The deal of the cen­tury will not end the years-long con­flict be­tween Pales­tine and Is­rael but in­stead trig­ger an­other cri­sis like the Nakba

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion -

The first of­fi­cial us­age for the term “deal of the cen­tury” in this spe­cific con­text dates back to last April when Egyp­tian coup leader and Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton along­side U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that “we are to­tally ready to give a help­ing hand to Pres­i­dent Trump to ac­com­plish the deal of the cen­tury.”

Since then, the deal of the cen­tury has been in cir­cu­la­tion in dozens of Arab and Is­raeli me­dia out­lets, but they have yet to re­veal what it ex­actly con­tains. In­stead, the out­lets just keep on con­firm­ing, based on leaks, that it would be a com­pre­hen­sive re­gional peace process aimed at ending the decades-long Pales­tinian-Is­raeli con­flict – a peace process that would bring Saudi, Egyp­tian, Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers to­gether to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.

In a sur­prise move, Egypt took the lead dur­ing the last few months and su­per­vised in­ten­si­fied talks con­vened be­tween the two Pales­tinian ri­vals, Ha­mas and Fatah, in Cairo be­fore the Egyp­tian move cul­mi­nated in sign­ing a land­mark rec­on­cil­i­a­tion deal to end a decade-long rift be­tween Gaza and Ra­mal­lah.

Fol­low­ing the agree­ment, Egypt vowed to spare no ef­fort to make it suc­ceed and de­cided to send a del­e­ga­tion of ob­servers to the coastal en­clave to watch the Ra­mal­lah­based unity gov­ern­ment as­sume its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in Gaza, which had been liv­ing un­der an Is­raeli-Egyp­tian block­ade for around a decade.

Noth­ing changed in the Egyp­tian lead­er­ship, which came to power af­ter the 2013 coup – it is the same lead­er­ship that tight­ened the siege im­posed on Gaza days af­ter it as­sumed power, the same lead­er­ship that shut tun­nels es­tab­lished for hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons to al­low the en­try of food and medicine from un­der­ground, the same lead­er­ship that did not care about the sup­pos­edly big re­gional role for Egypt and stood by, watch­ing and do­ing noth­ing dur­ing the 50-day Is­raeli as­sault car­ried out against in­no­cent civil­ians in Gaza. It is the same regime that is still jail­ing peo­ple over charges of co­op­er­a­tion with Ha­mas, which, since 2013, has been clas­si­fied as a ter­ror­ist group in Egyp­tian courts.

The Egyp­tian move to­ward Pales­tinian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, which was pre­ceded by im­prov­ing relations with Ha­mas, was not a lu­cid Egyp­tian move at all, it was a move made fol­low­ing a re­quest, most im­por­tantly, at the be­hest of the U.S. lead­er­ship, which was se­cretly keen to ac­com­plish the deal of the cen­tury. Hence, this move came with a view to neu­tral­ize Ha­mas’s prob­a­ble re­jec­tion of the deal or at least to em­power the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity led by Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas to seize con­trol of the Ha­mas-run Gaza Strip, which would some­how strengthen the Pales­tinian po­si­tion at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table. Ad­di­tion­ally, such an ef­fort from Egypt could be read as an at­tempt by Sissi to es­cape do­mes­tic eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal set­backs by mak­ing a sym­bolic achieve­ment in the Arab world.

But why would such a peace process, the so-called deal of the cen­tury, con­sti­tute an­other Nakba for Pales­tini­ans? What are the dy­nam­ics that could make Pales­tini­ans the big­gest losers in any up­com­ing deal or peace agree­ment?

It is firstly, and most im­por­tantly, due to the weak­ness, and even the ab­sence of joint Arab ac­tion and the fail­ure of a uni­fied Arab po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. The Arab peace plan from 2002 con­di­tioned nor­mal­iza­tion with Is­rael by find­ing a just so­lu­tion for Pales­tinian refugees who have been lan­guish­ing in refugee camps since 1948. How­ever, now we see a Saudi-led Arab stream drop­ping this con­di­tion in ex­change for coax­ing Is­raeli sat­is­fac­tion with a view to lob­by­ing against Iran or con­tribut­ing to bur­nish the im­age of Saudi Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man among U.S. de­ci­sion mak­ers as the most ap­pro­pri­ate fu­ture king from the Saudi rul­ing fam­ily.

Se­condly, dis­cussing such peace process co­in­cides with the pres­ence of a right-wing ex­trem­ist Is­raeli gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, since this gov­ern­ment is not ready un­der any con­di­tion, to re­lin­quish any­thing for Pales­tini­ans. The min­is­ters of the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment have agreed on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions over their re­jec­tion of any state with the 1967 bor­ders and con­firm that any Pales­tinian state should be non-sov­er­eign and set­tle­ments should con­tinue. There­fore, this deal would bring no Pales­tinian state, but a group of scat­tered can­tons con­nected by Is­raeli check­points and bar­ri­ers.

Thirdly, Pales­tini­ans have bad ex­pe­ri­ences with the U.S. as a spon­sor of talks be­tween them and Is­rael. The U.S. was to­tally bi­ased in fa­vor of Is­rael dur­ing the Camp David talks in July 2000, and ap­plied no pres­sure on the Is­raeli del­e­ga­tion, which an­gered the late Pres­i­dent Yasser Arafat, and was one of sub­stan­tial dy­nam­ics be­hind the out­break of the sec­ond in­tifada. The same U.S. po­si­tion was present at the An­napo­lis peace con­fer­ence in 2007, and at the peace talks held in Wash­ing­ton in 2010. U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump also showed no im­par­tial­ity when ad­dress­ing the Pales­tinian-Is­raeli con­flict. Most no­tably, he keeps reaf­firm­ing his in­ten­tion to move the U.S. Em­bassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

Fourthly, it is true that Pales­tinian ri­vals Fatah and Ha­mas had signed a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion agree­ment in Cairo, but that does not mean that Pales­tini­ans cur­rently have a uni­fied and firm po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion. The Pales­tinian lead­er­ship has yet to agree on a po­lit­i­cal plan by which they can strengthen their side in any ne­go­ti­a­tion round, and I be­lieve that the Egypt-spon­sored agree­ment is very frag­ile, as it did not tackle the fu­ture of Ha­mas’s arms, the is­sue that may de­rail the agree­ment, as Ab­bas pointed re­cently by say­ing: “We don’t want to re­peat an­other mili­tia model in Gaza.” This is­sue, if not solved quickly, may turn the long-awaited agree­ment up­side down, and that would un­der­mine any solid Pales­tinian con­fronta­tion against any un­just peace ini­tia­tive.

A Pales­tinian woman walks past a mu­ral in the Khan Yu­nis refugee camp, south­ern Gaza Strip, May 15, 2016, on the an­niver­sary of the Nakba.

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