By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat
As a Businessman Trump has done well but as a President, he has failed to be fair while finally declaring his Peace Plan for the protracted and highly sanguine Israel- Palestine conflict of over a century. This is understandable given his special relationship with Israel in general and PM Netanyahu in particular which is further accentuated by the exceptional riches and influence on US policy by Jewish lobbies. This has been further exemplified by the fact that prior to his announcement of the Kushner crafted Peace Plan or the Vision for the Middle East he consulted with Netanyahu and Gantz opposition leader. Palestinians were not invited or included. Moreover in December 2017, Trump's decision to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem virtually declared it as the integral part of Israel against the hitherto held US and international positions of at least East Jerusalem being the capital of State of Palestine in waiting. Further he also changed the US position on illegal Israeli settlements in the West bank. The new plan has corroborated and seeks to legalize these insinuations.
Trump has decried all previous efforts and plans by his predecessors since they have not led to any peaceful or permanent outcome. Middle East Peace Process and UN Resolutions relating to the Palestinian issue of at least seven decades-old cold and hot conflict has been the bottom line for peace in the Middle East. Palestinians who feel victimized and deprived of their land and identity have outright rejected the PLAN. They have not been on talking terms with the US administration since the first murmurs and the Manama meet of last year that accrued an economic reconstruction blueprint for settling the issue by injection of capital and some kind of cold peace. This time it speaks of US$ 50 bn conditional economic assistance which will be provided by the international community mainly the Arab countries. Perhaps the US administration banked on the current situation and ignored the importance of the idea of Palestine and the importance of Jerusalem has in the minds and hearts of the succeeding generation of Palestinians. This is also equally true for the Jews and Israel and rightly so as it hosts the religious origins and symbols for all the three Abramic religions. But Historical wrongs cannot be addressed by rewriting history.
Briefly the 221-page peace plan provides for a subsidiary status to the State of Palestine as their security will be the task of the Israeli forces and they will not be able to maintain their own military. Most of Jerusalem becomes part of Israel. That ab- initio made the Palestinians reject the plan outright even if it seeks to build a new Capital- Al Quds that might include peripheral parts of Eastern Jerusalem. For visiting their third holiest Islamic shrine Al Aqsa they could be permitted as before. It will involve greater rigour and is unlikely to be acceptable. Hamas has to be fully outlawed and terrorist and extremist activities should be stopped – but who will do that is any body's guess. Some kind of a tunnel between Gaza and West Bank has also been provisioned for. As it seeks to make the current Israeli settlements legal and part of Israeli territory there might be an embargo for any more settlements for next four years or so. A happy Netanyahu is expected to place these proposals before his Cabinet /Parliament for including these settlements. The Plan could shore up his popularity even as he stands criminally charged for corruption and is in a bind as far as his reelection is concerned. Trump himself undergoing impeachment proceedings will use it as a great achievement as he embarks on his reelection.
But how about the Palestinians and the Arab world despite the changing geopolitical landscape in the region! Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said a thousand times No to this " Conspiracy Deal". Further elaborating on it Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shattayeh said "This plan, that does not provide the occupied land to its people and that does not recognize the borders of 1967 and does not recognize that Jerusalem is occupied land, and provides it to Israel as a capital and the plan creators launch a financial war against us, on the UNRWA, and closes the office of Palestine in Washington and dries the financial resources of the Palestinian Authority is nothing but a plan to liquidate the Palestinian issue, and we reject it". Jordan, another closest ally of the US has been most worried since their own population has over sixty per cent of Palestinian origin people, is likely to be impacted the most. Moreover, King Abdullah is the Custodian of the Islamic and Christian religious sites in Jerusalem. Jordan also has a Peace Treaty with Israel. It has maintained a consistent position that resolution of the Palestinian issue is existential for the security and stability of the region. Hence their foreign Minister reiterated their continued stand and support for an independent Palestinian State in accordance with 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. They also oppose any unilateral annexation of territories by Israel. Turkey, a key power centre in Middle East hot spots, has also emerged a major supporter of the Palestinian cause. It decried the deal calling it stillborn and "an annexation plan to kill the two-state solutions and extorting the Palestinian territory". For Turkey Jerusalem is a big "red line". The foreign ministry statement said that "we will not allow any steps that will legitimize Israel's occupation and persecution ". However, as Israel's recent outreach to the Gulf Arab states has increased and the US has kept them in the loop with the key ingredients of the Plan they appreciated the efforts of President Trump in bringing about an actionable blueprint. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar all lauded Trump's continued efforts and hoped for a 'Just and comprehensive solution' to the Palestinian issue. Some like Kuwait and Qatar even mentioned the solution in accordance with 1967 borders which no longer really exists as much water has flown down the Jordan River. Arab League Secretary-General Gheit called it a great waste of Palestinian rights but is ready to read the fine print. An Arab League meeting has been called to discuss it further on Saturday and its outcome statement will be enlightening. UN is bound by its several resolutions and that is their position. Abbas has requested for a meeting of UNSC that could be held in less than two weeks. Russia and several other European countries appreciated the effort and advised a direct dialogue and maintain that only a negotiated solution acceptable to both sides can lead to a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Most countries want Palestinians to study the Plan carefully and not outright reject it as they feel this is an opportunity in a long while to take the moribund Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) forward. Trump on his part promised to support the Palestinians every step of the way. Unfortunately his controversial decisions on Jerusalem and settlements have engineered significant trust deficit with the Palestinians.
India has always stood by the Palestinians and is anxious to see the resolution of this simmering conflict which has dictated a unique foreign policy dynamic given its excellent relations with the Arab world as well as Israel. Hence India's reaction even though anodyne is well calibrated. It reiterated its well-known stand for a two-state solution and called for direct negotiations through which final status issues should be resolved that should be acceptable to both the parties. Foreign Ministry Spokesman stated, "We urge the Parties to engage with each other, including on the recent proposals put forward by the US, and find an acceptable two-state solution for peaceful coexistence".
It appears that most countries would like both Palestinians and Israelis to bite the bait from this deal of the Century and at least give it a try. It does talk of two-state solution even though perceived by Palestinians as being under surveillance and subservient to Israelis. However, it is also quite evident that the regional appetite for continued conflict has been blunted by their own national interests and real politic. Dialogue is a must but then two ought to tango. Hopefully, the move forward will not be a repeat of the Balfour and Sykes-Picot and Land for Peace will not be the basis for it otherwise we are looking for another wasted effort.
(The author is Former Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta & Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation. Views expressed are personal.)