Over the past year, Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ for West Asia has been generating quite the buzz. Though the details have never been spelt out, most reports indicated that it would be a severe blow to the aspirations of Palestinians, and would give Israel a free hand in implementing its apartheid policies. On May 8, the Hebrew newspaper Israel Hayom, which is considered close to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, published details of the deal which will be announced at the end of the month of Ramzan. While there has been no official confirmation of these details, if the newspaper’s report is to be believed, Palestinians are likely to suffer further than even reported earlier.
What is there in the deal?
The “leaked official mails”, according to Israel Hayom, propose a deal between Israel, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas to create a ‘New Palestine.’ This new state will comprise Gaza and the West Bank (excluding the settlements). Jerusalem will be neither divided or shared but will be the capital of both Israel and the new Palestinian state. It will be administered by an Israeli municipality which will manage all aspects of the city, except education, which will be handled by the Palestinian government. Palestine will pay the municipality for all other services.
The new state will be provided additional land by Egypt to build an airport and an industrial enclave. The Jordan valley will be under Israeli control. However, Palestinians will be provided with two land passages to Jordan. These land passages would be under Palestinian control.
Another key component of the deal is the complete disarmament of Hamas. Hamas is to hand over all its weapons to Egypt, according to the newspaper. Hamas personnel will be compensated and paid salaries by the Gulf States in return. The Palestinians will also not be allowed to maintain any army or heavy weapons. They will only be allowed to have a police force with light weapons. All Palestinian political prisoners will be released within three years of the election of a new government. This election will take place a year after the signing of the ‘deal.’ However, the disarmament of Hamas is to take place immediately after the signing of the deal.
This new deal makes no reference to the promise of an independent state with the 1967 borders as demanded by the Palestinians. It may thus mark the final end of the catatonic “two state” solution, which has been supported by all American administrations since Bill Clinton.
The deal is to be financed by the US, EU and the Gulf states. It proposes $30 billion for the first five years to the new government in Palestine. This money will be provided by the Gulf Countries (70%), the US (20%) and the EU (10%). The deal also proposes a 30-m-high road connecting Gaza and the West Bank. This will be funded primarily by the Chinese. A new sea port will also be built.
One of the most important aspects of the deal, according to the newspaper, is that it does not give a choice to any of the parties. Should Israel refuse to sign the deal, the US will end all financial support to it, which amounts to $3.8 billion a year. However, in case the PLO refuses to sign the deal, the US will not only stop all financial support to it, but will also make sure that no other country does so. In case Hamas is the sole objecting party, the Trump administration may support a war against it.
Though the latest ‘leak’ is silent on the issue of refugees, earlier versions suggested that Trump expects them to renounce their right to return. Since March last year, hundreds of thousands of Gazans have protested every week, demanding the right to return of those who were forced to leave their homes during the formation of Israel in 1948.
Who is behind the deal?
The entire discussion over the deal has happened without the involvement of the Palestinians. The Saudis have been the major Arab power involved in it. The architects of the deal were Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his envoy to the middle east, Jason Greenblatt and the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. All of them have been sympathetic to Israeli claims. Some of them have financial interests in Israel too. They have also expressed strong anti-Palestinian views.
The deal could also be a boost to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been strongly backed by Trump. Trump’s earlier decisions, including shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem, crackdown on Iran and recognition of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights have been on similar lines. In the light of this, Netanyahu is likely to welcome this deal and let the Americans and Saudis take the initiative on the proposal that will solidify Israel’s dominance over the Palestinians.
Most of the Arab rulers are in no position to influence the fate of the deal today. In fact, some of them, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, may be in the forefront of the deal. Middle East Monitor has reported that Saudi Arabia is already offering financial aid worth of $10 billion to the Palestinian Authority if it accepts the deal. It also reported that Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is expected to take lead in future diplomatic moves to make the deal acceptable to most other Arab countries in the region given his dependence on American support. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the security measures implemented by many of these governments, it is unlikely that there may be mass protests on the ground either.
The real opposition will come from Iran and Turkey. However, there are reasons to doubt its effectiveness. Iran is already suffering from economic problems due to fresh economic sanctions imposed by the US. Turkey has been raising its voice against the Israeli occupation but may choose not to push the matter beyond a point. Forces like Syria and Hezbollah are also facing internal challenges and may be able to mount only limited resistance.
What will the Palestinians do?
So far, the Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmoud Abbas, has refused to even acknowledge a deal which does not address the core demand of a separate Palestinian state with 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. Abbas has threatened to hand over the PA-administered regions created after the Oslo Accords in 1993 back to Israel to administer in case they are forced to sign any the deal in its current form. PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat said the proposed deal did not look like one between parties but instead employs “terms used in the real estate industry and television entertainment games,” Middle East Monitor reported.
Ultimately, the resistance to this deal might boil down to another massive upsurge by common Palestinians. Trump and his allies might find that pushing the deal down the throats of Palestinians is more difficult than they thought.