On Tuesday, January 28 President Trump in presence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu unfolded the latest Middle East Peace plan in the White House. The plan calls for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and parts of Jordan valley (a territory always considered forming an integral part of future State of Palestine), and renunciation of the right of the Palestinian refugees living outside Palestine to return. According to the plan, Israel would give up some land along the Egyptian border, adjacent to the Gaza strip and a chunk of territory along the northern tip of the West Bank largely inhabited by Israeli Arabs. The plan proposes a neighbourhood on the outskirts of East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine. Also it envisions an economic package of $50 billion to be utilised in the development of the State of Palestine in the next ten years.
Trump claimed, "My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides. A realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel's security." He wrote to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pledging, "I want you to know that if you choose the path of peace, America and many other countries will be there."
The process in which the peace plan was formulated and made public was intriguing. The Palestinians had no participation in the drafting of the plan nor had any knowledge of its contents. The plan was conceived, developed and updated in close consultation with the Israeli government. Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat has commented, "This plan was not written in Washington. It was written in the office of the prime minister of Israel."
Palestinians' confidence in the US leadership has been eroding since the days of George W. Bush. Barack Obama raised hope at the beginning of his presidency but failed to uphold his commitment. In the last days of his presidency, Obama approved an economic and military package of $ 33 billion to Israel for ten years beginning from 2017 but no such package of aid was offered to the Palestinians. Trump from the early stage of his term voiced support in favour of the Israeli government. He stunned the international community and offended the Palestinians when he accorded recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017. Trump also recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and hinted that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank as well. Palestinians rightly felt that the United States could no longer be a fair peace broker in the Middle East and they refused to enter into any consultation with the US representatives. Trump retaliated by defunding UNRWA, the UN agency, mandated to provide humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable Palestinian population.
Palestinians, as expected, rejected Trump's peace plan. Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Trump Plan - nicknamed the "deal of the century" as the "slap of the century" and resolved not to abandon the quest for independence. Abbas has reiterated, "Jerusalem is not for sale. Our rights are not for sale."
The plan has not only orchestrated an aberration of the Oslo Agreement which had outlined a two-state formula but attempts to legitimise the occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. It allows Israel to maintain settlements in the occupied territories guarded by Israeli security forces which Netanyahu deems necessary for lasting peace. Under the plan, the Palestinian state would be denied of many conventional aspects of sovereignty including control over its borders, airspace, territorial waters and international relations. Israel would retain overriding authority including the right to dispatch troops into Palestinian territory. In other words, the writ of the Israeli government would prevail over the land purported to come under proposed Palestinian state.
But this is not the end. In order to achieve this highly circumscribed statehood, under the plan, the Palestinians will be required to be completely demilitarised which includes disarmament of the cadres belonging to Hamas which controls Gaza. Hamas will have to renounce violence, accept the State of Israel and abdicate "the right of return of refugees". These issues were the bedrocks of the dispute and remained unresolved though the Oslo agreement called for resolution through dialogue.
Trump's plan has been an exercise in futility. It has set a number of preconditions for the Palestinians to qualify for statehood but laid none for annexing the West Bank and Jordan valley by Israel. Netanyahu made it clear that he would immediately take steps to annex the other 30 per cent - the location of more than 150 Jewish settlements - along with the Jordan valley.
The governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Oman are the only countries who have welcomed the plan. They have done so because they are buying arms valued at billions of dollars from the United States.
One wonders why was the plan unfolded now without having any consultation with the EU (European Union) countries, Russia and China? The underlying reason is that Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are fighting for their political survival - Trump is being tried by the Senate for abuse of power, and Netanyahu has been indicted for corruption. Both are looking for pretexts to distract public attention.
The Middle East has been in turmoil. The assassination of an Iranian General in Baghdad in early January by US drone strike and Iran's retaliatory missile attacks on the US military bases dragged the region to the brink of war. Iraqis in large numbers are coming out on the streets and demanding withdrawal of US troops. Islamic State (ISIS) is active in the region again. Syrian army is advancing toward Idlib to drive the rebels out. Turkish military has been pounding on the Kurds militia along Syria's northern border. Saudi offensives against Yemeni Houthis has moved into the fourth year with no sign of victory. The civil war in Libya moves on with increasing casualties. Given the very tumultuous situation in the region, Trump's peace plan has exacerbated Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations. firstname.lastname@example.org
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