05 September 2019

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict- the plan that does not bring peace

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

In order to be more than just the power signing white checks for Israel, regardless if it will decide the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip or, on the contrary, annex the Golan Heights, the US is serious about its mediator role in the Israeli-Palestinians conflict and offers different peace solutions. Because the conflict does not have a military solution and both parts have distinct political approaches, a regulation solution through negotiation seems to become more and more utopic.

Image source: Mediafax

Why is this peace plan more important for the US than the involved parts?

In order to avoid the previous situations, only based on some negotiation principles launched by the Americans then the details to be established by the involved sides (when everything collapsed), now the Trump Administration is proposing a detailed plan, which the Palestinians and Israeli negotiators only must read and approve, in-integrum, as it is a one-time offer, the only one on the market, coming from the only authorized provider.

Of course, that’s just the theory, as Israel already said that it is in their right to negotiate and, eventually, refuse the offers they do not agree with. And the Palestinians, to be clearer, they could not help sending, through president Mahmoud Abbas, the “deal of the century” (the name, referring to a successful economic deal, was given by president Trump) to the Biblical place waiting for all sinners.

The Palestinian president may have already used, though, the term Jahannam, which means the place where all immoral people go hereafter. If he, however, sent the offer directly to Sa’eer (Blaze), the displeasure must be huge.

Autumn just started, and the plan conceived at the end of last year, postponed for the after-April elections period, again postponed due to Israel’s political crisis, whose economic principles were analyzed during the 25 and 26 of June conference, from Manama, Bahrain, continues to raise only skepticism, although the Trump Administration keeps on promoting it.

The enthusiasm is mimicked only by his initiators, the tight negotiators circle led by Jared Kushner, and the US president, who further announces that the political perspective may be announced just before the September 17 Israeli elections. The promotional scene is still being played by a number of Arab leaders, who, some of them, look at the Palestinian issue and others at the US Senate hearings when approving military weapons and equipment sales.

And back to the initial question: why is Washington insisting on a plan whose viability is challenged by most of those who should be its beneficiaries, but also by those who should contribute to its implementation? There are several explanations.

One is historical. Due to the Israel-Palestinians’ tense relations, periodic peace plans release some of the pressure in the form of applied negotiations, which give hope, especially to the Palestinian side, that the Golgotha ​​road is nearing its end. After so many unsuccessful attempts, however, even the Palestinian leaders treat these diplomatic offers as something usual, wherein they must engage, yet have less expectations.  

The negotiations are politically useful also for the directly involved Arab states, through the geographical proximity and Palestinian refugees’ presence on their territories, through the support granted to one or another of the internal Palestinian factions. They prove, especially for the their own public, that this Arab-Israeli conflict issue continues to concern the Arab elite, even if, behind closed doors, Israeli’s approach is the same: the dispute is only local, between Israelis and Palestinians, it should not involve the whole Arab world, because reality is no longer alike the 50-70 years ago, you cannot be the prisoner of a solidarity that only causes problems.  

The peace plans for Middle East are also part of the electoral and political proposals of those who hope and even reach the White House. The discussions about the Holy Land situation have a strong electoral impact in a country which was also created through a colonization and adaptation effort to a new space’s realities. Much of the US political elite is strongly religious, conservative, attached to the biblical values ​​they see reborn in what the Israeli people achieve. Adding Jewish diaspora’s powerful lobby in the US, the connections with the media and film infrastructure, whose support is extremely important for a candidate to get through the electoral preliminaries phase, it is easier to understand what is the stake when discussing the mostly arid territory between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean.

As for those directly interested, here, paradoxically, things become easier:

•Israel is, now, a military power, having less foreign pressures, great influence at the White House and so often present for Kremlin’s negotiations, with a mostly right-wing population, uninterested in compromises with the Palestinians, so that any peace plan seems a step backwards. Of course, the present may hide dangers for the future, but politicians are addressing the current reality in particular;   

•The Palestinian National Authority / PNA survives thanks to Israeli state’s support, wherefrom funds come through tax transfers, as well as security cooperation. This cooperation, wherein Israeli security structures neutralize especially extremists from competing groups (Hamas and Islamic Jihad), provides the PNA with a power monopoly within the Palestinian community, which could be destroyed if the Israeli state would disengage. The West Bank is already aware of a certain internal division, wherein PNA controls the southern part (Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Hebron), while Hamas messages are much more interesting to Ramallah’s northern territory. The division comes also with a scenario which could be similar to that of 2006 to 2007, when Hamas eliminated PNA, politically first, and then militarily, from the Gaza Strip. A real nightmare for PNA, but plausible given the fact that it will be responsible for accepting a plan that will be far from Palestinian community’s hopes. And if, previously, the Palestinian leaders could find refuge in Amman, Beirut or Tunis, even in Ramallah, under Israeli protection, this time there is no place for them to go. Except for privileged people, including Abu Mazen / Mahmoud Abbas, who also have Jordanian citizenship;  

•The Hamas group is not interested in a peace wherein they are, for political and ideological reasons, placed on the second plan: it would mean recognizing their own defeat in the internal competition with the Palestinian National Authority and would also mean giving up their ideological component, Palestinians’ claim of the entire territory "from the river (Jordan) ​​to the sea" (Mediterranean Sea). Being placed on the second plan would affect their foreign support, as Turkey and Qatar would not be interested in fighting a non-performing player. And that would be grouping’s end.

