The US administration has not officially presented the “deal” in detail although it was being mentioned soon after Donald Trump’s assumption of the US presidency. Despite giving several dates for the announcement of the proposed deal, the US administration has not officially presented it because of strenuous Palestinian opposition that led to Arab and international opposition. Hence, any such announcement would be tantamount to a death announcement, and the US administration has therefore opted to postpone it in the hope that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians would adopt a softer position on it, or agree to negotiate it with a view to amending it.
Why have the Palestinians not waited until the deal was officially announced before deciding whether to accept, reject or seek to amend it?
There is an Arab saying that goes “You can tell the contents of a letter from its envelope”, and it applies to the deal in question. The actions of the US administration indicate that the deal is an attempt to liquidate the Palestinian cause, rather than to resolve it. Trump began his term of office by appointing a team that is not only blindly pro-Israeli, but is also Zionist, pro-settlement, colonialist and racist and is more representative of Israel, particularly the Israeli right, than it is of the US.
The Trump administration abandoned the goal of establishing a Palestinian state and the reference framework of the peace process, leaving the latter at the mercy of negotiations that are usually controlled by Israel. Israel is the stronger party in that process, and it opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state under any circumstances. The US administration then began referring to what it called “Palestinian incitement and encouragement of terrorism”, slamming the payment of salaries to the families of martyrs and prisoners, to the extent that a US law allowing the cessation of aid on that pretext was enacted.
Moreover, Washington demanded that the Palestinians should recognise Israel as a Jewish homeland. Such recognition would negate the historical Palestinian narrative and pave the way for liquidation of all Palestinian rights. Washington also made clear that it does not consider the establishment of Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace.
Trump also considers that his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and to recognise the city as a “Jewish capital of the state of Israel” has removed the issue of Jerusalem from the negotiating table. He has reduced US aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA); demanded that UNRWA be liquidated and demanded that the term “refugee” should be redefined to only include refugees who were born in Palestine. He has refused to sign a decision extending permission for the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington to remain open, which means it is as good as having been shut down. He has frozen US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) except for the aid that is required for the PA’s continued security coordination with Israel, which is in Israel’s interest.
Lastly, the US administration has emphasised that Gaza is the centre of the Palestinian entity, and has therefore called on the PA to re-establish its control over Gaza. Since that objective has not been achieved, the US has encouraged the so-called “humanitarian solution”, which contributes to achieving the old Israeli goal of splitting Gaza from the West Bank and deepening Palestinian disunity.
In the light of the above, is there any scope or rationale for asking why all Palestinians reject “the deal” before it is announced? The answer is that a deal that begins with the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem can only end in the liquidation of the Palestinian cause in all its dimensions.
In any case, the US administration has already made it known that however many times the deal is amended, its basic contents will not change. Any amendments would be cosmetic, not unlike disguising poison with honey. We could go as far as saying that there is a deliberate US effort underway to keep the contents of the deal unclear to create the impression that they are open to change, thus encouraging the Palestinian leadership to accept the deal and negotiate it. If the Palestinian leadership were to fall into the trap of negotiating the deal, it would sooner or later have to accept it. In contrast, what the Trump administration is putting forward does not provide a basis that can be built upon, and even the most moderate of Palestinians cannot accept it.
The deal may be unclear and open to amendment, but on the basis that its only unchangeable element is giving Israel as much as possible, while giving nothing or the very least possible to the Palestinians.
The Trump administration has made many mistakes, each of which leads to the other. They include:
Firstly: Incorrectly believing that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has no choice but to accept the deal, if not immediately, then after one or two months. The months have gone by, and Abbas continue to reject it. This has coincided with a rejection of Palestinian-US contacts and calls for a new international framework for negotiations in which the US does not monopolise sponsorship of the negotiations, since Washington has changed its position from being a pro-Israeli mediator to being a full partner with the occupation.
That mistaken US belief led to a bigger mistake, namely Jared Kushner’s statement in his interview with al-Quds newspaper in which he incited the Palestinian people – whom he dealt with as though they were individuals concerned with their pockets rather than a people defending its rights – to mutiny against its leadership if it persisted in its position. That statement betrayed an ignorance of the Palestinian people and the fact that it is even more insistent on rejecting the Trump deal than its leadership, and that it demands that the leadership should formulate a comprehensive and practical plan that is capable of foiling the deal.
Secondly, Kushner and his team thought that the Arabs – particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan – would pressure the Palestinians into accepting the deal, and that if they persisted in rejecting it, they would be willing to replace them and proceed with the plan to establish an Arab-US-Israeli alliance against the alleged threat represented by Iran. They though that such willingness would also entail a willingness to accept a change in Arab priorities and alliances and full normalisation of relations with Israel. However, the US administration was taken by surprise to learn that the extent to which the Arabs could go did not extend as far as seriously pressuring the Palestinians, negotiating instead of them or fully normalising relations with Israel without achieving a solution guaranteeing the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, or at least making some progress towards achieving such a solution.
