U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” is not a peace proposal in any contemporary sense of the term. Peace, in the Israeli-Palestinian context, requires agreement by both sides to the conflict. No one in his right mind, however, can believe that there is even a slight chance that Palestinians would accept Trump’s blueprint in any way, shape or form.
In fact, Trump’s proposal, which he is expected to unveil in his Monday and Tuesday meetings with Israel’s two competing Benjamins – Netanyahu & Gantz – isn’t actually a “deal” either. The term deal, in common usage, is usually seen as signaling agreement between two sides, not one in which one side – the Palestinians in this case – are sidelined, ignored, disdained and taken for granted.
“Deal of the century” could still be applicable nonetheless, not as a covenant between Israel and Palestinians but between Israel and the U.S. or more accurately, between Netanyahu and Trump. Alternatively, it could be seen as a “deal of the century” as the term might be employed in a used car lot: A great bargain for a coveted possession, which later turns out be a lemon, and a poisoned one at that.
If one believes the leaks emanating from Netanyahu’s office and other top right-wing politicians in recent days, Trump’s “deal of the century” shouldn’t be classified as a proposal at all. Its main purpose is to serve as a crude cover for Israel to annex the Jordan River Valley and most Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Once the Palestinians reject the plan as expected, Israelis have been led to believe, the U.S. administration will give Israel a green light to unilaterally seize areas earmarked for annexation, which it has long desired.
Needless to say, this is not the way peace proposals are supposed to work. Under ordinary circumstances - and as was the case in all previous U.S. peace plans - implementation of their separate provisions requires mutual agreement on the proposal as a whole. Imagine the uproar if the situation was reversed and Trump would allow the Palestinians to declare independence and assert control over the territories, however truncated, that his proposal allots them, despite Israel having rejected the plan outright.
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Trump’s “deal of the century”, however, does not only ignore the Palestinians. It strays from any and all Middle East peace proposals offered in the 53 years that have passed since Israel occupied the territories in the Six Day War. It disregards Security Council resolutions, undermines the collective position of the European Union, is unacceptable to most of the world and is bound to be rejected by the Arab world, with the possible exception of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who has bigger issues to contend with.
Trump’s proposal, in fact, is less a plan or proposal than it is an imperial edict. Trump may not be King, as Democratic Congressman Hakim Jeffries eloquently reminded the Senate last week in the Democrats’ presentation of the impeachment case against Trump, but the President’s plan suggests he views himself as emperor. The “peace” he offers is more in line with a “Pax Romana”, or “Pax Americana” in this case, which aims to benefit the empire and its citizens, usually at the expense of subjugated nations.
Roman emperors, from Augustus Caesar onwards, would routinely set up new provinces in the areas conquered by their legions and then redraw their boundaries whenever it suited their purposes. In many cases, they bequeathed the new territories to their most favored consuls and praetorians.
Emperor Diocletian, who ruled at the end of the third and start of the fourth centuries, split numerous provinces in two, ostensibly in order to boost and streamline the Roman Empire’s tax collection apparatus. Critics, however, claimed that Diocletian’s main objective was to create new provinces so that these could be handed over to his cronies.
The same Diocletian set up the so-called Diocese of the East, which included the entire area of what the Romans called Paelestina. His Byzantine successors made further subdivisions, including a “partition plan” of antiquity, which divided the area into Paelestina Prima and Paelestina Seconda. Far from bringing peace, however, the division sparked a revolt by Samarians, which ended in their near annihilation, and culminated in Paelestina’s conquest by the Sassanid Empire.
The concocters of Trump’s cockamamie scheme, along with Netanyahu’s entire right-wing, seem to believe that the West Bank is Trump’s to give, as if he was indeed Emperor. Donaldus Trumpus Caesar has decreed that his ally Netanyahu deserves an imperial prize in the form of disputed territories in the West Bank, and if the Palestinians or the rest of the world for that matter don’t like it, they can lump it.
And like most Roman Caesars, all that Trump demands in return is unreserved adulation by the natives, which he gets in spades from most Israelis. Netanyahu, like Rome’s provincial governors, will be given absolute control of his Caesar’s territories and all he has to do in return is to show his love and express his undying allegiance, especially now, in the midst of his impeachment proceedings.
Knowing the high regard in which conquering Consul is held by Evangelicals back home, Netanyahu might also be called in to stump for Trump, if and when the need arises.
After all, when Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues speak of a “historic opportunity” they don’t mean an opportunity for peace but for annexation. Trump’s “deal of the century” provides an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which a U.S. President, untethered to international norms, conventions or protests, is vain and reckless enough to unilaterally grant sovereignty over territories that Jews and Arabs have been contesting since time immemorial. The opportunity may never come again, annexationists rightly claim, and Israel must seize the day.
Little thought is being given to the consequences of Trump’s one-sided deal or reported acquiescence to Israeli annexation: Palestinian despondence, despair and possibly violence; increased tensions between the U.S. and its Western allies, who are not bound by Trump’s unilateral blueprint and may seek to undermine it; renewed tensions with moderate Arab regimes, which will be hard pressed to endorse Trump’s plan, despite U.S. pressures; the liquidation of the two-state solution and the prospects of either an apartheid-like regime in the West Bank or, in the bitter end, a bi-national state that would undermine Zionism itself.
Trump, however, is no emperor. His proposals would be tossed in the dustbin of history to lodge with its similarly unsuccessful predecessors, were it not for the fact that their implementation is not dependent on a Palestinian partner. Trump’s plan might satisfy Netanyahu and possibly sway enough Israelis to return him to power in the March 2 elections but in its essence it is not a peace proposal but one that will perpetuate the conflict and prolong the Palestinian plight.
If Trump wins the 2020 elections, the harm inflicted by his proposal will turn permanent. If he loses, his successor will try to undo the damage by nixing the plan before it’s too late. Which is how things work with emperors and their imperial edicts: They’re here today, but when the whims change, gone tomorrow.