When David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, suggested that President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” would be made public after Israel’s legislative elections on 9 April, someone amusingly commented that it really was the “deal of the century”, because it would need the rest of the century to be unveiled.
Despite the exaggeration, this comment is valid. The Trump administration has delayed the debut of the “deal” time and again, as it has already achieved everything within its powers in support of Israel's strategic goals.
This includes moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, attempting to make the refugee problem irrelevant by changing the definition of a refugee, and halting US aid to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority (not including financial aid to the PA’s security forces).
The US administration has also given legitimacy to settler-colonialism, made Israeli security the reference point for any negotiations, closed the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s offices in Washington, demanded the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and continued to lay the foundation for the Gaza Strip to be dealt with as a separate entity.
Normalisation with Israel
After failing to obtain the approval of Arab states for the “deal”, the Trump administration is attempting to pressure Palestinians, who have systematically rejected the deal, to accept it.
Still, the US has been relatively successful in convincing a number of Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel, and it is on the path towards establishing an Arab-Israeli-American alliance against Iran.
On the other hand, the US has not succeeded in persuading Palestinians to agree to the “deal”, or even to be willing to negotiate it. Instead, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took a bold stand by rejecting the “deal” and severing political ties with the US administration.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently suggested that the announcement of the “deal” should be postponed, because in reality, Israel has already achieved everything it wanted.
The announcement of the “deal” and the negotiations that may ensue would create pressure on Israel to offer something to the Palestinians, ultimately causing the Israeli government to fall - especially in the presence of political parties that would refuse to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, even if it was a state in name only.
The future of Trump’s “deal”, and whether or not it will be put forward, will depend on the results of the Israeli elections. The polls indicate the likelihood of a government similar to the current one, or one that is more extreme.
We may find ourselves facing a continued failure to propose the “deal” - and with US presidential elections set for 2020, Trump may not want to propose a plan that would undermine his support base of Christian Zionists and neoconservatives.
If a less extreme Israeli government takes power - which is unlikely, but not impossible - this would increase the possibility of the “deal” being put forward. The two authorities in the West Bank and Gaza may not be able to continue to reject the “deal” as they can do today, since both are weak and preoccupied with internal conflict between Hamas and the PA.
They may be forced to accept the US plan, especially as it would involve financial support for Palestinians - an alternative to reaching a final peace deal, which seems out of reach.
However, whether or not the “deal” is proposed is not as important as what is happening on the ground: the embodiment of a full US-Israeli partnership moving ahead with all of the Israeli government’s demands, on the pretext that this is consistent with reality - a reality imposed by force to perpetuate occupation, land confiscation, annexation, intolerance, racism and settler-colonial expansion.
It is not even accurate to deem the US plan a “deal” because a “deal” requires consent from both parties to the conflict.
The most powerful factions in Israel are not enthusiastic about the “deal”, instead preferring to benefit without giving anything in return.
Palestinians, meanwhile, will continue to reject the “deal”, as it aims to drain the essence of the Palestinian cause in all its dimensions, in exchange for an ambiguous discussion about a “state”, while Israel maintains control over the whole land.
The US plan may include establishing a capital for a future Palestinian state in some neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, far from the Old City. A “state” could also be established in the besieged Gaza Strip, continuously threatened with Israeli aggression.
As for the isolated West Bank, self-rule may be established, which may or may not be interlinked with Israel, Jordan or the micro-state of Gaza.
Breaking the status quo
Without consent from Palestinians, the Trump administration will not be able to enact its “deal”, even if it manages to create facts on the ground. Since the occupation is illegitimate and illegal, then all that stems from it is void - particularly since Arab countries, which the US was betting on, have continued to support US efforts without agreeing to the plan. Instead, Arab governments announced that they would only agree to what the Palestinians agree to.
However the Palestinians’ Achilles’ heel is that they have not provided what is needed to thwart the US plan; they lack vision and a clear strategy to achieve national unity.
The Palestinian leadership has long threatened to end its commitments to the Oslo Accords, but the PA fears implementing such warnings, which would threaten the existence of the PA. Consequently, this has given Israel the green light to implement its policies and plans more swiftly.
Unless Palestinians dare to break the essence of the status quo, through unity on the basis of partnership between the various components of the Palestinian movement, we will face a reality in which Palestinians will reject the US plan, while helping - albeit indirectly - to implement it. This is extremely dangerous.
- Hani Al-Masri is director general of Masarat, the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies. He founded and was director general of the Palestinian Media, Research and Studies Centre, Badael, between 2005 and 2011. He has published hundreds of articles, research and policy papers in Palestinian and Arab magazines and newspapers, including al-Quds, Al-Ayyam and Al-Safir. He is a member of the board of trustees at the Yasser Arafat Foundation.