Furthermore, the Trump administration did not take into account that the Arab peoples still regard the Palestinian cause as a central issue, that they will not agree to abandon it and that Arab rulers are hence very hesitant to go as far as opposing it. This was clear in the resolutions of the Arab summit and two Islamic summits, as well as at the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly.
Thirdly, Kushner and his team thought that Israel would support a deal that achieves its demands, so they were shocked to meet with stiff Israeli opposition to it because cosmetic improvements to the deal – disguising the poison with honey – is not something that the more extreme Israeli quarters will countenance. Therefore, US envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt said he would understand if Israel rejected the deal.
Some believe that the US administration does not need Palestinian approval of the deal, because it has from the start chosen a different approach to that of previous administrations, which used to present plans and attempt to market them, but all failed to reach a solution. So the current US administration[Samira Ka1] has elected to recognise the status quo as Israel continues to create new facts on the ground in the hope that this will push the Palestinians and Arabs into accepting the deal in the end, rather than at the beginning. They also believe that the US will resort to using a stick and carrot policy, seeking to deepen Palestinian disunity, and that if the current leadership continues to reject the deal, the US will seek to replace that leadership with one that accepts it.
This change in the US position is an admission of defeat in the sense that the US has not been able to gain Palestinian and Arab acquiescence to the deal from the outset. The Israeli policy of creating facts on the ground and pushing the Americans to recognise them, followed by the rest of the world, and of presenting the Palestinians with a fait accompli that they cannot reject is a policy that the Zionist movement has employed since its inception. It continued after Israel’s establishment and its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It failed time and again, until it scored a success with the conclusion of the Oslo Agreement, in which the Palestinian victim recognised its persecutor without the latter recognising Palestinian rights. Under the Oslo Agreement, Israel merely recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, without recognising any of their rights.
We hope that the Palestinian leadership has learned its lessons from previous experiences. The most important of those lessons is that the path of concessions and recognising facts does not lead to a reasonable settlement, or even a semi-balanced settlement, and that it has led and will lead to whetting Israel’s appetite for more concessions to achieve its goal of establishing a “complete Israel”.
Any facts established by the racist, colonialist, settler occupation do not earn it any rights or commitments by others unless they are legitimised by the victim – the original people of the country. Therefore, there is no deal without a Palestinian partner, just as there is no wedding without a bride or a bridegroom. What really occurs in a situation like this is an attempt by the strong party to impose the solution it wants. This will be illegitimate and temporary and can be transcended in the event of a change in the actual balance of power.
Israel needed and continues to need legitimacy from and recognition by its victim. Therefore, the deal cannot go ahead at the Arab or international levels if it is not approved at the Palestinian level.
Some Palestinians and Arabs exaggerate the Trump deal and react to it as though it were an inescapable fate that we have no chance of foiling. They hold that it will be implemented with or without Palestinian acquiescence, that it will include a Palestinian state in Gaza once it is expanded by 720 square kilometres into Sinai and the isolated Palestinian population centres in the West Bank have been annexed to it or to Jordan. However, those are simply nothing more than plans that have existed in Israeli and US circles for a long time, they have never seen the light, and they might never see it at all.
Some make it seem as though various Palestinian quarters are working to facilitate the deal, to the extent that Fatah accuses Hamas of doing so by implementing a plan to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank behind a smokescreen of a long-term truce and a humanitarian solution for Gaza without the PA’s involvement and at its expense.
As for Hamas, it claims that president Abbas is facilitating the deal by imposing punitive measures against Gaza, convening the Palestine National Council of the PLO unilaterally and holding on to the goal of empowering the government by insisting that it should totally control Gaza, or that Hamas should be responsible for everything, or that the Fatah-led PA should be in charge of everything.
In fact, all parties oppose the deal, but they are facilitating its implementation by not putting an end to the internal division, and by adopting positions, policies and measures that exacerbate disunity, which amounts to a net loss for the Palestinians and a net gain for Israel.
On the other hand, there are those who underestimate the deal and claim that it was still-born, that the Palestinian position killed it off before it was announced or turned it into a regional threat, and that it therefore should not be a cause for fear or panic.
The deal can be undermined, not merely hindered, by formulating a comprehensive vision that will lead to real national unity on the basis of withdrawing recognition of Israel and adhering to the historic Palestinian narrative and rights, foremost of which is the right of return. Such a vision should lead to a new political strategy of struggle, and it should be backed by a political will that includes a readiness to pay the necessary price of fulfilling it.