If you want to understand the implications of Donald Trump’s Middle East “peace” plan you have to imagine that someone with a gun broke into your house and took your living room, bedroom, a bit of your kitchen, a bit from the bathroom, and left you a small room for you and your whole family to be squeezed in.
You would probably go to the court and ask for your house to be brought back to you. While the court is taking its time looking into your case, the new occupier of your house encroaches a bit by a bit on what’s left for you and your family. Now, you can’t cook in the kitchen without their permission. You can neither use the bathroom without making sure they don’t need it and of course, you will have to forget all about watching TV or spending some time with your kids in the garden.
Then your wealthy, powerful neighbour, who lives in the grand villa at the end of the road, intervenes to solve the crisis. Their judgment is “well, why don’t you accept some money and forget about all the lost parts of the house, and live together with the new visitor in peace?”
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That is my view of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, although the Israeli government would disagree. But it appears likely that Trump will back his allies in Tel Aviv. According to leaks in Israeli media, the US plan, which Trump has dubbed the “deal of the century”, is expected to give Israel full control over the city of Jerusalem, perpetuate all the existing settlements – which are deemed illegal by the UN – bite off a third of the current Palestinian occupied territory and end the Palestinian control over the borders. But most importantly, the Palestinians are likely to be granted some form of self-rule but under very tight restrictions.
That is almost identical to what the rich and powerful neighbour is offering the original house owner. Does this plan account for anything close to “peace”?
To me, this would be the biggest victory for Israel since the six days war in 1967 as regardless of the outcome of this plan, the damage is done. Israel will use it to help push towards annexation, whether that includes parts of the West Bank or the Jordan Valley. This makes “peace” possibly the last outcome such a plan would achieve. In a region where at least four states are plunged head to toe in chaos, and plagued with an utter disorder, trying to force this plan through will do nothing but foster more extremism, violence and war. As there is unlikely to be a Palestinian state under this plan, Jerusalem will be completely under the control of Israel.
However, this new arrangement could put Israel’s very security on the line. The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, called Trump’s plan a “new plot aimed against Palestine” that “is bound to fail”. He said that it could push the Palestinians to a “new phase in their struggle” against Israel, an obvious reference to violence. There are also wider regional considerations, let us not forget that in an infamous 2016 statement, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former Isis leader, emphasised the ultimate goal of the group as involving the issue of Palestine.”The Jews thought we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it,” he said. “We did not forget Palestine for a moment… The pioneers of the jihadist fighters will surround you on a day that you think is distant and we know is close. We are getting closer every day.”
Despite any risks, this deal is important for Israel but also Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump themselves. With an election looming and an evangelical supporter base to shore up, the US president will want to make this up as a win – and the unveiling of the plan will be marketed as such. Netanyahu is facing three criminal corruption indictments – on charges he denies – which were confirmed on Tuesday. That is in addition to an uncertain election campaign. This “deal of the century” is a welcome distraction.
For Iran too, this is a golden moment. Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” which followed his withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran has imposed an unprecedented set of crippling economic sanctions on the country. While Washington aims at stopping Iran’s influence in the Middle East, this new plan will only enrage Iran’s proxies in the region.
But Israel will not be the only state facing a possible security dilemma. The last thing most of its Arab neighbours want is a possible domestic backlash. King Abdullah II of Jordan is especially horrified. His country has been under pressure, since Trump took office in 2017, to change Jordan’s historical position on the most sensitive issues for the Jordanians regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. This includes forcing Jordan to grant its citizenship to more than 700,000 Palestinians living temporarily in Jordan. Moreover, the US wants Jordan to grant the plan legitimacy by accepting guardianship of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem under the new conditions.
Meanwhile, the Gulf States, who recently took some tentative steps towards consolidating ties with Israel encouraged in that by the US and the shared Iranian threat, will have no choice but to pose their efforts, at least for now. Yesterday, the Saudi Foreign Minister was the first to announce that “holders of Israeli passports cannot visit the kingdom for now.”
It is very clear then that Trump is prepared to risk the stability of Israel, the occupied territories, many Arab states and the whole region to get re-elected. He also seems to think little of the possible reviving effect on Isis and other Sunni extremists, or the effect on Shia militias. By making Netanyahu’s “deal of the century” come true, Trump is hoping to help his friend continue his political career as prime minister.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian authority also has its issues. The Palestinian leadership is ageing and has been able to make little progress on any alternative deal. They are right to refuse Trump’s plan outright, but they seem cornered and paralysed.
Trump thinks he is the best dealmaker and treating the most complicated “peace” settlement in the world’s modern history as a business deal. But what is he proposing is not peace, it is effectively a recipe for war, blood and more instability, not less.
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