Trump’s bo­gus Mid­dle East peace plan

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - Daoud Kut­tab, an award-win­ning Pales­tinian jour­nal­ist, is a for­mer Fer­ris Pro­fes­sor of Jour­nal­ism at Prince­ton Univer­sity. THE DAILY STAR pub­lishes this com­men­tary in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Project Syn­di­cate © (www.project-syn­di­ DAOUD KUT­TAB

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has un­veiled a sweep­ing Mid­dle East peace plan that his ad­min­is­tra­tion claims will end decades of Is­raeli Pales­tinian con­flict by of­fer­ing con­ces­sions to both sides. But even the op­tics of the an­nounce­ment – with Trump stand­ing be­side Is­rael’s care­taker prime min­is­ter, Binyamin Ne­tanyahu, and no Pales­tinian any­where to be seen – re­vealed just how disin­gen­u­ous that claim is.

Ef­fec­tive peace ne­go­ti­a­tions re­quire a per­fectly cal­i­brated in­ter­change be­tween process and content. In the case of Trump’s peace plan, the process was clearly a sham. It is not just that no Pales­tinian leader at­tended the an­nounce­ment; none has been in­vited to the White House since Trump – the leader of the most pro-Is­raeli U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion in his­tory – moved the U.S. Em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem, in May 2018.

By con­trast, Ne­tanyahu has made five trips to the United States since Trump took of­fice, in­clud­ing to seize this lat­est op­por­tu­nity to gloat. Un­der­scor­ing his con­tempt for the group with whom he sup­pos­edly wants to make peace, Ne­tanyahu re­fused so much as to ut­ter the word “Pales­tini­ans” dur­ing the ini­tial Oval Of­fice meet­ing.

But Ne­tanyahu does not need to be nearby for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to work in his in­ter­ests and those of his right-wing back­ers. Within the U.S., the sup­posed “peace process” has been di­rected by Chris­tian Zion­ists, such as Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, and Jewish Zion­ists – most no­tably Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and, un­til last Septem­ber, for­mer Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion lawyer Jason Green­blatt. All of these fig­ures – as well as the U.S. am­bas­sador to Is­rael, David Friedman – pub­licly sup­port Is­raeli set­tle­ment build­ing in the oc­cu­pied West Bank and vi­o­la­tions of Pales­tinian hu­man rights, such as the right to self­de­ter­mi­na­tion.

So bi­ased was the process that Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas re­jected the deal sight un­seen. His in­stincts were right: the plan’s content shame­lessly ad­vances Is­raeli in­ter­ests and goals at the ex­pense of the Pales­tini­ans.

So bi­ased was the process that Pres­i­dent Ab­bas re­jected the deal sight un­seen

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan would es­tab­lish a dis­jointed Pales­tinian para-state sur­rounded largely by Is­rael, which would be per­mit­ted to an­nex all of the set­tle­ments it has built since the June 1967 war, as well as the Jor­dan Val­ley – a step for which it is al­ready lay­ing the ground­work. Jerusalem would re­main Is­rael’s un­di­vided cap­i­tal, with the Pales­tinian cap­i­tal lo­cated in the sub­urbs east of the city.

Far from the “deal of the cen­tury” that Trump has re­peat­edly promised, this is – in Ab­bas’s words – the “slap of the cen­tury.” It ig­nores decades of ne­go­ti­a­tions, as well as con­certed ef­forts by Arab neigh­bors such as Jor­dan and Egypt, to en­cour­age mod­er­a­tion.

But the Pales­tini­ans are not the only losers from Trump’s kow­tow­ing to Is­rael. It is hard to see how this ap­proach ben­e­fits the U.S.. Al­ready, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has handed one po­lit­i­cal gift af­ter an­other to Is­rael, in­clud­ing mov­ing the U.S. Em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or­der­ing the clo­sure of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fice in Washington, and declar­ing that Is­rael’s set­tle­ments in the West Bank do not vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law. It has also de­funded the United Na­tions Re­lief and Works Agency (ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing and ad­vo­cat­ing for Pales­tini­ans dis­placed by Is­rael’s cre­ation in 1948), and sus­pended sup­port for hos­pi­tals in East Jerusalem that pro­vide crit­i­cal care to Pales­tini­ans.

And what has the U.S. got­ten in re­turn for all of this? Ab­so­lutely noth­ing. As the New York Times colum­nist Thomas Friedman sug­gested, Trump seems to be lit­tle more than Ne­tanyahu’s “chump.”

The un­veil­ing of the new peace deal was surely in­tended to con­sol­i­date Trump’s right-wing Chris­tian Zion­ist base, giv­ing him a po­lit­i­cal boost as his im­peach­ment trial un­folds in the Se­nate. And it will do the same for Ne­tanyahu, who has en­dured two dead­locked elec­tions and three failed at­tempts at form­ing a gov­ern­ment in re­cent months – and was for­mally in­dicted on cor­rup­tion charges just hours be­fore the White House event.

Make no mis­take: what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has put for­ward is not a coura­geous plan for per­ma­nent peace but a shame­less ploy to vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law, Pales­tinian hu­man rights, and ba­sic prin­ci­ples of fair­ness. Yes, this may de­liver a short-term po­lit­i­cal boost to Trump and Ne­tanyahu. But Pales­tini­ans will never ac­cept it.

The plan’s sup­port­ers will try to por­tray Pales­tini­ans’ re­jec­tion of Trump’s plan as tan­ta­mount to a re­jec­tion of peace. We must not let them. Pales­tini­ans, along with Arab coun­tries, re­main com­mit­ted to a two-state so­lu­tion along the 1967 borders and a just res­o­lu­tion to the Pales­tinian refugee prob­lem. That is a vi­able ba­sis for a just, hon­estly ne­go­ti­ated, and mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able peace set­tle­ment. Trump’s plan is a sham.

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