Analysis |

Trump's 'al-Aqua Mosque' Plan Leaves Palestinians With Nothing More to Lose

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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    A Palestinian man prays near the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City,  January 28, 2020.
     A Palestinian man prays near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, January 28, 2020. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Two Israeli clichés have accompanied the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: “The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” and “The Palestinians have never been offered a better proposal.” These are modular slogans, and false, because the Palestinians did after all sign the Oslo Accords, as well as Oslo II and the Paris Agreement. And the same can be said for Israel.

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Now too, with the presentation of the details of the “Deal of the Century,” Donald Trump is certain that it's an excellent deal for Palestinians, even though they were not partners in its creation. Trump thinks Palestinians will accept the deal and this time “will not miss an opportunity” – after all, it does promise them a state of some kind.

The Palestinian response was quick to come. They unequivocally rejected the plan and called for protests on Wednesday and Thursday.

The map of Israel and Palestine as proposed in Donald Trump's peace plan.Credit:

The Palestinian Authority also called for an urgent session at the Arab League, and various reports said the PA is threatening to dissolve itself and withdraw from the Oslo Accords. For Palestinians, the plan is tailored to Israeli aspirations to annex West Bank territories and block any chance of an independent Palestinian state.

If past plans had proposed a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with enclaves of Jewish settlements, the Trump plan proposes a collection of Palestinian enclaves within an Israeli state. The Palestinians would have no territorial contiguity, would be fully economically dependent on Israel, and most importantly, would be giving up the Palestinian national vision to establish a sovereign state, after many decades of struggle.

Theoretically, the plan connects between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but tears away parts of the Palestinian population from the West Bank and moves them to Israeli sovereignty. It offers billions of dollars in aid for rehabilitation and economic development, but without a clear commitment or timetable for the transfer of these funds, and without saying who will be the donors. Will it be Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates? What is clear, at least according to the discussions held in Bahrain in June 2019, is that the United States will not contribute a single dollar.

Interestingly, the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan did not attend the ceremony, and did not receive any thanks from Trump. As opposed to Jordan, which openly expressed its opposition to the plan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are waiting for the Palestinian stance first, and it is reasonable to assume that they will close ranks with the Palestinian-Jordanian position at the Arab League. This is especially true after Trump made it clear that the status quo will be maintained at Muslim holy sites (such as "al-Aqua Mosque", as Trump called it), which Saudi Arabia aspires to bring under its patronage. If the absence of these ambassadors from the ceremony reflects the positions of their countries, it is unlikely that the great temptation Trump is offering the Palestinians in the form of enormous sums of money to enable these "talented people to flourish and prosper" will ever become reality.

This one-sided plan is at most a deal between Israel and the United States, and objections have already been heard from the settler right, which staunchly opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, whether in four years – or ever. But even if the Israeli government adopts the plan, Likud or Kahol Lavan (whose leader Benny Gantz hurried to declare he would do everything possible to implement the plan) will find themselves without a Palestinian partner, and in deep conflict with Jordan, which will threaten the existing peace agreement with the kingdom.

The plan's publication could also accelerate the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, as part of the efforts to coordinate the internal and international opposition to the plan. The conditions Trump listed for recognition of a Palestinian state are aimed directly at Hamas, which will be required not only to recognize the State of Israel, but also to disarm the Strip. All the principles of armed and unarmed resistance, expressed in the protests along the Gaza-Israel border fence (defined by Trump and Netanyahu as incitement), will have to come to an end. For Palestinians – Hamas and the PA alike – these are impossible and unacceptable conditions.

Palestinian women walk past an Israeli soldier during clashes with protesters following a demonstration in al-Aroub Palestinian refugee camp, January 29, 2020. Credit: AFP

The Palestinian President would be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and to stop aid to families of terrorists, an issue that Israel compromised on in order to prevent an economic collapse in the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah's united opposition front could bring a response under an extreme common denominator.

The issue of Palestinian refugees presents an enormous obstacle to the plan. As Netanyahu made clear, not a single Palestinian refugee will return to the territory under Israeli sovereignty, inside the Green Line or in the areas annexed to it. In other words, if and when the Palestinians can return, they could only live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or in other Arab countries. This is exactly what Jordan is afraid of, because Jordan is the candidate to absorb hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, and in doing so will shatter the delicate balance that today already threatens the country’s national identity. As long as Israel controls the border crossing with Jordan, it is also not clear whether the refugees can return to the West Bank at all.

Trump’s peace plan promises territorial contiguity for the Palestinian state, and Netanyahu hinted at a number of “innovations” designed to achieve this. It is hard to see how it will be possible to resolve the contradiction between Israeli sovereignty over all the settlements and outposts in which no Israelis will be uprooted, according to Trump, and the creation of territorial contiguity for Palestinian enclaves.

The peace plan also annuls the applicability of international law in the Palestinian territories, and this is one of the main arenas to which the Palestinians will turn. Israel already panicked over the International Criminal Court to recommendation to probe war crimes, and now could very well find itself facing economic sanctions. The labeling of settlement products will be just the beginning.

The landscape is seen from a lookout point near the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Yericho in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 27, 2020. Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The Palestinians are not just talking about the possibility of dismantling the Palestinian Authority, but also about withdrawing from the Oslo Accords, ending the security coordination with Israel, and handing over to Israel the responsibility for day-to-day management of the territories.

The dilemma over this question is too heavy a burden to bear, as Abbas has said in the past that the founding of the PA was one of the greatest achievements of the Palestinian people. The PA is also the recognized body to which donor nations are willing to provide funding. It has a recognized status among international organizations and in the institutions of the United Nations, and it has embassies in many countries all over the world. Its dismantlement means surrendering all of the above and the loss of the mechanisms of power. Pulling apart the PA and withdrawing from the Oslo Accords, including the commercial, trade and security coordination agreements, will grant Israel legitimacy to take over the Palestinian economy completely. At the same time, such a decision would make Israel pay for all the civilian activities in the territories, build new systems for managing it and return to a direct occupation on the micro level.

The most realistic statement in Trump’s plan and speech is that it is a vision, much like the vision of the Apocalypse at the End of Days or Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones. The 181 pages of the plan are dedicated to this vision, and may contain instructive and original gritty details – but a plan, and even more so a deal, is a too far-reaching description of this document.

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