10] He was Trump’s campaign adviser, and he was the first to announce, before the inauguration of Trump, that “the current facts don’t make that [Palestinian state] an American imperative at all,” and that the “Israelis have to make the decision on whether or not to give up land to create a Palestinian state.” He stated that he doesn’t think that Trump would have any problem with Israel annexing parts of WB, and added that “the American interest is that Israel will live in security and therefore any step that may weaken it should be avoided.” Friedman explained that “the reasons for Trump’s positions about the creation of a Palestinian state are due first and foremost to what he described as ‘the Gaza experiment’ and the way that ended.” [11]

4. Jason Greenblatt: He is US President Donald Trump’s international negotiations representative since January 2017 (including the Middle East), and his adviser on Israel. He opposes any United Nations (UN) role in imposing the two-state solution and said that Trump “thinks that the peace has to come from the parties themselves,” and that he “does not view the settlements as being an obstacle for peace.” He added that Trump “recognizes the historical significance of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, unlike UNESCO.”[12] Greenblatt’s main sources of information are daily email alerts from American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) materials, and a weekly Jewish radio program featuring Malcolm Hoenlein, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Greenblatt also believe that the economic pressure is the most suitable way to bring back Palestinian to the negotiations table.[13]

5. John Bolton: He is the national security adviser since 2018, and is considered one of the most hawkish officials in the current administration. Bolton is a staunch opposer to any UN role in the peace settlement and to the two-state solution. He encourages the use of force against opposition regimes, strongly supports moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and argues that “Gaza should be given back to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan.”[14]

The views expressed above of the US team, which is working to formulate and put forward the terms of the “Deal of the Century,” indicate that they are consistent with the press leaks mentioned above. There may be differences in some details, however, the gist of the deal will remain the same, especially if we added the positions of Trump himself such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, which we expected in a previous study,[15] in addition to his general tendencies concerning the conflict, which are based on the following: [16]

1. The priority of linking regional instability to the Iranian role, rather than to the repercussions of the Israeli occupation of Arab territories. This is evident in the increasing US-Arab coordination against Iran at the expense of Arab regional coordination against Israel.

2. The priority of Arab normalization with Israel over the political settlement of the Palestine issue, which can be seen in the visits of normalization delegations to Israel and those of the Israeli officials to the Arab states.

3. The priority of the financial-trade dimension over the political dimension in the relations with the Arab countries.

Second: Building a Favorable Political Environment for the Deal Before Putting it Forward

It is necessary to return to the psychological analysis of Trump’s character, especially in his negotiating performance. Specialized American medical reports agreed that Trump is ruthless in using all of his power tools from the outset of his negotiations, and that he lacks remorse when it comes to the others’ losses in negotiations.[17]

The preparatory steps taken by US administration for the negotiations are clear in a number of indicators that will impact the results of any talks:

1. The US negotiations team is formed of members who adopt President Trump’s views, as evident from the positions stated above.

2. The continuous financial and diplomatic pressure on the PA and GS, which is evident in the following:

a. The closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington in September 2018.[18]

b. The US ended aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which reached $359.3 million (2017) then decreased it to $65 million in 2018 before stopping it altogether. It stopped also helping the agency’s projects, i.e., funding almost 30% of its operations in the region. [19]

c. Reconsidering US assistance to the PA in light of the legislations issued by the congress and ratified by President Trump. This would include reprogramming bilateral economic assistance that was originally intended for the PA for other purposes; terminating assistance to any individual, entity, or educational institution which is involved in or advocating “terrorist activity” (i.e., resistance); no aid is permitted for a power-sharing PA government that includes Hamas as a member; assistance for the PA is prohibited if the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation; assistance for the PA is prohibited if the Palestinians obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians in the United Nations or any UN specialized agency; no aid is permitted for PA personnel located in GS; no aid is permitted for the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation; and vetting and monitoring all PA financial transactions. All of these resolutions made the exception of the case when security coordination between Israel and the PA is involved.[20]

3. Encouraging the Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to untie the Arab boycott of Israel from the settlement of the Palestine issue.[21] As for Greenblatt, he doesn’t put the Arab’s approval of the settlement as a condition, it’s enough that they would support it, “I do think that the regional partners are key players in our efforts, and we have done extensive consultations throughout the region and throughout our process. We’re also hopeful that we can count on their support, and I use the word ‘support’ rather than ‘approval.’” [22]

4. Obstructing international resolutions at the UN Security Council by vetoing all resolutions that Israel oppose, as was the case in the resolution concerning Jerusalem on 18/12/2017, and the resolution concerning GS and Jerusalem on 1/6/2018.

