Mona Al- Ghussein analyses the proposed US brokered deal to bring peace to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in this article written exclusively for The Middle East magazine
Side by side they stood in the White House. An impeached President Donald Trump and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – that very same day indicted for fraud and corruption.
Their mission was to herald the ‘deal of the century ‘. That elusive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians had finally been sorted. Sadly, the proposed ‘deal’ was flawed from its inceptions for many reasons, not least because it was not a peace process but a ‘deal’.
Add a good dash of nepotism to this mish-mash of incompetence in the form of Jared Kushner, who only last week admitted that he was an ‘expert’ on the situation because he had read 25 books on the subject.
Disregarding an obvious conflict of interest – that his family supported and donated to illegal Israeli settlements – were we really expecting a fair and equitable outcome? Are these the sort of people you would trust to sort out one of the most sensitive political wrangles of our generation?
The perversity of the scenario was compounded by a statement from the UAE ambassador to Washington, who endorsed the circus by describing it as the ‘starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework’.
It was always a given that this ‘deal’ would be a nail in the coffin for Palestinian rights. No surprise there. But perhaps the most risibly perverse thing in this entire farce was the fact it was played out in the presence of the Ambassadors to Washington DC, of the UAE, Oman and Bahrain . Was this a sick joke intended to provide some sort of Arab ‘legitimacy’?
The perversity of the scenario was compounded by a statement from the UAE ambassador to Washington (below left), who endorsed the circus by describing it as the ‘starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework’.
The UAE position takes no account, or even a nod to, normal procedures in matters of conflict resolution or international law in general. Do Emirati leaders actually believe that any serious negotiations can begin by denying the legal rights of one party and calling the move a ‘starting point’?
This so called ‘deal of the century’ was defective on so many levels; most obviously, that it was a ‘deal’ and not a peace process.
There were no negotiations between the two conflicted parties. This US whitewash conveniently sidestepped the Palestinians. The present US administration felt that Kushner, a politically inexperienced pro-Israel drumbeater, was the perfect choice to handle this decades long intractable conflict. A conflict that has at its root an injustice to the indigenous people of those lands.
Perhaps a good starting point would have been an acknowledgement of this fact? But no.
Add a further dose of bias from the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman and you have created even more inequity. Friedman, as we know, is a supporter of the annexation of illegal Jewish settlements. And that is just for starters.
And all this was done with the tacit agreement of the Saudis and Emiratis.
The damning process of this venture began on June 25th 2019 with the ‘peace for prosperity’ conference in Bahrain. The initiative supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain was welcomed without any consideration to internationally accepted principles of law, or to the views of the Palestinians.
Based on the premise that Palestine and the Palestinians are for sale, the deal Washington attempted to broker set out how, for the sum of $50 billion dollars, they must trade in their legal rights and their homeland for a series of mini Bantustans.
With absolutely no shame, Kushner outlined allocations of billions of dollars for the provision of water and transportation links that are only missing today because the Israelis saw fit to cut them off in the first place.
Nevertheless, those Gulf states present argued that the US ‘initiative’ should be given a chance. A chance for what? A chance to totally deny the legitimate legal rights of Palestinians? A chance to live in fragmented patches of land? A chance to establish the Palestinian capital on some scrub land in East Jerusalem?
There were no negotiations, the ‘starting point’ here was forcing the Palestinians to accept and legitimise Israel’s planned annexation of internationally recognised illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley. The so-called deal provides chiefly for legitimising Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. And finally, recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland by the beleaguered occupied Palestinians.
All this perceived by the UAE and Saudi as positive steps in the right direction.
The fundamental Palestinian right of return is off the table, even though this right is a basic principle of all the international laws, which Israel is signatory to, that guarantee the right of return of refugees to their country of origin.
With the breath-taking arrogance that comes from lack of accountability and the ability to ‘buy’ most things, the Arab states represented at the unveiling of ‘the deal’ were prepared and clearly willing not simply to sell out the Palestinians but far more relevantly and dangerously, to support a deal that at its onset dismisses the principles of international law and numerous UN resolutions.
This will come back to haunt them.
There was a presumption by Kushner that throwing some money around would keep the Palestinians a little bit viable but make absolutely no concession to their rights. Then conveniently blame the PA leadership for refusing to engage as they ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ Wow.
No Palestinian leader, unless he or she wanted to give Palestinian rights away, could possibly enter into negotiations dominated by bias so blatant that it poses a threat to their very existential existence . Questions need to be asked.
Under what standards or codes of international practice has the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital? Furthermore, changing the terminology from ‘illegal settlement’ status to ‘disputed territories’ does not mean that the legal status has changed . It’s simply brazen propaganda and barefaced fudging of the true facts .
Following the US example, Iran could propose a ‘peace conference’ where it legitimises its illegal , disputed occupation on the of the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb, which the UAE claims as its own.
And all this is done publicly with the support of the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab leaders. Of course, the Gulf Arabs have a legitimate right to support whatever policy they choose. In this instance however, their shift in policy has seen them diminish their support for the Palestinian rights to a position of alignment with Israel and the US.
They are bored with this decades long conflict but more importantly they see a need to align their political policies to their security requirements and threat from Islamic brotherhood at the expense of the Palestinian struggle.
Meanwhile, the beleaguered Palestinian people continue to pay the price daily for this international injustice; the cruelty of their lives under Israeli occupation, the destruction of their homes, the arrests of their children and the bombardment of Gaza continues unabated
Yet those Arab states that support Kushner’s “deal of the century” leave themselves exposed to future interference and arbitrary decision taken on their part by a more powerful state. Theoretically Iran could propose a ‘peace conference’ where it legitimises its illegal , disputed occupation on the of the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb, that the UAE claims as their own.
After all Iran has occupied these islands for more than half a century, just twenty or so years less than Israel has occupied Palestine. Iran could conceivably argue, as Israel has done with its settlement, that these territories represent facts on the ground and, as alliances shift, this could well be supported neighbouring states.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours may have leverage now with their oil production, huge spending power and the West’s fear of Islamic fundamentalism but time and sentiments are not on their side. There will come a time where autocratic states will have no place in this world. The tragedy is that those same oil rich states could have had a huge impact on the stability of the area and played a vital and major role in finding a credible solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. They had the political leverage at the time of the oil crisis to do so but instead chose to become mere pawns in the game who individually and collectively failed to mature into solid independent political entities. Throwing political activists in to prison, censuring the press and murdering dissenting journalists will never help these states develop and grow into tangible, respected powers.
Meanwhile, the beleaguered Palestinian people continue to pay the price daily for this international injustice; the cruelty of their lives under Israeli occupation, the destruction of their homes, the arrests of their children and the bombardment of Gaza continues unabated.
This travesty of a deal is not the ‘starting point of ‘negotiations ‘, as the UAE ambassador would have us believe but rather the negation of Palestinian rights, under the terms of an international framework, led by the US, to attempt to give a veneer of legitimacy to a series of blatant, outrageous and despicable contraventions of natural justice and international law.
Mona Al-Ghussein is a British Palestinian writer now based in Lisbon. She is currently researching a book that will examine the journey of Palestinians, within the context of the political minefield of Arab politics. She has an MA in international conflict studies from Kings College, London.