12 June 2019

A delayed plan for a delayed peace. “The deal of the Century”

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

A peace plan is a diplomatic stumbling blockage• Romania was part of such attempts, in a circumstance which today is history• The main elements will be the economic approaches and dividends offered to both parts •”Have not you had enough of 70 years of distresses? Get along, make businesses and be happy!”•Israel’s security is promoted, firstly, at the Eastern border, in Jordan’s Valley• The Arab states will positively answer to all US’s requests, but will implement nothing• Delayed because of Israel’s elections, the project could be postponed. Also because of the elections.

Image source: Mediafax

A peace plan for the Middle East, actually for the end of the Israel-the Palestinians conflict, is the stumbling block of any diplomacy connected with these two parts, which represents alco a country to be somehow involved in the evolutions in this area. In the past, Romania was also part of such attempts, in a conjuncture that became history. At a conference organized in Bucharest, not long ago, and where has participated also one of the artisans of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel from 1994, Abdul Salam al-Majali, a former Romania diplomat accredited in the area, retired for a long time, has called on our country being involved again in this issue with new solution for the peace between the Israeli and the Palestinians. Arrogantly, the former Jordanian prime-minister answered that they have already negotiated everything possible and everyone who wanted to come with any idea, has already done that. Still, peace did not come.

The Arab dignitary admitted that there was not a lack of new ideas among the negotiators, but of political will to discuss and implement them.

Why Trump’s Administration launched a new peace plan

Negotiating a new peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians was, and still remains, one of Trump’s Administration hot foreign policy topics. Reasons are different, some objective, other subjective.

Among the objective ones, there is the argument that the US is the only state (maybe Russia also, but slightly) which can ask both parts to comeback at the negotiations table and has also the necessary force to impose them to do it.

The subjective reason is same administration’s will to prove its interference in great foreign files, which have also a great media exposure, to show that the former administration, of course, firstly the democratic one, did not pay much attention to this area and found no solutions, but also to win some electoral points, as everybody already knows the resemblance between the American conservatory electorate and the issue of the sacred places.

The profile of the White House Administration, mostly oriented towards seeing the relations between states as businesses which, some are working, others not, has been an advantage for seeking and identifying negotiations solutions and arguments on a field which was not that explored before.

In one of the few interviews that Jared Kushner had, president Trump’s son-in-law and his main counsellor on the new peace plan issue between Israel and the Palestinians, was stating that “as the situation “hasn’t really changed much in 25 years, what we’ve tried to do is figure out what is a realistic and what is a fair solution to the issues here in 2019 that can enable people to live better lives”.

Further in the interview, he revealed extremely small details about the nature of the American proposals incorporated in this plan’s project, however, it came out really clear that the elements will be the economic approaches and dividends of both parts. The peace between them is seen not only as an objective per se, but as a way, a leverage to allow border’s dilution, economic changes, people’s circulation, businesses opportunities and, finally, prosperity.

Alike president Trump, Kushner, the fresh diplomat, who came probably alike the other two negotiators, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, former members of the juridical team of candidate Trump, from the business field, has many optimistic syntagms. These are, sometimes, revealing a superficial acknowledgement of the regional issue, however, one to consider the military and economic US ascendant in the relations with both parts, which could be a winning card through the sincerity he is dealing the issue with, especially regarding the Palestinians: “Have not you had enough of 70 years of distresses? Get along, make businesses and be happy!”

And the solutions the negotiation teams are offering are based on four principles:

  1. Freedom. Freedom of opportunity and religion;
  2. Respect. Respect of dignity and respect for each other;
  3. Opportunity. Opportunity to be able to better their lives and not allow their grandfather’s conflict to hijack their children’s future.
  4. Security. This is more complicated to explain.

When first reading it, it looks like the optimistic introduction of a business plan that both parts need to invest in. The negotiation team found the solution: less accent on the painful subjects (the final status, borders, refugees return) who have blocked, for decades, finding a solution, and more focus on the compromise.

A project with many pages and few ideas

The final version of the peace plan, called the “Deal of the Century”, has between 175-200 pages, and its content is known only by five people. Jared Kushner has explained what all this secret is about: many times, the previous proposals got cancelled because their details were available too soon for the parts.

