Launch of the “Deal of the Century” Fails to Inspire

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


This week saw the gathering in Bahrain of government and business representatives from across the region to participate in the launch of the first phase of the so-called “Deal of the Century.” However, the proposal has failed to garner the support of the Palestinians who decided to boycott the economic workshop in Bahrain. Egypt and Jordan may have been the only Arab governments to have sent delegates to Bahrain, but there are signs that other Arab countries may be inclined to accept the proposed ‘deal’ advocated by Jared Kushner, US president Donald Trump’s son-in-law. Given the financial incentives associated with the plan’s implementation, it may become more and more difficult to keep a united Arab front against what by many counts amounts to a disastrous plan for the Palestinians.

In a statement released by the Palestinian news site Ma’an News, Mr. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, emphasized Palestine’s objections to the approach taken by the Kushner team in addressing issues of vital interest to the Palestinian people, adding “that the Palestinian position together with international consensus and the persistence of the decision to be independent are what is keeping Jerusalem and its Palestinian identity intact. Rudeineh has confirmed in a press release that the lack of presence of the Palestinian authority in any meeting whether in Bahrain or anywhere else is proof that Washington is unable to achieve anything by itself. Rudeineh also added that the president’s and the Palestinian leadership’s stance on some issues most importantly that of Jerusalem, the prisoners, and the Palestinian identity are what will fail any conference, workshop or meeting.”

Reflecting on what the participation, or lack thereof, of some of the regions’ leaders as well as business signified for the peace process, Times of Israel’s Sheldon Kirshner notes that “instead of bringing the elusive prospect of peace a little closer, it highlighted the enormous obstacles that lie in its path. The Palestinian Authority, as well as most Arab states aside from Egypt and Jordan, boycotted the event, stripping it of its practical significance. Palestinian leaders… regard the plan as a monumental bribe, a variant of Israel’s attempt to perpetuate the status quo in the West Bank by forging an ‘economic’ peace with the Palestinians. Citing its deficiencies, Palestinians say it ignores Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which, among other things, imposes restrictions on the movement of people and goods, a factor that inhibits the expansion of the Palestinian economy.”

Surprisingly, the Palestinian position has been supported also by some Israeli observers who argue that the peace deal proposed by the Trump White House will cause problems for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. For example, in an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ami Ayalon—the former head of the Shin Bet security service and former commander-in-chief of the Israel Navy—warns that despite appearances, “when you scratch the glittery surface, you discover that this deal contains hidden inside a great and bloody threat for both Israel and the Palestinians…. The fact that Trump placed the economy at the center of his proposal, and that he is trying to jump start the whole process in this way, comprises a return to the critical mistakes of the Oslo Accords. There’s no point in starting out if the end goal is not defined from the beginning. For both the Palestinians and the State of Israel, this goal must be the end of the occupation and, with the necessary exchange of territory, the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel along the 1967 borders.”

Of course, not all see it that way. Beginning with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who according to an Asharq Alawsat report appears to try to appease all concerned parties, not antagonizing the United States on the one hand, while reassuring the Palestinians that Jordan continues to support the Arab Initiative: “A day after the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that the Arab peace initiative is a red line, King Abdullah II informed Abbas that he adheres to the initiative and agrees with the Palestinian proposal that a just solution stands on establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital…. The standpoint of the Jordanian King was unaffected by Amman’s participation in the Manama economic workshop dubbed ‘Peace to Prosperity,’ under a shadow of heavy boycott and criticism from Palestinians who accused the US administration of seeking to transform the political conflict into economic.”

Jordan’s king may not be the only one who thinks that the Palestinian-Israeli peace process requires a new approach. Aware of the sensitive nature of the topic, Al Ahram’s Abdel Moneim Said suggests that rather than dismiss the new proposal off-hand, the Palestinian Authority should take into consideration the changing security and political reality in the region: “The point, here, is not whether the PA is right or wrong in its stance but whether that stance is appropriate to the demands of the current situation. In short, is it the right policy? The PA should not overlook realities. The Palestinian people are split between the West Bank and Gaza. Regardless of who is at fault, the PA is split between Ramallah and Gaza and between Fatah and Hamas…. What is needed is a new way of thinking, one based on an awareness of the basic law that regulates the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at its heart: the law of ‘creating realities on the ground’… [and] it is impossible to ignore the fact that each Arab country has its own crucial challenges.”

Others make bolder claims in support of the Kushner proposal, seeing in the ‘”Deal of the Century,” as Jerusalem Post’s David Weinberg does, the possibility to redraw anew the contours of the debate and of what is possible: “The deeper lesson to be drawn is that the way to stabilize the very sick Middle East is not by falling back on hackneyed formulas and musty diplomatic credos…. One can hew to old orthodoxies and ‘known’ solutions or conjure new futures that more authentically reflect changed realities – and are cognizant of Israel’s central role in securing global and regional security. That is why the Trump administration peace initiatives, economic and diplomatic, are so important. At their core is creative chaos; shoving hoary assumptions aside and replacing them with new plans for bridges and highways; overpasses and underpasses connecting Israel and Arab partners – literally and figuratively.”

It is clear from the above that many believe that the current status quo favors Israel’s position in the negotiations. That fact appears to also justify for some the necessity of accepting a one-sided deal that may prove destructive to Palestinian aspirations for statehood. What, then, if anything, can the Palestinians do to address the current imbalance? In a recent op-ed written for the Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah, Ali Abo Rezeg believes that the “successful Gaza-based model of weekly marches should be copied not only in the West Bank but also in all areas bordering Israel, most importantly, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Palestinian groups based in these countries should assume their responsibilities in exerting popular pressure over Israel…. It is time for Palestinians to play all the cards they have. Palestinian legal experts should take advantage of being a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and sue the Israeli leaders who were involved in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Israel’s three aggressive actions on the Gaza Strip.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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