The “deal of the century,” as US President Donald Trump calls his new peace initiative for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will, according to press reports, be made public after the end of Ramadan, i.e., around June 4 (the dates for Ramadan are elastic).
Ever since the idea of a new peace formula was announced, there have been growing speculations as to its contents – and now, with the date rapidly approaching, the atmosphere has been rife with rumors and conjectures, often accompanied by bodyguards of disinformation from all sides.
However, people who were associated in the past with the relevant issues or acquainted with some of the ideas circulating in the administration may be right in assuming, for instance, that the words of Jared Kushner, reportedly the plan’s architect, at a recent Time magazine event – namely, that “the plan will emphasize economic advantages for the Palestinians and security for Israel” – hint that security throughout the “territories” will remain under the control of Israel, whatever the nature of a political arrangement or lack of one might be.
The reason for this is that making such a statement not as a general observation but linked to a specific plan, makes it acquire the nature of a concrete proposal.
The second half of the equation – i.e., the “economic advantages of the Palestinians” – is reminiscent of former pronouncements, both by Trump’s team and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s formula for “economic peace.”
But special interest was aroused by the sentence in Kushner’s speech that “the negotiations over a two-state solution have failed” – leading to two opposing interpretations: that it is altogether off the table, or, on the contrary, that past failure does not rule out other ways to accomplish it.
Opposing political camps in Israel were, of course, eager to interpret the above in ways that would support their own political aims: those who support “Greater Israel” or a “one-state” solution on the one hand, and those who see peace exclusively in the context of a “two-state” solution on the other hand.
Some commentators also noted that, in the first case, i.e., the shelving of the two-state alternative, the eventual outcome would probably be the demise of the Palestinian Authority, and that Israel would then have to evaluate if this would be in its interest.
WHAT MIGHT actually be on the minds of the US team is establishing a self-governing Palestinian political entity with defined and limited characteristics of sovereignty, especially with regards to security and international ties, similar to the Dayan-Begin concept of autonomy.
Other subjects that could be included in the plan (and here it is I who am making conjectures) would relate to attaching the large settlement blocs legally and factually to the State of Israel – harking back to the 2004 George W. Bush letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon – while the isolated Israeli settlements in the West Bank would be accorded extra-territorial legal status inside the Palestinian entity.
There may or may not also be plans for Gaza, but the idea of expanding the Gaza Strip to northern Sinai, which had been bandied around in the past, is clearly DOA because of Egypt’s absolute refusal.
Other issues the American plan would probably address are the integration of the Palestinian refugees in their present places of residence and finding a place for a future Palestinian capital in the enlarged Jerusalem area. The underlying assumption of the plan is, of course, a complete end of conflict and a recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Naturally, these are not the only points in dispute. And even if solutions were found for them, the possibility that the current Palestinian leadership would deign to discuss the Trump plan is almost nonexistent, given that neither it nor its predecessors were willing to discuss any formula that recognized the Jewish people’s right of self-determination in any part of the country.
Still, the plan, even if rejected by the Palestinians, could have possible advantages, if it wins the support in principle of at least parts of the Arab world, perhaps creating a new baseline for agreements and solutions in the future.
If the above will, in general terms, be the outline of the Trump plan, one may expect Israel’s response, despite some reservations, to be positive in principle as a basis for negotiations.
Whether Trump’s “deal of the century” will be a new chapter in the long saga of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even just turning a page, only time will tell.
However, trying to look at it optimistically, the very fact that the Trump “deal of the century” does include new and constructive ideas and initiatives may eventually have a positive impact on the situation.
The author is a former Israeli ambassador to the US.
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