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Frustrating plan

Nov 21,2017 - Last updated at Nov 21,2017

The countdown has begun for the much-anticipated unveiling of President Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, one that aims at closing the chapter on the decades-old conflict.

For the Palestinians, initial signs point to a dismal start. 

Last week, the US State Department informed the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that it had decided to close down its Washington office since Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not make the certification required by law to extend the office’s credentials by another six months.

The reason given was that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in his UN General Assembly speech last September, had called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in illegal settlement activities and for war crimes against the Palestinian people.

Under a rarely invoked 2015 law, the US is required to shut down the PLO’s mission if Palestinians seek to “influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorised investigation, or to actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians”.

It also prohibits the US government from providing aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if it seeks UN recognition with no waiver provided, even in the case where US national security interests are at stake!

By mid-week, it was not clear if the closure had taken effect.

Senior Palestinian officials threatened to cut all communication channels with the US if the office is shut down. Behind-the-scene last-minute negotiations were taking place in Washington on Monday.

Not since the signing of the Oslo Accords, in 1993, had relations between the US and the PA been tested this way. 

Various US and Palestinian sources said that the move was meant to pressure Abbas to accept to engage in unconditional negotiations with Israel. 

Others said that Trump has 90 days to study Tillerson’s decision and that his waiver would be determined by evidence that “the Palestinians are engaged in direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”, according to the CNN.

One source close to the Palestinian side told this writer that Trump is expected to unveil his peace plan before the end of the year.

There have been a number of reports, especially in Israeli media, on the main points of Trump’s plan.

While the White House described such reports as speculations, it is worth looking at some of the key features that these reports claimed Trump’s offer is likely to contain:
— The plan will not be based on previous US initiatives and mutually agreed-upon parameters, including withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, borders.

— It will propose limited land swaps between Israel and occupied West Bank.

— It will not refer to the status of Jerusalem at this point in time.

— It meets all of Israeli security concerns, including permanent presence in most of Jordan Valley.

— It will expand PA’s self-rule powers in a temporary state, in addition to offering a generous aid package. There could be a suggestion to tie this state to Jordan through confederation.

— The plan will be part of a regional approach towards ending the Arab-Israel conflict.

— Countries that host Palestinian refugees will be asked to settle them in exchange for aid and other incentives.

The plan will be the result of a 10-month effort by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his team. It goes without saying that Kushner and his aides, in addition to the US ambassador to Israel, David Freedman, have close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government.

Netanyahu has repeatedly argued for economic peace with the Palestinians that preclude withdrawal from the West Bank, the return of refugees, the dismantling of settlements, giving up East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.

Trump’s plan will likely be in line with Netanyahu’s position.

Still, the Israeli premier said he would wait to see details of the plan before committing to anything. He also applauded the decision to close down the PLO office.

Israeli officials, in recent days pointed to a warming up of relations between Israel and major Sunni countries as part of a proposed normalisation under the Trump deal.

Under these circumstances, it is clear that the Trump administration is rolling back most of Palestinian gains, and they are not many, over the past two and half decades.

With the PLO’s Washington office closed and the Palestinian flag removed, how can any leader tolerate maintaining contacts under these humiliating circumstances?

The proposed deal itself will fall short of any offer that has been put on the table since Bill Clinton’s last-ditch attempt at reaching a final settlement between the two sides at Camp David in 2000.

There is little reason to believe that Trump’s offer will meet any of the key Palestinian principles for a just two-state solution that is also the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Bowing to US pressure — which is nothing short of blackmail — is tantamount to committing political suicide. 

Abbas is better off disbanding the PA and falling on his proverbial sword than acquiescing to the US demands.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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