By David Gardner
Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email email@example.com to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found at https://www.ft.com/tour.
The “deal of the century” through which US President Donald Trump keeps boasting he will settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been postponed so many times that Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has dismissed it as the deal of the next century. Others have forecast it will be dead on arrival. The truth is that it was never really alive or likely ever to arrive.
It always looked like a smokescreen to mask the burial of the two-state solution — an independent Palestinian state on the occupied West Bank, and Gaza with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital living in peace alongside Israel — and greenlight the Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank.
The plan, devised by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s callow son-in-law, is still notionally scheduled for a soft launch this month at a Peace for Prosperity workshop in Bahrain. Billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are due to be dangled before the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours — without any political solution to end Israel’s occupation.
The Palestinians are not buying it. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has boycotted talks since Mr Trump decided to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising all the Holy City, including the occupied Arab east, as Israel’s capital.
Since then, the Trump administration has cut aid to the PA, closed the PLO’s delegation in Washington and ended all finance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. It has also endorsed Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
If a plan exists, it is essentially to tick off the irredentist Israeli right’s wishlist, and then present the Palestinians with terms of surrender — sweetened, in the Kushner view, by Gulf petrodollars.
What are the Palestinians supposed to accept in exchange for these sweeteners?
Gaza, where 2m Palestinians are crammed into a tiny strip of land blockaded in the north by Israel and in the south by Egypt, would be stretched into the northern part of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. In the West Bank, Israel would annex and link up its settlements — giving most of the occupied land to 450,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank and the 200,000 in Arab East Jerusalem, leaving roughly 46 per cent to the 3m Palestinians in a scattering of cantons. As for Jerusalem, the Palestinians can have Abu Dis on the outskirts of the city and call it what they want.
This may be new to Mr Kushner, but it is a pottage of old and discredited schemes. The share-out of the West Bank is almost exactly as laid out in a 1982 map — known as Military Order 50 — drawn up by Ariel Sharon, settlers champion and late prime minister, in 1982. The Abu Dis deal was floated in talks just before Israel took back control of the West Bank in 2002.
This is all before considering regional repercussions. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi may rule with an iron fist. But when he ceded two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia — specks on the map in comparison to this deal — he faced opposition in a rubber-stamp parliament, military-controlled courts, and streets run by a police state. “That was the closest Sisi has come to a near-death experience,” one western ambassador says.
Jordan, where the majority of the population is already Palestinian, fears the real plan is to drive more Palestinians out of the West Bank into its kingdom. The Israeli right has long taken the view that Palestinians already have a state: Jordan.
Not even the firmest of Israel’s US supporters are convinced by this deal. Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, said: “I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love.”
Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a stalwart supporter of Israel, says the plan is naive. “Unlike a real estate transaction in which one party gets the property and the other party gets the cash, a Middle East peace deal starts and ends with the two parties as neighbours, stuck with each other sharing a duplex for eternity,” he wrote caustically.
Mr Trump’s unwavering support for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had to call a new election that could overlap with the US president’s own re-election campaign, ensures more “deal of the century” delays.
Meanwhile, one of the architects of the Kushner strategy, David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel, told the New York Times some sort of land-grab by the Israelis was fine.
“We really don’t have a view until we understand how much [land], on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves,” Mr Friedman said.
The syntax of this sentence would be a comical giveaway if the repercussions were not so serious. Dead on arrival? The “deal of the century” has been a fraud from start to finish.
Source: Financial Times