Middle East In Focus
US president Donald Trump unveiled last week his so-called ‘deal of the century’ aimed at jumpstarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. While some of the details of the plan had already been leaked in the recent weeks, it has been difficult to assess the proposal with any certainty without a concrete official account. However, as suspected, there is nothing in the official proposal that alleviates the fears of many in the region who consider it an unfair and one-sided deal. According to its critics, the proposal completely marginalizes the Palestinian people, whose only hope, under the Trump plan, is to build a state with a shrunken territory connected via bridges and tunnels. Mr. Trump’s plan has also received a cool reception among some in Israel who fear that the proposal may signal the end of the two-state solution. Surprisingly, the response by some Gulf countries has been more muted than expected.
Commenting on the proposal, Asharq Alawsat’s Hussam Itani compares some of its economic elements to some of the worst features of the former apartheid regime in South Africa: “The conclusion to turn Palestinian cities into isolated areas surrounded by fences and walls will serve the purpose of providing cheap labor for Israeli industries in construction and agriculture, and also provides an income for Palestinians who will remain under the Israeli government and Israeli employers... This plan, especially the two desert areas near the Egyptian border, is reminiscent of Bantustan experience by the South African government for the black majority during the apartheid in an attempt to prevent blacks from organizing themselves in independent political bodies, and to exploit them in mines and other industries as cheap labor.”
Writing for the Daily Sabah, Melih Altinok worries that the US administration’s proposal may cause more harm than good by cornering the Palestinians and leave them with no other option besides another violent uprising: “The only card in Trump's hand is his promise to generate wealth for Palestinians. In other words, the U.S. president tells the Palestinian people that they won't reach their national goals and suffer economic setbacks if they refuse to comply.... In the past, failed "peace" plans triggered violent uprisings and caused plenty of bloodshed. The memory of what happened after the 2000 Camp David Summit is still fresh. Let us hope that this half-baked deal, which Trump hopes to close by the 2024 U.S. presidential election, won't serve to deepen the existing chaos. After all, its chances of success are extremely slim.”
Even in Israel, the announcement was received with some skepticism and concern. With the US Senate and Israeli Knesset debating Mr. Trump’s political future and Mr. Netanyahu’s own corruption charges, respectively, it was perhaps inevitable that some observers, including Jerusalem Post’s Douglas Bloomfield, would see the timing of the unveiling of the ‘deal of the century’ with some suspicion: “the unveiling of the Trump plan isn’t really about peace; it’s a political stunt for a pair of corrupt politicians to divert attention from their ‘yuge’ legal problems. It certainly isn’t because any of the parties are seriously interested in making peace.... The bottom line is: nothing can happen until there is new leadership on all three sides – Israeli, Palestinian and American – with the courage and strength to make tough historic decision. Until then, it’s just photo ops and sound bites.”
Nahum Barnea makes a similar argument in a recent op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, further taking issue with both the content and the intent of the plan: “All in all, it's not so much of a peace plan as it is a plan of annexation; whether that's good or bad for Israel depends on who you ask.... Trump's plan... gives Netanyahu's government the legitimacy it needs for a string of one-sided moves, such as the annexation of clusters of settlements in the West Bank, in addition to the Jordan Valley.... Netanyahu's ultimate achievement, with the help of Jared Kushner and David Friedman, is two-fold – the end of a Jewish democratic state and the end of Zionism.”
Another Yedioth Ahronoth commentator, Ben-Dror Yemini, also opposes the plan, albeit for very different reasons: “The policies of the right are slowly creating a bi-national state, and their constant denial of this fact is laughable. The bi-national state, which will neither be Jewish nor democratic, is taking shape one settlement at a time. The deal of the century could very well be Israel right's last chance to jump on the two-state solution bandwagon. The choice is not between past peace proposals and Trump's plan. The choice is between Trump's plan and a bi-national state where Jews will no longer be a majority.”
On the other hand, for the Times of Israel’s Shany Mor, even though the deal may be flawed, the peace plan provides an opportunity for all parties involved to come together on the basis of a concrete proposal that may serve as a starting point for a more fruitful conversation: “The Trump peace plan is an opportunity for Palestinians and their supporters, Israelis and their supporters, and self-appointed foreign policy experts of all kinds to ask themselves difficult questions.... There is of course much to criticize in today’s proposal. The timing is suspect, the politics are gross, and the motives are impure to say the least. The odds of success are tiny, but that’s no different than previous forays. It doesn’t mean that the ‘experts’ get a free pass. And it doesn’t mean that the Israelis and Palestinians can just curl up in their respective narratives of righteousness and victimization.”
However, the most surprising development following Mr. Trump’s announcement has been the response on the part of many Arab editorials, which has varied from a muted restatement of principles to a positive reception.
Stung by criticism that Jordan was not doing enough to support the Palestinian cause, the Jordan Times editorial voiced its support for its government, while still avoiding taking any position on the new proposals: “The Kingdom has been loud and clear in emphasizing its principled position on the two-state solution as the only viable way to bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a just and fair resolution. Jordan has also asserted that anything that falls short of that solution would not bring about the much-needed peace in the region. The Kingdom has always been at the forefront of defending Palestinians’ legitimate right to statehood and is constantly engaged in all international arenas in shedding light on the centrality of the issue.”
While admitting that the peace plan is patently one-sided in favor of Israel, the Khaleej Times editorial staff urges Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take advantage of this opportunity, rather than turn his back on it: “A viable Palestinian state is not only a demand of the Palestinians, but a necessity for the future and prosperity of the entire region.... The American plan is undoubtedly favorable to Israel. And yet a thousand no’s as expressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not in themselves lead to any real solution.... Palestinians and those who support a two-state solution must find a path back to negotiations. Peace deals are always difficult to negotiate, and this is certainly the most difficult after a half-century of occupation. The challenge is to channel energy towards a renewed negotiation process that can bring peace, true stability and prosperity to the people of the region.”
Meanwhile, this Khaleej Times editorial makes an even more forceful argument urging the Palestinian officials to engage rather than disengage from the peace talks, cautioning that “The only losers from sabotaging the peace projects are always the Palestinians, not the Iranians or the Israelis. As sure as every morning the sun rises, Israel expands, and the Palestinian territories shrink. The pretext of refusing to negotiate is that US President Donald Trump has sided with Israel, but the fact is that all of his predecessors were also on the side of Israel. Yet, the Palestinian Authority (PA) dealt with them at the time.... What is more dangerous than Trump's actions is the Palestinian retreat, if their leaders keeping sitting, waiting for a miracle to happen.”