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Trump’s expected plan delivers temporary gains to Israel’s right

Jan 21,2020 - Last updated at Jan 21,2020

US President Donald Trump is considering revealing his peace plan for the Middle East before the end of this month, reliable sources told me this week. Also, Israel’s Channel 13 political correspondent Barak Ravid tweeted on Sunday that Trump is expected to decide in the coming days whether to present the White House’s “Deal of the Century” before the Israeli elections on March. According to my sources, Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is pushing for a preelection announcement in what appears to be a clear intervention in the elections on behalf of indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has requested the White House’s help.

It has been almost four years since Trump pledged to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and bring peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. But he had taken unilateral, biased and preemptive steps that sidelined the Palestinians, whose President Mahmoud Abbas decided to end all political contacts with the US administration following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv.

Kushner and aides had travelled frequently to the region to meet Arab leaders, and on every occasion they were told that the only path to regional peace would be to implement the two-state solution based on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. The US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was denounced by Arab states and the international community. Attempts to defund UNRWA, the UN agency caring for Palestine refugees, were also thwarted. In response, the White House suspended all aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and closed the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s representative office in Washington.

As Israel became embroiled in domestic politics, having gone through two Knesset elections in the span of a year and is about to engage in a third, Kushner and his team delayed the unveiling of Trump’s peace plan. A workshop held in Bahrain last year to focus on the economic components of the deal was an utter failure.

Netanyahu’s bid to get reelected is facing challenges. Last November, he was indicted for corruption and breach of public trust and is now struggling to get immunity from prosecution. Israeli voters are divided and Netanyahu’s chances of winning the March elections are now in doubt. Kushner’s attempt to help his friend may yet backfire. Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz, has described the release of the plan before the Israeli elections as “an outright intervention”.

Sources said that the proposed plan would back Israel’s intentions to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank as well as justifying its presence in the Jordan Valley as essential to its security. Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed decades-old US policy on the illegality of these settlements. Netanyahu had pledged to annex the Jordan Valley if reelected. Recent contacts between him and Trump appear to have convinced the latter to support such move.

The rest of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, will be labelled as a “transitional state” or, according to Israeli media, “New Palestine”. The plan is unlikely to touch on the fate of Palestinians who reside in annexed areas. It will consider East Jerusalem part of a united Jerusalem but may allow the PA certain administrative responsibilities there. There is also ambiguity on the issue of Palestinian refugees living in host countries.

The fate of so-called area C under the Oslo Accords is also unknown as Israeli Defence Minister Neftali Bennet announced recently the creation of seven nature reserves there on privately owned Palestinian lands. Bennet had previously pledged to annex area C.

According to Israeli sources, the final status of the so-called “New Palestine” will be decided between Israel, the PA and Hamas. But it goes without saying that the PA, which hopes the International Criminal Court (ICC) will begin an inquest into Israeli war crimes sometime this year, will be quick to reject Trump’s plan. Arab countries will also follow suit. There is no possibility that this plan will end the conflict or bring peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. In fact, all it does is to legitimise Israeli actions now and in the future from Washington’s point of view.

Kushner is already in Davos, Switzerland, where he will meet Arab officials, according to Israeli reports. He will then visit Israel later this week to discuss Trump’s plan with Netanyahu and Gantz. The timing of the release of the plan, if it happens before the end of the month, will be interesting. Trump is facing an historic impeachment trial in the Senate while Netanyahu is asking the Knesset to give him immunity. If Trump waits until after the Israeli elections, the US presidential race would have already kicked in.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Palestinian sides must prepare for the fallout if and when Trump releases his plan. There will be pressure from Washington on Arab capitals to embrace it. A period of US-Arab tension is expected as a result. The call on the rest of the world, especially Europe, to recognise the state of Palestine as a response is unlikely to be heeded and the ICC might still walk back on its intention to investigate war crimes. Israel alone will emerge as a short-term winner, although its conflict with the Palestinians will only get worse.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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