So, accepting Trump administration’s peace plan seems to be rather favoring the one who’s outside the conflict ring that held them together, both Jews and Palestinians, for decades now. And the last round is far from the end.

And, sill, the scenario continues with unexpected remarks

The direct, personal relationship between Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, raised in a Jewish conservative environment whose wife, Ivanka Trump, was also converted to Judaism, and Saudi Arabia's prince, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud , who, if he will ever become a king, will also bear the title of "custodian of the two holy mosques" (Masjid al-Haram of Mecca and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi of Medina,) ​​was a direct, pragmatic one, unaffected by religious connotations. Two thirty-year-olds who have shared their views on region’s future and who have found several commonalities in a new approach to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to end past’s templates.

Kushner presented the prince an idyllic post-agreement Palestinian world, thankful for investments benefits from Territories, for income’s increase, the traveling possibility, lacking security concerns (which will remain, of course, in Israelis’ responsabilities). The Prince was impressed by this vision, which starts with the future in order to convince parties to do something now, but he conditioned everything with including, in the plan the main 2002 Arab / Saudi Peace Initiative’s provisions. There were four conditions, as well as the perfect and equal sides of a square:

•the document must be based on this Saudi proposal;

•the agreement must foresee the existence of two states, not an extended autonomy for the Palestinians;

•Israel must stop building new units in West Bank’s Israeli places;

•Israel must allow, in exchange, new houses for the Area C Palestinians (which is on Israelis responsibility, where there are most of the Israeli place, around 61% of West Bank’s territory);

As I was saying, a perfect square.

And Prime Minister Netanyahu's reply – who will have to see negotiators’ plan first -, now in full electoral campaign, was different from what the Israeli right is repeating. Especially since he is in an election campaign.

Netanyahu has decided that it is time to offer Palestinians a gift, the approval of 715 housing units to be built in Area C. That is where, according to the Oslo Agreement, the Palestinians should not be, and the newcomer approvals is 13 times bigger for Israelis, according to a UN report. On the contrary, the quite rare Palestinian communities here were permanently under demolition and resettlement decisions’ pressure. It is the least populated area, but also the richest in resources. And this is also the area that connects Israel’s central plateau with the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

The final leg of Saudi peace plan’s square, thus, has an illustration, a useful counterweight in the negotiations, coming from the current reality. But is there also a signal that there will be made compromises in terms of the other three legs as well?

Evolutions in terms of the Israeli units are likely to happen. These were also stopped before. And the Saudi initiative also leaves an open door: units can be stopped without previously being announced. However, if this happens, it will only be in the post-elections period. It will hardly happen in the election campaign, or during the negotiation period on creating a new government. Almost excluded if Netanyahu loses a new term chance. Such measure, with a strong negative impact on the right majoritarian Israeli wing area, can only be taken by a leader who no longer depends on the immediate political reality and who only negotiates his place in history.

As for Palestinian statehood, here things get complicated, much more complicated. For almost two decades, Israel has thouht that there is no partner on the other side. It was not Netanyahu who initiated this approach, but Ehud Barak, in 2000, when PNA was led by Yasser Arafat. After Mahmoud Abbas became Palestinians’ leader, they continued denying PNA’S ability to have credible leadership, one to discuss with, including about a peace plan. It was Netanyahu's political option to isolate the Palestinian leadership with whom, otherwise, the Israeli security structures had and have regular and lucrative contacts. This is something President Trump did as well, who, through recent decisions, further downplayed Palestinian community’s official and diplomatic representation. Hence, who can one make a peace agreement with? How to explain the Israeli public opinion that there is also the option of a Palestinian state, although all previous statements have emphasized that there is currently no political leader, a partner to discuss even current issues with? And how to remove from the majoritarian Israeli right’s agenda, West Bank’s annexation topic, especially the same Aryan C, assiduously cultivated by Prime Minister Netanyahu in his meetings with President Trump? And who everyone expects to make a statement to that end before the 17th September elections?

If something unexpected happens to that end - positive for the Palestinians - the first leg of the square, taking over the Saudi peace initiative, would be the easiest part. But it's complicated, the most complicated, almost ...

...impossible? There is no such thing. In a description made by former prime-minister, Ehud Barak, currently number 10 on an electoral list with only 6-7 chances to win, the peace process with the Palestinians is like a high-speed train that left the station, but never reached the destination. The current driver is Benjamin Netanyahu and, according to a statement made on August 6, he chose passengers from Israeli political spectrum’s right side. There will be no national unity government, so it will not be a coalition with the Israeli left, so there will be no discussion about the Palestinian statehood.

Most likely, it will not be the same train that left the Oslo station, back in 1993, and which, yes, was abandoned by all Israeli passengers and most of the Palestinians…

Translated by Andreea Soare