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This ‘Deal’ Is a Consequence of the Region’s Condition

This ‘Deal’ Is a Consequence of the Region’s Condition

Friday, 31 January, 2020 - 12:00
Elias Harfoush
Lebanese writer and journalist

Much can be said about the “deal of the century” that President Donald Trump presented. He has been accused of being biased toward Israel, breaching international rules on the deal to settle the Palestinian Israeli conflict, and using this deal to improve his and Netanyahu’s chances at reelection. But this "deal", like any political or trade deal, cannot be isolated from the conditions under which it emerged.

We should admit that this deal reflects the balance of power between the Israelis and the Palestinians and between Israel and the Arabs as well. It also reflects the reality of Arabs’ priority and the place of the Palestinian cause among those priorities. More importantly, it reflects the fact that those behind the deal are aware of the inability of the Palestinian side "and its Arab allies" to refuse, confront, and "challenge", to use outdated language. In the end, it would have been difficult to announce such a "deal" if the counties of the region's conditions, interests, and priorities were different.

Let us begin with the Palestinians' situation, the people whom this cause concerns. Fatah and Hamas needed this "deal" to push them to turn the page on their dispute. Ismail Haniyeh needed it to facilitate the re-establishment of the relationship with President Mahmoud Abbas after 12 years of estrangement between the two parties. For their dispute turned the West Bank and Gaza Strip into two separate entities, and all Arab efforts to settle it failed. Farcically, the Trump plan is the only step that seems like it may reconnect them, politically through what is being said about a return to reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and geographically through a bridge connecting the West Bank to Gaza that is included in the plan.

In addition, the Palestinian Authority failed to confront what had been known as Trump’s project even before it was announced. All the Palestinian leadership did was close the door in the face of communication with the American administration after it had been justifiably angered by Americans’ acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital moving their embassy there. No meaningful overtures were made to the Arab governments to try and cultivate a united Arab stance. Nor were any of the Israeli leaders opposed to Netanyahu’s approach contacted; these leaders exist and their opinions are well known inside Israel. The same applies to Jewish leaders of lobbies opposed to APAC, such as J Street, in the United States. In the context of a difficult struggle, like the one that the Palestinians are faced with, it is important to gain the favor of political force and leader with Israel and among the Jewish diaspora throughout the world. "They exist" and adopt positions supportive of the two-state solution and the settlement of the conflict on the basis of the principles approved by the United Nations.

This discussion leads us to one about the disintegration of Israeli political forces in favor of peace with the Palestinians and their decline in face of the advances made by the Israeli right and its successful homogenization of the political narrative, thus successfully monopolizing influence on the Trump administration. It is not an exaggeration to say, as many commentators already have, that the suicide attacks conducted by several Palestinian organizations have had a profound impact on the ability of the pro-peace Israeli political forces to harness the popular appeal needed for elections.

Having had examined the Palestinian situation, it suffices to look at the Arabs’ list of priorities, as they appeared on the day that Trump announced his plan, to see the extent to which the Palestinian cause has dropped on that list. Let us begin with the countries neighboring Palestine which are affected by the effects of this plan, if it were to see the light of day.

Lebanon is in the worst position it has been in since independence. It is a poor, bankrupt country being eaten alive by political tension. Its youth are on the road to emigration. Its leadership figures are looking for something to save them from the abyss the country has been brought to because of persistent mismanagement. Although Lebanon would be one of the country’s most negatively affected by the deal because of the large number of Palestinians on its territory, this issue seems like one its least difficult problems. On the contrary, some see that the economic inducements included in the deal, in light of the country’s accumulated debt, may "encourage" Lebanese parties to rethink their initial rejection of Trump's plan.

Northwards, we have Syria, “the beating heart of Arabism”. For nine years now, the country has been being ripped apart and stumbling towards the abyss; its civil war has claimed more lives than all the wars between Israel and the Arabs and the Palestinians combined. A country where national leadership is an illusion, with political and security decision-making being actually shared by Moscow and Tehran. On the day of the announcement of Trump’s plan, the people of Maaret Al-Numan were fleeing for their lives and carrying their luggage, joining those who had preceded them on the caravans of displacement from other cities. It is easy to guess Syrians’ position on the Palestine cause given the circumstance.

As for Iraq, once ruled by Saddam Hussein who held the Palestinian banner on his way to invading Kuwait once upon a time, it’s not in great shape. Saddam’s rule was replaced by Iranian hegemony over Iraq’s capabilities. Today, it is trying to rid itself of its vassalage, with its youths demanding the restoration of their sovereignty over decision-making in their country, and their right to choose a president for their government that is not sponsored by Iran.

Talking about the Iranian role in Iraq leads us to Iran's attempts at expanding and exporting its revolution, which is a slogan that the Iranian regime has raised since its establishment in 1979. The corollary was the reversal of priorities and interests in the region neighboring Iran, which had been, until then, both as governments and nations, natural champions of the Palestinian peoples' rights. The intensity of the reversal was compounded by the support of active Palestinian organizations for the Tehran project, without looking at the way that this would affect the Palestinian cause.

The "deal of the century", then, benefited from the conditions in which countries of the region find themselves. Does this mean that it is destined for success? It is known that the basis of this deal is to disregard controversial issues, as though they no longer exist. President Trump sees that the Jerusalem issue has become out of the question after the US embassy's relocation to it. The same is true for refugees and settlements. The idea on which the "deal" is based is that there is no need to continue digging in the past because "history begins now." That is what Aaron David Miller, who was an adviser on Middle East affairs under the Clinton and George Bush Jr administrations, quoted Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and chief architect of the "deal of the century" as saying. Miller said that Kushner was reiterating those words to anyone who discussed the background of the long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: “don't talk to me about history. We are preparing the region for the future.”

In the past, Golda Meir used to defend her intransigent stance vis-a-vis the Palestinians by saying: "There is no such thing as the Palestinian people." However, they demonstrated their ability to impose their existence and rights. Although it is true that the region's priorities and concerns are different today, the disregard of Trump's plan for the main party in this conflict is not the best way to ensure that this "historic opportunity", as those behind the deal see it, is taken.

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