5. Postponing the disclosure of the “deal’s” texts until after the Israeli elections next April, so as not to affect the winning chances of Benjamin Netanyahu, especially if the deal included “some” concessions from the Israeli side.

The Prospects of the Deal

The implementation of the deal faces some obstacles, which are as follows:

1. Internal problems faced by Trump including the continuous investigations into the relation of his election with a Russian role and into the important role of Kushner in this matter. This is happening while he’s encountering tense relations with the Congress due to many other issues, including the wall with Mexico and the investigations into suspicious financial relations following the investigation of the subject of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi … etc.

2. Internal problems faced by Netanyahu (corruption) in addition that he has a weak majority in the Knesset (one seat), and the fact that his competitors have more right winged positions when it comes to the peace settlement with the Palestinians.

3. The difficulty of Palestinians accepting any public participation in negotiations on such bases, in addition to the popular Palestinian consensus on rejecting it. The US administration may seek a way out by conducting secret talks or by having the Arabs as negotiators instead of Palestinians, especially that the PA president has, on one hand, a “worrying” health condition, and on the other, he faces internal crises due to his internal and foreign policies which are opposed by most of the main organizations.

4. The possibility of regional confrontation between Israel and Iran, or in GS, or at the Lebanese or Syrian fronts.

5. The internal schism in the GCC makes the Gulf role less than what the US has hoped for, especially with the fact that the Gulf countries have their own internal problems and local issues.

6. The international community, particularly the EU, Russia and China, are not enthusiastic about the “deal of the century,” which was clear in their positions at the UN.

In light of what Greenblatt clearly expressed, which is the necessity that the current plan begins with the reality on the ground, and that it does not rely on “what it should be,” instead, it focuses on “what it could be”—which is the position of Trump and his team who are responsible for the deal—one can consider the following aspects:

1. Working on cloning the GS case in WB through two aspects:

a. Withdrawing from the least amount of land with the greatest Palestinian population, for the withdrawal from 365 km2 (GS) led to getting rid of around 2 million Palestinians. Based on that, Trump’s deal will try to draw a map based on an Israeli withdrawal from the most densely populated areas in WB.

b. Exploiting the imbalances of power in favor of the Israeli side. This can be clearly seen in the Palestinian schism and the possibility of Israel and the US investing in it, the overt and covert Arab normalization with Israel, and the catastrophic results of the Arab political turmoil from the end of 2010 until now.

2. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem indicates that it is not on the US negotiating table anymore, what is proposed instead is the “Jerusalem alternative.”

3. Implementing the deal whether the PA participated in the talks or not, i.e., unilaterally implement the deal, which will force the Palestinians to deal with it gradually and turn it into a reality.

4. There are other possibilities—still under scrutiny—which include linking GS with Egypt through some economic projects, and establishing a free trade zone between them, financially supported by the Gulf States.

 Conclusion

It can be said that Trump’s chances of succeeding in implementing the deal of the century—especially if its contents are revealed within the next two or three months as mentioned above—depend on the variables and constraints that we referred to previously. It must be noted that the time lapse between its announcement and application may be very long (As was the case with the Oslo Accords, which were signed almost a quarter of a century ago and have not yet been implemented). However, Trump will work on achieving something tangible before his term ends in 2020, so that he would invest it in his election campaign if he survives various current investigations.

It is most likely that the deal’s announcement will take place before mid-year (2019), however, its implementation will take a long time. Israel will work on adapting its contents as much as possible in its favor, which could be obstructed in case of profound changes in the regional countries, in which the trend against the Israeli presence may increase. Furthermore, the Palestinian semi-consensus on rejecting the deal will remain a serious obstacle to the “legitimization” of the deal.


* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay for authoring this strategic assessment.


