by Ventsislav Bozhev
After more than two years of work, the team of Jared Kushner has finally revealed its final version of the American initiative for the Middle East peace process, known as the “Deal of the Century”. A contradictory proposal that was firmly rejected both by the government of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and by the leading political factors in the Gaza Strip.
The plan itself is divided into two parts. The first is an economic one, presented by Jared Kushner back in June 2019. The second is a political one, that should provide solutions to all major problems complicating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem, borders, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, security as well as the right of return or compensation for the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars. This plan must not be considered as a final proposal, but as a framework that should give a basis for further bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
The economic component envisages raising and investing more than $ 50 billion in 179 different projects. Some $ 23 billion are to be invested directly in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with the rest to be spent in neighboring Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. The three areas of investment are related to building economic prosperity, improving the education and health systems as well as reforming the public sector. The goals include doubling GDP within 10 years, reducing poverty rates by 50 %, creating 1 million jobs and cutting unemployment below 10 %. Ambitious aims and ideas that present ways of spending and managing money, but do not specify who is willing to invest it.
Unlike the economic part of the plan, the political is not related to the specifics of numbers and rates. It addresses the extremely complex and delicate issues, which have been an unresolvable puzzle for the international community for seven decades. Although the plan framework provides room for negotiations, there are still major points favoring the Israeli cause that are unlikely to be changed:
- Jerusalem will be “undivided” capital of the state of Israel – something that was already recognized by president Trump’s administration at the end of 2017 causing the Palestinians to brake off their contacts with Washington;
- There won’t be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. It will be located in the suburb of Abu Dis;
- The US will recognize the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as the Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, which is expected to be annexed soon;
- The possible future Palestinian state should be demilitarized and without any control of its borders. This means that the border control will be exercised by Israel and, to a lesser extent by Egypt and Jordan.
In the end, what does all this mean? Now, we can draw some sober conclusions more than a week after all details from Trump’s plan were made clear and all stakeholders voiced their opinions.
The Quartet has been dead and gone long ago
Since it was established in 2002, the Quartet of Russia, the USA, the UN and the EU has to some extend been considered as the only possible body with potential to act as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. Although this format had apromising start, in the end it proved to be completely ineffective and without any capacity to urge the opposing sides to make progress in the peace process. The Quartet has lost so much of its legitimacy and authority that its members have not met for years, and its special representative Kito de Boer is not only absolutely unfamiliar among the international community, but he is probably unknown even to the people he has to work with in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And this is precisely where Trump’s “Deal of the Century” comes into play. In a typical business style, he decides to sidestep all forms of multilateral cooperation (whether effective or not) and move on to bilateral negotiations and deals.
2. Russia is displacing the European Union as a leading factor in the peace process
Moscow was the first place Benyamin Netanyahu visited after the joint announcement of the plan standing next to Donald Trump in Washington. In Russia, he met President Vladimir Putin and apart from issues regarding the bilateral Israeli-Russian relations, the main topic they discussed was the “Deal of the Century”. The initial reaction in Moscow expressed by Dmitry Peskov was restrained, but it is hard to imagine that Putin would prefer supporting the Palestinian position over that of Israel, especially given the good and pragmatic relations he keeps with Netanyahu. In this sense, for the Israeli Prime Minister, Russia seams to be a much more reasonable partner than the European Union, whose position was everything but supportive. The EU firmly rejected the plan, as Josef Borell said that it departs from “internationally agreed parameters” and each step toward annexation “if implemented, could not pass unchallenged”.
Regardless of whether the American initiative proves to be successful or not, for Putin it represents a chance to keep the momentum for Russia and continue the trend of reaffirming Moscow as a major power broker and to some extend a preferred mediator at the expense of Europe.
3. Israel will deepen its relations with more Arabic countries
Yes, “The Deal of the Century” was rejected by regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Jordan as well as by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which in theory should represent the interests of 57 countries. However, the reaction of Egypt and the Gulf monarchies was generally pragmatic and rather positive. And this should come as no surprise. For Saudi Arabia, Egypt and OAE, the Palestinian cause has not been a top priority for years, with regional confrontation with Iran as well as Turkey regarding the conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, being at the forefront for them. Therefore, it is logical for these countries to neglect the Palestinian interests for the sake of theirs. In this regard, it is not unnatural for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and OAE to be put together along Israel in one team, based on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
4. Most likely “The Deal of the Century” will be one of the last chances for a Palestinian state
These are the words of Jared Kushner from an extensive interview, given for an Egyptian TV. A statement that is not far from the truth, at least in the near future. Ever since the first plan for a state from 1948, the Palestinians have always rejected any proposal. The only exception is the Oslo accords, which failed because of the Israeli tenacity to build settlements in the occupied territories, as well as the inability and the unwillingness of the Palestinian Authority to provide security guarantees.
This, in the end, leads to a situation where any subsequent peace initiative proposes less land and opportunities for the Palestinians. In any case, the current plan is not favorable for them, far from the classical two-state principle and reversing to 1967 borders. It offers a weak illusion of a state with fragmented territory and limited sovereignty. A plan that contradicts a number of UN Security Council resolutions with a clear message to the Palestinians: “You have lost and now it is time to accept it”.
But this deal is also a reflection of the reality, in which Israel has the upper hand and is ready, able and willing to impose terms and conditions from the position of power. Apparently, the Palestinians no longer have an ally in the White House (at least until the November elections), most likely they have also lost the support of key Arab states and the possibilities to talk with a moderate Israeli government are minimal. Even if Benny Gantz takes the Prime Minister seat in March, his view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the same as that of Netanyahu. The plan itself may actually be the necessary unitive factor for the two leaders that will help them form a coalition government after two failed attempts and a yearlong political crisis in Israel.
“Unitive”. A word long forgotten in Palestine.