While India is in the midst of a turmoil over its Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the media busy peering into the fine print of its national budget, something of a global charade was unfolding in the United States’ capital Washington DC – where in the guise of a “deal of the century” the fate of Palestinians was being sealed tight forever.
Last week, US President Donald Trump and his close friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “shocked” Palestinians and even a section of Israelis by announcing a peace plan that completely disregards all previous attempts at finding a solution to the decades-old conflict.
Instead, the plan, if implemented, will mean the end of the Palestinian dream of a viable state and establishes Israel as the de facto ruler of almost the entire region – a far cry from the UN partition plan of 1947 that had divided the region into almost two equal parts.
Palestinians who had reconciled to a lesser portion taking into account Israeli capture of their territories in the 1967 war will, under the Trump plan, get a smattering of tiny enclaves across Israeli territory that would amount to around 20 per cent of the total land.
The enclaves will be linked via roads and other transport links with the overall security of the region under the control of Israel.
And, Jerusalem will entirely go to Israel. The Palestinians who demand that East Jerusalem be the capital of their future independent state will instead have to rest content with a few suburbs around the heritage city.
The other key demand of the Palestinians – the right of return of those who were displaced from their homes following the creation of Israel in 1948 has all but been disregarded. According to estimates, some six million Palestinian refugees live in various parts of the world. The peace plan makes provision for only 1.4 million to return to their homeland, if at all.
As it stands, the Palestinian territories notionally comprise the West Bank and the Gaza strip, both of which are in reality under the control of Israel. In the last several decades, Israel has actively encouraged illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied areas of West Bank that are not allowed as per international laws.
Trump’s peace plan allows Israel to retain almost all the illegal settlements ringed with security walls and barriers. As for the Palestinians, they will have to manoeuvre themselves around these settlements.
In essence, the peace deal is no deal. It clearly recognises the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel and gives it overall security control. It also creates an independent Palestinian homeland on paper that cannot function in practice. For example, Gaza is a port city. But the international waters around it will be under Israeli control, so what is the point of having a coast?
That Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner came up with a deal that has been termed variously as cynical, fraudulent, apocalyptic, bluff etc. is not surprising as under his presidency the US administration has taken decisions that have been blatantly anti- Palestinian.
First, Trump shifted the US consulate to Jerusalem despite the fact that Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law. Most countries maintain their consulates in Tel Aviv, officially Israel’s capital.
The US, under Trump, in the last two years has stopped millions of dollars’ worth aid to the Palestinians. In November last it declared Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory as no longer illegal. Trump’s peace plan is therefore predictable but the extent of partisanship on the issue has shocked independent, long-time observers across the world.
An indignant British journalist Robert Fisk quoted Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist with Haaretz as stating that the Trump deal was “the final nail in the coffin of that walking corpse known as the two-state solution.” The deal created a reality “in which international law, the resolutions of the international community and especially international institutions are meaningless,” wrote Levy.
The deal effectively forecloses any possibility of a viable Palestinian state and ends the two-state aim of the original UN partition plan. Not just that, in case the Trump deal is forced into reality, it will create an apartheid state of two communities with one of them continuing to enjoy all the benefits of a full so-called democratic state, Israel, while the other will have to make do with almost nothing in terms of access to resources and the various basic freedoms.
Trump’s deal gives the Palestinians four years to think through the agreement. It will all depend on whether Trump continues as president for a second term. If he does, Palestinians will have to brace for Washington’s wrath in the event they don’t acquiesce. The Arab League and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have already rejected the deal.
In case Trump falters and is voted out of office in the coming presidential elections, the agreement will die a natural death, as with a slew of earlier deals that were qualitatively far better than the latest one.
As for the conflict, all the cards are in Israel’s favour while the Palestinians are gradually losing out, their dreams of an independent homeland now seeming near-impossible. Trump, true to his unpredictable and brash ways, has come up with a farce of a deal but the reality is earlier US presidents have not done any better. All, without exception, have backed Israel to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. Trump has only done it more forcefully.