[1] Donald Trump, in Exclusive Interview, Tells WSJ He Is Willing to Keep Parts of Obama Health Law, site of The Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-willing-to-keep-parts-of-health-law-1478895339
[2] US’ Pompeo says no ‘deal of the century’ until after Israel election, site of Middle East Monitor (MEMO), 23/1/2019, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190123-us-pompeo-says-no-deal-of-the-century-until-after-israel-election
[3] See details in:
• Q&A: Special envoy Jason Greenblatt details the thinking behind the Mideast peace plan, site of ISRAPUNDIT, 8/8/2018, https://www.israpundit.org/qa-special-envoy-jason-greenblatt-details-the-thinking-behind-the-mideast-peace-plan
• Trump: ‘Deal of the Century’ to be announced within 2 or 3 months, MEMO, 27/9/2018, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180927-trump-deal-of-the-century-to-be-announced-within-2-or-3-months
• The future of Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, site of The Arab Weekly, 16/12/2018, https://thearabweekly.com/future-trumps-deal-century
• Analysis: Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for the Middle East Might Live or Die in Cairo, site of Haaretz newspaper, 26/6/2018, www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/trump-s-deal-of-the-century-for-middle-east-peace-might-live-or-die-in-cairo-1.6199973
• Report: Trump’s Mideast plan proposes Palestinian state in West Bank, site of Ynetnews, 16/1/2019, https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5448227,00.html
• Clare Short, Reports Beyond Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” site of Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, 24/6/2018, http://studies.aljazeera.net/mritems/Documents/2018/6/24/2b95327ca25c4744affe7469a7342359_100.pdf
[4] Pompeo: US-Israel Relations Stronger than Ever, site of Arutz Sheva (Israel National News), 10/11/2018, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/253067
[5] Mike Pompeo Has Hawkish History on Israel and Iran, Haaretz, 30/11/2017, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/mike-pompeo-has-hawkish-history-on-israel-and-iran-1.5489955
[6] Mike Pompeo, your likely new—and Trump-friendly—secretary of state, site of vox, 12/4/2018, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/11/30/16719690/mike-pompeo-hearing-confirmation-congress
[7] Jared Kushner’s connection to an Israeli business goes without scrutiny – imagine how different it would be if that business was Palestinian, site of The Independent newspaper, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/jared-kushner-israel-business-connections-no-scrutiny-palestine-difference-us-relations-donald-trump-a8153411.html
[8] Ibid.; Also see details in, “Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role,” site of The New York Times newspaper, 7/1/2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/business/jared-kushner-israel.html
[9] For Hardline West Bank Settlers, Jared Kushner’s Their Man, site of Reuters, 1/2/2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-kushner/for-hardline-west-bank-settlers-jared-kushners-their-man-idUSKBN15G4W2
[10] Ibid.
[11] Exclusive: David Friedman: Trump Would Support Israeli Annexation of Parts of West Bank, Haaretz, 16/12/2016, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-friedman-trump-would-back-annexing-parts-of-west-bank-1.5400460
[12] Trump Advisor: ‘West Bank Settlements are not an Obstacle to Peace’, site of The Jerusalem Post newspaper, 10/11/2016, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Trump-advisor-West-Bank-settlements-are-not-an-obstacle-to-peace-472231
[13] Meet Trump’s Israel adviser, site of Jewish Standard, 21/4/2016, http://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/meet-trumps-israel-adviser
[14] Bringing in Bolton, White House appears to stiffen against Palestinians, Iran, site of The Times of Israel, 23/3/2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/bringing-in-bolton-white-house-stiffens-stances-against-palestinians-iran
[15] Strategic Assessment (93): Prospects of US Policy on Palestine During Trump’s Term: 2017–2021, site of al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, November 2016, https://eng.alzaytouna.net/2016/11/23/strategic-assessment-93-prospects-us-policy-palestine-trumps-term-2017-2021/
[16] For details see Walid ‘Abd al-Hay, Academic Article: Trump’s Tour in the Arab Region and Its Future Implications, 1/6/2017, https://eng.alzaytouna.net/2017/06/01/academic-article-trumps-tour-arab-region-future-implications-dr-walid-abd-al-hay/
[17] See details in Catherine Caruso, “Psychiatrists Debate Weighing in on Trump’s Mental Health,” Scientific American magazine, 15/2/2017; and May Bulman, “Donald Trump has ‘dangerous mental illness’, say psychiatry experts at Yale conference,” The Independent, 21/4/2017.
[18] Trump administration orders closure of PLO office in Washington, site of The Washington Post newspaper, 10/9/2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-orders-closure-of-plo-office-in-washington/2018/09/10/7410fe6c-b50c-11e8-a2c5-3187f427e253_story.html?utm_term=.90682e612edf
[19] US ends aid to Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa, site of BBC News, 1/9/2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45377336
[20] For the details of the resolutions and aid numbers see “U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians,” Congressional Research Service (CRS), 12/12/2018, pp. 2-9.
[21] See the analysis and the ramifications of this policy in Gerald M. Feierstein, Trump’s Middle East Policy at One Year, Policy Focus, site of Middle East Institute, 27/3/2018, pp. 6-9.
[22] Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt: ‘Palestinian Leadership is Not Talking to Us, Much to their Detriment,’ site of Jewish News Syndicate, 12/9/2018, https://www.jns.org/qa-special-envoy-jason-greenblatt-details-the-thinking-behind-the-mideast-peace-plan/

The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 11/2/2019