Opinion

Gaza, Where Trump's Mideast Peace Plan Goes to Die

For Hamas, Trump's 'generous offer' has a price tag that is unthinkable. And if Israel starts implementing the plan, the most unexpected spark could trigger a massive Palestinian response

A masked Palestinian Hamas supporter attends a rally marking the 32nd anniversary of Hamas founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2019
SUHAIB SALEM/ REUTERS

"The deal of the century was born dead. It bears futile seeds and has no future, especially in light of how unified the Palestinian position is…we will foil the deal at all costs." 

Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh, Jan 29, 2020 

The pithiest way to describe Trump's 'peace plan'/Netanyahu's declaration of victory comes from Thucydides: "The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

The deal not only reverses longstanding U.S. policy but gratifies the wildest dreams of Israel's right-wing, while plagiarizing Netanyahu's playbook of political maneuvers and policy to conscientiously undermine even the slightest chance of reaching a serious solution to the conflict.

Perhaps that's why former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy called it "a 180-page hate letter." Even Trump's own Secretary of State has privately called the plan "unexecutable." The foreign minister of Djibouti declared at the Arab league's emergency session, almost wistfully: "If it weren't for Arab weakness and division, we wouldn't have heard of the 'Deal of the Century.'" 

Members of the media watch the televised press conference of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 28, 2020
AFP

Trump's proposals to the Palestinians are couched in terms of a "generous offer," and nowhere is that clearer – and more fantastical - than in regard to Gaza. That "generous offer" has a price tag that is both impossible and unaffordable.

Trump’s plan envisages restoring to Gaza a few of the very freedoms that Israel has collectively denied its population for more than a decade, rendering it functionally uninhabitable.

They include an industrial zone in the Negev – in lieu of Gaza's industrial zone that Israel's blockade and military operations have compromised, a travel corridor to the West Bank – which Israel consistently rejects, to prevent Gazans from relocating to the West Bank, and an economic boost to primary industry sectors such as agriculture and handcrafts, in addition to other promises relating to electricity, water and employment.

However, realizing this "enhancement" to Gaza's "development and success," in Trump's plan language, is contingent upon signing a blank cheque of capitulation, together with a long list of incapacitating demands, each of which is a nonstarter.

The plan’s "Gaza Criteria" section stipulates two conditions as a prerequisite for negotiations towards Palestinian statehood: disarming Hamas and demilitarizing Gaza. Those two conditions mean negotiations on Palestinian statehood will never kick off, even if the Palestinian Authority concedes them. Hamas isn't stupid enough to give up what it deems its only tool of defense and deterrence against Israel with no guarantee of payback.

These conditions are clear proof that the Trump plan has descended from the White House disconnected from on-the-ground reality. In negotiating with Hamas, not even Israel has used such sweeping conditionality. Current Israeli-Hamas ceasefire 'understandings' – like those in the past - inhabit, instead, a middle ground: Hamas actively prevents other armed groups from attacking Israel in return for easing the Israeli blockade.

A Palestinian demonstrator holds a banner showing US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Arabic slogan "Down with the Deal of the Century." Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp, Jan 31, 2020
AFP

Hamas has indicated it is willing to reach a more substantial armistice with Israel, or 'hudna', for which it would suspend its primitive arms manufacturing and tunnel building in return for the blockade’s full removal. An armistice of this kind could build trust and provide quiet needed to better contemplate more constructive solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Disarming Hamas is not a panacea. Its collection of primitive arms is the only enforcement mechanism for ceasefires with Israel – as a way to intimidate other armed groups in Gaza to keep the peace. Should Hamas agree to disarm before Palestinian statehood (yes, we’re in fantasy territory already) the ensuing chaos would be unstoppable; not only would other armed groups in Gaza try to take Hamas' place, but the movement's own members would decamp to the opposition en masse.

Disarming Hamas by force is also a Catch 22. Who will do the disarming? After all, Israel already prevents the Palestinian Authority, whose writ is limited to parts of the West Bank, from maintaining any of the powers required to forcefully regain control over Gaza. And in any case, no right-wing Israeli government would ever want Hamas’ infrastructure to be entirely degraded because that would mean Abbas would regain control of Gaza - and Netanyahu, among others, favors breaking the connection between Gaza and the West Bank permanently.

Hence, the Trump team's insistence on an unrealistic list of demands, rather than learning from what has and is working, however fitfully, means the plan won’t be exploited for peace and negotiations, but to serve as an alibi for Israel's annexation, all the while conveniently putting the blame on Palestinian 'rejectionism.'

That's why Trump's ambassador David Friedman confidently boasted last Thursday that a Palestinian state won't happen in the near future, even if Palestinians fall for Trump's scam.

And there is no solace for Gaza from the Arab world. The UAE, Bahrain and Oman sent representatives to the plan’s launch. Saudi Arabia posted a cautious endorsement – while Saudi trolls enthusiastically promote the plan. Al-Jazeera uncritically interviews Jared Kushner while he threatens that the Trump plan is the last chance for a Palestinian state.

Under the spotlight, the Arab League signed a statement that rejects Trump's plan but without any promise of action. This makes it clear that in desperate pursuit of clinging to power, Arab regimes will readily throw Palestinians under Trump's bulldozer.

Even Iran – which recently mobilized hundreds of thousands to march for the "Martyr of Jerusalem," Qassem Soleimani – mobilized underwhelmingly against a plan that gives Jerusalem to Israel, permanently. Instead, a top Iranian commander sufficed to with noting Trump's deal will "unify Palestinians in their struggle for the liberation of al-Quds".

That Arab abandonment has effectively incapacitated the Palestinian leadership - the most President Abbas could do in retaliation was a promise to "revise the functional role" of the Palestinian Authority, a ceremonial letter to Israel that the "PA is no longer bound by bilateral agreements,"and another promise to send an official delegation to Gaza to exhibit national unity.

Hamas is so consumed by fighting for its and Gaza's survival that it can’t afford to endanger its understandings with Israel. Its response was hardly red in tooth and claw, calling on the PA to halt security coordination and inviting Abbas to Cairo to meet Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. 

On the street in Gaza, the response has been muted, too. Despite general strikes, official calls for protests and even resuming Gaza's Great Return March, only few hundred Gazans took to the streets. There are complex and contradictory dynamics in play.

A Palestinian girl hugs her brother next to their family house during a cold weather spell in Gaza City's al-Shati camp on January 9, 2020
AFP

Gazans are fatigued - and they’re not taking Trump's plan seriously. They know that non-violent protests are applauded in theory by the international community – but that there was barely an outcry when Israel inflicted hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries during the Return Marches near the Gaza border. Gazans conclude that occasional surges of violence get attention, and non-violent protests fail to attract solidarity. Gazans are also deeply disappointed in the Palestinian leadership, and they’re not willing to stick their necks out when their leaders are taking no action.

In the very short term, this tired despair will trigger more unauthorized or lone wolf projectile attacks, such as the projectiles launched on Israel over the last few days.

But longer term, that hopelessness is not squeezed dry of all agency yet. If Trump's deal is implemented - and Netanyahu starts annexing - the most unexpected spark could trigger a massive response, not unlike Ariel Sharon's visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in 2000 that ignited the second intifada.

The status quo – Israeli control over Palestinian land and people – now backed by the full force of the White House, is already so familiar that it offers the illusion of normalcy. But believing in the sustainability of an inherently unstable reality is just as delusory as believing that Trump’s plans for the Palestinians are both tangible and made in good faith. As with all illusions, the longer they last, the uglier and more disastrous their end.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2