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The 'Deal of the Century' and Palestinian Rationality

The 'Deal of the Century' and Palestinian Rationality

Tuesday, 18 February, 2020 - 15:00
Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy
Former Egyptian Ambassador and Senior UN official.

Much has been said and written about the so-called "Deal of the Century": condescending towards Palestinians, contrary to international law, a Diktat, revives Apartheid, gave the extremist right-wing Israelis everything they ever dreamed of, the economic package as a questionable bribery using promises of other people’s funds for a bad deal, etc...

Contrary to recent disparaging remarks, Palestinians have been, by and large, rational actors. That is not to say that they have not committed mistakes in the past. They have certainly been caught in an unenviable situation. I cannot imagine anyone who would consider switching positions with them.

Contrary to what the authors of the “deal” may think: They are certainly not a poor tenant who lives in a dilapidated building that happens to be in a prime location ready to be developed. They, in fact, own the building and the land upon which it is constructed and will not leave it for all the money in the world. Anyone who has lived in New York has witnessed how the city and even the most powerful developers had to find ways to accommodate the property rights of such tenacious landlords.

What is important now is how to handle the “deal”: how to make it irrelevant while taking into account the realities in the world today, including the prevailing balance of power.

While the US remains the only superpower with all that it entails, it faces certain realities that it cannot escape.

First, as the deal flies in the face of international law and legitimacy, it is hard to imagine a situation where future US administrations can justify their adherence to the “deal”. There is sizable opposition in the US, in Congress (a sense of Congress Resolution 326 was adopted by a 226 majority on December 6, 2019, that makes clear that Congress opposes any action by the White House to encourage unilateral annexation of the West Bank or other steps which undermine the prospects for a two-state solution, followed by a letter on February 7 signed by more than a hundred congressmen to the same effect), in the media, the think-tank community and, even the Jewish community. In other words, there is a critical mass amongst US opinion-makers that oppose the deal, is against any unilateral action by Israel to annex by Palestinian lands and is supportive of a negotiated two-state solution.

Second, the US has few allies who are prepared to see this deal through. Third, the “deal” even in Israel is controversial.

The immediate challenge is therefore how to ensure that no Israeli government takes unilateral action in the implementation of the “deal”, at least until the US elections in November. So far it appears the US administration has been able to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu not to do so before the Israeli elections in March. After November, the Palestinians will need to consider how to cross the bridge when they get to it.

To work towards such an outcome a number of considerations have to be taken into account: First, the Israeli election on March 2, which could result in the present opposition forming the next government.

Second, the “deal” was driven by electoral considerations both in the US and in Israel to enhance the chances of the re-election of both President Trump and Netanyahu. Once Trump is (most likely) re-elected next November, the deal will have served its purpose and therefore, from Trump’s transactional point of view, does not need to be pursued any further.

In this regard, it may be worthwhile to recall that Trump distanced himself from Netanyahu when the latter failed twice at the April and September elections to secure a conservative majority that would have allowed him to form a stable government. Trump clearly stated that the US relationship is with Israel and not any particular individual.

Palestinians, are now at a critical juncture: either they are able to establish an independent, viable and sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital or, they work towards a one-state solution where they will be a majority in the foreseeable future. This will require momentous decisions, some of which have not previously been considered, among them, a new approach to intra-Palestinian relations, including with Palestinians inside Israel.

President Mahmoud Abbas has so far said and done the right things. Taking his case to the UN, and other international organizations and fora, with the explicit purpose of ensuring that the international community adheres to the international legitimacy that it helped consolidate over the past decades and, at the same time underline that the “deal” is contrary to such legitimacy. This is a delicate formula that should be preserved. In addition, Abbas has reached out to those in Israel that oppose the “deal”. Former Prime Minister Olmert responded positively and has already lent a hand. This is a positive development that should be built upon.

In short, the Palestinian leadership needs to intensify its interaction with the international community, especially with opinion-makers in the US. It needs to adhere to the following message: it is committed to the genuine negotiation process that leads to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. For this option to remain alive, it will have to make sure that the international community continues to demonstrate in all international arenas its support for international legitimacy reflected in the two-state solution. At the same time, the international community will have to oppose any unilateral Israeli action.

The Palestinians oppose violence and seek only a negotiated peaceful solution. However, if Israel moves ahead unilaterally to implement the “deal”, in defiance of international legitimacy and even the US Congress, then the Palestinians will have no choice but to opt for a one-state solution.

Which road the Palestinians take will depend on the actions taken by the international community, especially the US administration. In all circumstances, how the Arab states deal with the evolving situation will be an important factor.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians need to ensure that they maintain international support and achieve internal cohesion.

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