From the few interview the negotiators gave the press, from some of the details the Arab and Israeli officials found out from project’s provisions, we can speculate, besides the general principles, some of the concrete actions on the place the parts will meet, the leverages the American part has used to convince them, even some of the potential concrete proposals.

Hence, it has been felt out:

- an advanced implementation, by the Israeli part, with US support, of some of the possible provisions of the plan. Hereof, it is strengthened the Israeli position, in the detriment of the Palestinian one. The international press is listing some of the measures the Trump Administration took lately, among them being the funds cut of the humanitarian help, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the closure of the Palestinian subsidiary from Washington, the closure of their own consulate from Jerusalem, dedicated to connections between West Bank and Gaza, as build up actions for the future negotiations;

- the Trump Administration plan will present concrete proposals, unlike the previous ones, which were more descriptive and principled, leaving the parts to identify the detailed solutions. This was actually one of the critics against their predecessors, seen as too “soft” on this matter. These proposals will be directed towards economic solutions addressed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, mostly from a pro-Israeli perspective, given the political options of the American negotiators. Unlike the Obama Administration which, for example, has criticized the Israeli colonization from West Bank, the main negotiator of the US team, Jason Greeblatt, has stated that, on the contrary, these are not an obstacle for achieving peace. For the Palestinians, the confrontation with an administration wherewith they have no dialogue, with a pro-Israel negotiator team, seems to be something they have to deal with. And which will probably be refused, as the Israeli part will do also, which is not satisfied with the economic concessions;

- The continuation of the Israeli military presence in the Palestinian Territories is not just possible, but may be one of new plan’s concrete provisions. The accent on security cannot be left out of the military equation, and Israel’s security is firstly promoted at the East border, in Jordan’s Valley. The military presence for Eastern border and the West Bank colonies protection will be, apparently, balanced through supplementary political and economic dividends guaranteed to Gaza Strip. This territory, now under Hamas’s control, does not have the same strategic significance for Israel as the West Bank. They can try here also the creation of a small Palestinian state on sea’s rim, as well as to divide the Palestinian political structures. This is not, of course, what the negotiators are stating in the few interviews they had until now. Comparing Israeli’s security need with Palestinians’ ideal about having their own state, what they can actually offer is more autonomy to this territory, overpopulated and desperate for improving their economic situation. Such a proposal is, however, not what Egypt wanted, as it is internalizing Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood and would not want to have it close. Hence, this projection may not be positively received as well, neither for the Palestinian part, nor regionally agreed;

- they will invest tens of billions of dollars in the Palestinian Territories and the region also, according to some media sources, connected with people inside the negotiation group. The speculated funds, which seem be the economic fundament of the peace plan, could be worth of around $24 billion for West Bank and Gaza and $40 billion for Israel’s Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan and probably Lebanon. Washington hopes to get all this money from the region, at least a significant percentage, following the model used with the NATO states: “everyone that wants security must pay for it”. The US negotiations tour in the Arab states in the region, but also Turkey, had, probably, also the role to convince them to get financially involved. The promised economic prosperity will come with the cost of giving up to the main two assertions of the Palestinians: their own state with the borders they had before 1967, with capital to East Jerusalem. A hard-to-negotiate perspective, even across the pro-Washington Arab states.

Conceived in order to respond to Israel’s security needs and Palestinians’ prosperity ones, the peace plan, actually the utterance of its principles, was circumspectly received for both parts, with an additional negative ton from the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who actually called it, during a meeting with king Salman from Saudi Arabia, as the “slap of the century”.

The Arab States- a cracked bloc?

Aiming at getting plan’s approval from the Palestinians, the Trump Administration tried to mobilize its Arab allies. They relied on the fact that their interest or the issue of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict has decreased lately, however increasing the need to fight the Iranian threat, a field the US support is absolutely necessary in. And, if Saudi Arabia has developed, through Mohammed bin Salman, a friendship with Israel, the subject of all sacred Islamic places, moved to “and others” in the possible provisions of the plans, it is extremely sensitive for the Saudi. It is also important that immediately after the Trump administration announcement regarding the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia called the Arab League Conference, which was about to take place at that time, in Riyadh, as the “al-Quds Conference”/ Jerusalem’s Arab name.

