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Taking sides

Trump’s Middle East peace plan appears to unambiguously favour Israel while going against the ‘Two-State solution’ and ultimately threatens greater regional instability

Taking sides
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The much-touted Middle East peace plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump appears utterly in favour of Israel with scant regard for Palestinian demands and aspirations.

It reflects a love fest between American and Israeli rights, regards the aggressors and punishes the victims. It is also a dangerous misstep that undermines security and stability in the region.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing by his side, the US president announced the long-awaited "deal of the century" at the White House last week before a pro-Israeli audience. Among those in attendance at the unveiling were Ambassadors from Bahrain, the UAE and Oman. The Palestinian leadership was not invited and has already rejected Trump's plan amid tense relations with the US President over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital and other anti-Palestinian moves.

Palestinians see East-Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and believe that the US president's plan buries the two-state solution that has been the cornerstone of international Middle East diplomacy.

Under the plan, the Palestinians would, at long last, would achieve their 'state'. But not for four years and on condition that they give up "terrorism", legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation, cease incitement against Israel and accept Israel as "the Jewish state", despite the fact that 20 per cent of its citizens are Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

The Trump plan grants Israel something it has coveted the most, total control over Jerusalem and making the city its 'undivided' capital, rather than sharing it with the Palestinians as part of a two-state solution. Palestinians can have their capital in Jerusalem but in the eastern areas, such as the adjacent West-Bank town of Abu Dis or overcrowded, impoverished Shuafat.

World powers have long agreed that Jerusalem's fate should be settled through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has occupied East-Jerusalem and the West-Bank since the 1967 six-day war. More than 600,000 Israelis now live there in settlements considered illegal under international law. To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the plan offers the Palestinians a state and a partial four-year freeze on building colonies.

Trump's plan gives Israel everything it wants on issues meant to be negotiated with the Palestinians such as borders, Israeli colonies, Jerusalem and refugees. Under the 1993 Oslo Accord, these issues were supposed to be negotiated by Palestinians and Israelis.

Simply put, the proposed plan creates a demilitarised Palestinian state with borders drawn to meet Israeli security needs, granting US recognition of Israeli settlements on occupied West Bank land and of Jerusalem as Israel's indivisible capital.

Trump has unilaterally cancelled the land-for-peace formula, the Oslo Accord and the subsequent peace process.

What sort of 'state' will the Palestinian entity be? According to Middle East watchers, if Trump's plan is implemented, this entity will be under Israeli security control, will host more than 600,000 Israeli colonists and will be totally surrounded by territory annexed by Israel.

Even after the Palestinians meet all the new conditions imposed on them, they would still be at the mercy of Israel's security forces. The will have no sovereignty or independence. It will be controlled by Israel from land, air and sea.

The plan seems to be an attempt to steal Palestinian lands and kill prospects of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Trump came to power in 2017, all his policies with regard to Palestinians have been in favour of Israel.

His administration has already closed down the office of the Palestinian Authority, transferred the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and repealed US recognition of the refugee issue by suspending all funding to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, ceded the occupied Golan Heights to Israel and says it no longer believes Israeli colonies in occupied Palestinian territory are inconsistent with international law.

The biggest flaw in the proposed plan is that it does not unequivocally promise statehood to Palestinians. Everything with regard to Palestinians is linked to certain conditions and chances are that these conditions would never be met.

The plan represents an abrogation of all the principles necessary for lasting peace and just settlement. Lasting peace can only be achieved on the basis of acceptance and recognition of two states working side by side. Additionally, the return of all Palestinians who have been forced from their homeland, a guarantee of equal rights and recognition of the shared importance of Jerusalem between both the communities is a must to supplement this process.

Emboldened by Trump's support, Israel appears to be barreling toward a showdown with the international community over its half-century-old settlement enterprise in the West Bank. With the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court poised to launch a war crimes probe of Israel's settlement policies, Netanyahu announced plans to go ahead with the potentially explosive annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank, including dozens of Jewish settlements. A cabinet vote to endorse the annexation of parts of the West Bank is likely to happen in the coming days.

A just and sustainable peace cannot be achieved by ignoring the reality of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories since 1967 or by working to legalise this occupation. The plan is likely to help Netanyahu, who has been formally indicted by an Israeli court for corruption, consolidate his position domestically ahead of March 3 general election, the third in less than a year. As expected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the plan describing it a "slap of the century" and that it should be "confined to the dustbin of history." Thousands of Palestinians have held protests in Gaza and West Bank.

EU diplomats, as well as international organisations such as the UN, have reaffirmed their support for the 'two-state solution' to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UK has given the warmest reaction as Downing Street said the plan "could prove a positive step forward".

There has been a divided reaction from the Arab countries. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, key US allies, have welcomed the move and encouraged negotiations. Jordan, which has considerable Palestinian population has warned against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands and has reaffirmed its commitment to an independent Palestine in the West-Bank and Gaza with East-Jerusalem as its capital. The head of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has said the deal "ignored legitimate Palestinian rights in the territories".

The absence of a unified and firm rejection of the plan signals some Arab states' willingness to normalise relations with Israel to secure a united front against perceived threats from Iran.

Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain which, traditionally championed Palestinian cause, have cosied up to Israel in recent years as they see Iran as a bigger regional threat. Oman, which has traditionally conducted a neutral foreign policy, in a surprise move had welcomed Netanyahu in 2018, the first visit to Muscat by an Israeli leader in over two decades.

The plan is likely to meet the same fate as other international initiatives. Any lasting peace can only be built upon acceptance and recognition of two states working side by side, the right to return for all Palestinians who have been forced from their homeland and recognition of Jerusalem between both sides.

If the US is genuinely interested in finding a lasting solution to the conflict, it should put forward a real two-state solution that cuts through the stalemate and satisfies the national aspirations of the Palestinians while ensuring the security of Israel.

M Shakeel Ahmed is a former Editor of PTI and served as West Asia correspondent for PTI. Views expressed are strictly personal

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