If ever there was a time for Palestinians to implement a strategy to counter the deadliest threat to their cause, it is now. US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” is the latest in a series of failed peace proposals over the past few decades that have only served to promote Israel’s expansion and consolidate its hold on what remains of historic Palestine.
If reports of its content are true, the so-called “deal of the century” is the most lethal of these attempts to deprive Palestinians of their basic rights to date. Drawn up over the past two years by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, Jason Greenblatt, his adviser, and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, it heavily favours Israeli interests. All three men are fervent Zionists, lack experience in Middle East peacemaking, and know little about Palestinian history or culture. It is hard to envisage three more unsuitable people for such a task.
The deal, which Kushner has described as “unique”, would supposedly resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a recent interview, he claimed it would improve the lives of the Palestinian people, while condescendingly casting doubt on their ability to govern themselves.
The exact details of the deal have not been made public yet, but a stream of unauthenticated leaks in the Israeli press provide a rough idea of what might be some of its provisions. Briefly, the deal proposes the creation of a Palestinian semi-autonomous mini-state called “New Palestine”, comprised of Areas A and B of the occupied West Bank, its capital to be somewhere within the expanded boundaries of municipal Jerusalem. It would be demilitarised, its borders under Israeli control, and linked to Gaza by a corridor. Israel would retain most of Area C and the whole Jordan Valley.
Gaza would be expanded into northern Sinai on land leased from Egypt. Hamas would surrender its arms and come under Palestinian Authority control. The deal would be sweetened by an aid package of $30-40 billion over five years, the bulk to be provided by the Gulf states, with smaller contributions from the United States, the EU and others; the assumption is that Palestinian acquiescence can be bought with financial handouts. The Palestinian right of return would be cancelled. Palestinian refugees would receive compensation and be allowed more rights in the Arab states where they reside.
The economic side of the plan is due to be discussed at a special workshop in Bahrain scheduled for June 25-26, which Arab finance ministers, investors and businessmen are expected to attend. The Palestinian leadership has made it clear that they are boycotting the event, with President Mahmoud Abbas saying recently the deal “will go to hell”. According to a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre of Policy and Survey Research, 80 percent of Palestinians also rejected the deal.
But rejection is not enough. Even if the Trump deal is now postponed or never happens, its essential parameters will resurface sooner or later in the form of a new peace proposal. This is because western peace-makers are hamstrung by self-imposed conditions that do not allow for any other outcome.
They have consistently tried to reconcile diametrically opposed demands between two parties while being irretrievably committed to one of them. Preserving Israel as a Jewish state has been a Western imperative since 1948, and pressuring Israel into complying with anything it does not want to do has been a complete taboo. Today, this stance is stronger than ever, as the West moves to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, silencing all criticism of Israel.
How can Palestinian demands be accommodated in these circumstances? The answer of the West so far has been a succession of mean-minded peace proposals that pander to Israeli wishes and abrogate Palestinian rights, Trump’s deal being the most extreme example. While this logic prevails, no Western peace proposal will ever give the Palestinians their rights. Therefore, pursuing the failed objectives of the past – the appeal for help from outside bodies paralysed by pro-Israel bias, the futile quest for an independent state against the odds and the peace negotiations weighed in favour of Israel – is a time-wasting distraction.
Instead, Palestinians must soberly examine what options they really have in this context. They cannot take on the combined power of the US and Israel, nor look for help from state allies in the Arab world, several of which have been compromised by a growing alliance with Tel Aviv.
Mounting popular support for the Palestine cause, like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is encouraging, but will take too long to become effective. Meanwhile, Israel’s drive to annex most of the West Bank and build more settlements, and its campaign of slow Palestinian ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the other occupied territories will continue apace.
To counter this, what Palestinians need is a strategy that keeps them on their land, stops their cause from being further eroded by “peace” concessions, and can pave potentially the way for the return of the refugees. The only strategy that could conceivably achieve this is a campaign for Palestinian equal civil and political rights in the entirety of Israel-Palestine.
There is nothing unreasonable in this demand. Israel-Palestine is currently one state under Israeli rule. The population is divided into 6.6 million Israeli Jews with citizenship and rights, 1.8 Palestinians with citizenship and restricted rights and 4.7 million Palestinians without citizenship or rights. Demanding equality of rights in this unequal situation is natural and inevitable. Had the Palestinian Authority not existed to provide an illusion of independent rule, equal rights would have been demanded long ago.
The advantages of an equal rights system are many: equal legal status, equal government representation – with which refugee repatriation could become policy – equal access to education, employment and social services, and the myriad benefits that come with a normal civic life. As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, only a system of equal rights for everyone can qualify Israel to be a true democracy, with a Palestinian president and a Jewish prime minister or vice versa.
Attaining equal rights in Israel-Palestine should be an unexceptionable aim. Zionists and all those still wedded to the idea of two states would inevitably reject it. However, the biggest problem would be its implementation.
So, how can such a concept be accepted by Jewish Israelis, reared on a diet of supremacy and entitlement and conditioned to hate and fear Arabs? Or by Palestinians with lives blighted by Israeli occupation and oppression, convinced they need to separate off into their own state? And what of their understandable fear of becoming second-class citizens in a state that turns out to be equal in theory but not in practice?
It would not be easy, and can only be done in stages. The Palestinian Authority must first be persuaded to convert itself from a pseudo-government of a non-existent state with unrealistic aims into a campaigning body that leads the equal rights project.
A wide-ranging campaign of civic education must be instituted and coordinated with a public-relations drive towards the outside, and especially Western, world. A legal case for equal rights should be made at the international court. A network of connection with like-minded individuals, groups, and organisations, including sympathetic governments – South Africa, for example – should be established.
This action list is not exhaustive, but serves to show what can be done. Creating a system of equal rights in a state like Israel, long based on discrimination in favour of one group over others, is a noble ambition. If it were to happen, it would create a more just society and a way of rectifying the terrible wrong done to Palestinians and also to Jews.
Perhaps then the peace that has eluded all who tried to solve this conflict will come about at last.