On the face of it, the summer of 2019 does not look like a good time to try and cut a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
In recent weeks, fighting has flared between Israeli forces and Gaza-based militants, hard-line Israeli politicians have just been re-elected and US and Palestinian officials are not speaking to each other. Still, against this unfavourable backdrop, Jared Kushner, the Trump administration’s chief architect of a proposal for peace between the two sides, is expected to release his long-awaited plan in the coming weeks.
Expectations for his proposal is low, despite it being widely dubbed the “deal of the century” — borrowing a phrase from Kushner’s boss and father-in-law, US President Donald Trump. Still, Kushner insists his proposal is a “good starting point” to address an Israeli-Palestinian row that has eluded peace brokers for seven decades.
Kushner, a senior White House advisor who is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has worked on the plan for some two years and is expected to unveil it in June, after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The ex-property dealer has kept tight-lipped about its details. It is expected to tackle core disagreements, such as the status of Jerusalem, while bolstering the flailing Palestinian economy. Trump’s ex-UN ambassador Nikki Haley talked up the plan, saying “both sides would benefit greatly from a peace agreement. But the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more”.
Kushner’s aide, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, calls it a departure from past peace efforts. Greenblatt has bashed foreign UN diplomats for “rehashing tired talking points” about the dispute and demanded a “new approach”. But this “new approach” is what has got many folks worried. Especially the Palestinians.
The US plan is understood to scrap references to the “two-state solution” that have been a bedrock of negotiations for decades. Instead of discussing the creation of a self-governing Palestinian state, the US deal focuses more on Israel’s security and Palestinian prosperity, Kushner says.
This undercuts long-held Palestinian calls for their own state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — all territory Israel captured in 1967.
The Palestinians point to Kushner’s chummy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and bristle at recent US decisions that bolster Israel and undercut the Palestinians. For months, the Palestinians have looked powerless as the Trump administration shifted the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and cut funding for Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki says US policy has been “hijacked” by a pro-Israel group whose peace plan is little more than a Palestinian white flag. Washington was bullying the Palestinians into cutting an unfavorable deal that was little more than a “pretext” for an Israeli land grab, added the Palestinian UN ambassador, Riyad Mansour.
In the final days of a re-election campaign he won on April 9, Netanyahu had vowed to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians are largely outgunned, but they are fighting for a better deal.
Palestinian officials are urging the EU to host a conference on Middle East peace that would undercut the preeminent US role in the peace process. They are also calling for Italy and other European countries to recognize Palestine as a state.
Maliki said the European Union should also consider slapping sanctions on Israel. Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank, said the Palestinians were getting results at UN headquarters in New York.
“The Palestinians have been relatively successful at maximising their status and leverage in multilateral forums,” Gowan told Inside Over. “The UN is one diplomatic battlefield on which the Palestinians are willing to tackle the US, even though the US wields a veto in the UN Security Council.”
But the Europeans will likely strike a balance between maintaining the goal of a Palestinian state without brushing off the Trump administration. “If the US really pushes this, ultimately you will have a breakdown in the UN Security Council and the US is likely to find itself isolated,” Gowan added.
If Kushner’s plan is released in June, it will come at a rocky time.
The latest round of hostilities broke out earlier this month, when hundreds of rockets and missiles from Hamas Islamist-run Gaza killed four civilians in Israel. Israeli air strikes killed 21 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, Gaza health authorities said.
Netanyahu won a record fifth term in an April 9 parliamentary election, but is still negotiating terms with right-wing, nationalist and religious parties about forming a new government. He also faces possible indictment in three corruption cases — charges he denies.
Ties between the US and the Palestinians soured again on May 13, when veteran PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi revealed that her US visa application had been rejected — despite a track record of peaceful activism in the US.
Speaking with Inside Over earlier this month, Palestinian diplomat Maliki was downbeat about the future. The Trump administration had become a “servant to Israeli interests” and the Europeans were not stepping up to the plate, Maliki said. Since the early 1990s, the Palestinians “have heard hundreds of statements from European and non-European countries, condemning and showing concern” about Israel settlement-building and other violations, Maliki said.
“But such statements did not stop the Israelis from moving 420,000 settlers in the Palestinian territories and changing realities on the ground,” Maliki told Inside Over.