And if Saudi Arabia has a distant perspective, more religious and financial, over the Israel-Palestinian Territories and Egypt-Jordan evolution, the neighbor countries, which are directly interested in their borders security seem to be less flexible at US negotiators’ requests. Especially in Jordan, where there are not only around two millions of Palestinian refugees, but also an equal number of Jordan citizens with Palestinians origins, the subject is even more sensitive.

The US pressures against Amman, to cancel the refugee status they gave to the almost two millions of Palestinian refugees, has increase Jordan’s concerns about Trump’s Administration intention to solve this Israel security issue by transferring it to East of Jordan’s Valley. In times of extremely strong internal conflicts, especially generated by country’s big economy issues, it was reaffirmed the popular political catchphrase “Jordan is not Palestine”. Even if the country has tied connections and a strategic partnership with the US, the monarchy’s survival depends especially on the popular support. In the last decades, there were many occasions when Amman made independent decisions to US’s ones on region’s evolutions.

Egypt’s perspective is, probably, closer to US’s requests. But, in this case also, the Sinai Peninsula security is the decisive element, and a Gaza Strip evolution which would threaten this security, even if it would be only publicly manifested, with the increase of the Hamas status/ franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood, will be unaccepted.

Probably the behavior of the Arab states will be one usually used in these political circumstances: their will answer positively to US’s requests, but will not implement a thing: neither pressures over the Palestinians for political concessions, nor money for investments’ support. The Palestinian leader does not have much sympathy in the Arab capital, but the peace plan seem to be in the same capitals an unstable ticket.

According to Dennis B. Ross, a former American diplomat, specialized in Middle East’s issue, negotiator in this region under many US presidents, the economic approach can have successful premises in a peace plan. But it has to be supported also by political concessions to partially please both parts. And these concessions, especially regarding the state of the Palestinian territories are not, probably, document’s strong point.

Delayed because of Israel’s elections, the project could be cancelled. Also because of the elections.

The peace plan should have been presented during January, but this event was postponed due to the announcement regarding the anticipated general elections from Israel, on 9th of April. The negotiation team has stated that this will be done after the elections, when the situation will be different. Prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in the US with only two weeks before the elections, to participate at the annual AIPAC conference/ American Israel Pacific Public Affairs Committee, the American pro-Israel lobby organization. Any visit of the Israeli prime-minister in the US involves also a meeting at the White House, hence it will be a great moment to increase his image in the electoral broad reach. It that might not be enough, and the opened file for corruption may be more important for the voters. Not even the “secret weapon”, the tied relation with President Trump will not work being questioned by some problems which took place not long ago. Without Netanyahu as winner of the elections, the peace plan perspective changes also. Even if he proved so many times that he can reinvent himself, the current situation is difficult.

In the public Israeli opinion there is, also, less will for a peace plan with the Palestinians. Only 9% from the Israeli find this document as being necessary. The current situation is too favorable to Israel to ask for its change. Any plan would involve a series of concessions against the Palestinians, even if some are only symbolic. The Israeli right, the one that is currently doing state’s political agenda, will not agree on these concessions. The leaders who are thinking on a longer perspective, like Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, and even Benjamin Netanyahu are, at some point, punished by an electorate which is too careful to the current times.

For now, there is no epilogue

For the Palestinians, the immediate perspective created by the emergence of this plan is a lose-lose situation, loses on all plans. If they say yes, it means that all previous peace plans, with more favorable provisions, were refuted for nothing, if they say no, they will have to deal with new funds cut, the continuation of Gaza’s isolation, new interdictions for their leaders. The ossification of Ramallah’s leadership does not offer a competitive alternative to Israel’s sophisticated political game.

We only have to wait for 9th of April to come, the post electoral evening, to know for sure if the 175-200 pages of the peace plan project made by the Trump Administration will be read by other people also, besides the privileged five, who knew before everyone how things in Middle East could be solved with the “Deal of the Century”.

Translated by Andreea Soare