With possible removal from office hanging over their heads, US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the White House to announce a peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 180-page document named Peace to Prosperity seeks to promote and improve ‘Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people.’ After months of negotiations, mostly with Israeli officials and some Arab leaders, President Trump’s point person for the Middle East, Jared Kushner largely ignored the Palestinians, the supposed beneficiary of the plan.
President Trump called it a ‘realistic peace plan’ and last opportunity for the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu described the plan as ‘historic’. It recognises ‘the Palestinians’ legitimate desire for self-determination’; however, Jerusalem ‘will remain Israel’s undivided capital’ and the Palestinians would establish their capital in al-Quds in east Jerusalem or any other city; The ‘conceptual map’ attached to the plan visualises the Israeli annexation of all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the American recognition of such an action; Israel could also annex the Jordan Valley which would be recognised by the US.
Israel’s territorial swap with the Palestinians would not imply the return of the Palestinian territories captured during the June 1967 War and would leave the Palestinians with around 15 percent of the territories of Mandate Palestine. The US does not expect Israel to negotiate with any Palestinian government ‘that includes any members of Hamas’ or other groups unless they ‘unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognise the State of Israel” and other conditions linked to Gaza Strip.
The annexation of the settlements would lead to a territorially non-contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and this would be linked to the other part of Palestinians, the Gaza Strip, through ‘state-of-art infrastructure solutions,’ perhaps underground tunnels;
Raising the issue of Jewish refugees who came to Israel from Arab countries after 1948, the plan proposes that Palestinians refugees would be absorbed by the future Palestinian state, host countries or the 57-member the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation; Israel would not be asked to absorb the Palestinian refugees; There would be a settlement freeze for four years during which the Palestinians could negotiate with Israel for an agreement; There is a host of economic plans with an estimated investment of US$ 50 billion to help the Palestinians as well as countries like Jordan and Lebanon, which host sizeable Palestinian refugees. Given President Trump’s favourite for burden-sharing logic, much of the funding would be borne not by the US but by energy-rich Arab countries.
An explicit support for Palestinian self-determination, a temporary freeze of Israeli settlements, and an economical approach to Palestinian statehood are the only silver linings. However, the Palestinians whole-heartedly have rejected the ‘Deal of the Century’. Trump’s new proposal is the continuation of a slew of measures announced by him since assuming office, namely, declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (December 2017); moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (May 2018); recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory (March 2019); and declaring that the Jewish settlements are ‘not illegal’ (November 2019).
The Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been cautious as they are preoccupied with other pressing problems but still suggest direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. India has been consistently supportive of the Palestinian cause and has called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. New Delhi reiterated its position that the final-status issue should be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties and be acceptable to both. India urged both the parties to engage with each other, including on the latest proposals put forward by the United States, and find an acceptable two-state solution for peaceful coexistence.
The Palestine National Authority, the legitimate and internationally recognised Palestinian leadership, was not part of the plan that was supposed to benefit and transform them. That’s the real problem. In short, the Trump Middle East plan is nothing more than Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark!
Script: Prof. P RKumaraswamy, Centre for West Asian Studies, JNU