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Situation Assessment 03 February, 2020

“Deal of the Century”: What Is It and Why Now?

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


On 28 January 2020, the Trump administration announced the details of the political portion of its plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a plan known worldwide as the “Deal of the Century”. The announcement came almost eight months after Washington’s publication of the economic portion of the plan, titled ‘Peace to Prosperity’, at a workshop held in the Bahraini capital Manama in June 2019. The major features of the supposed peace plan are thus now in place after three years of tense discussion. The two portions have been combined under the title “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.”[1]

General Framework

The 181 pages of the complete plan contain 22 sections covering a range of issues: the legitimate aspirations of both sides; the two-state solution; the status of Jerusalem; sovereignty; borders; security; refugees; detainees; border crossings; the Gaza Strip; and commercial exchange. Economically,[2] it promises international investment of more than fifty billion dollars over ten years as part of a program of regional economic integration. It also has four annexes: one on the proposed borders for the two states; one on Israel’s security concerns, particularly its total control over the Jordan Valley; one on the counter-terror criteria that the Palestinian state should meet; and one consolidating Israeli security control over a ‘disarmed’ Palestinian state, including the right to directly intervene in any potential threats it sees within the latter’s borders. Finally, it confirms international crossings with Jordan and Egypt as well as regulating the territorial waters of the proposed Palestinian state.

Central Points

I: Nature of the Palestinian state

Under the subtitle ‘a realistic two state solution’, the plan offers Palestinians a state with only limited sovereignty subject to Israeli security concerns, a disarmed and non-contiguous state whose exclaves are connected by tunnels and bridges under Israeli security oversight. Even this is made conditional on Palestinians recognising Israel as a Jewish state, rejecting and combatting what Israel considers “terror in all its forms”, and accepting special arrangements providing for Israel’s security needs – including Israel’s right to conduct security operations within the Palestinian state. The plan also requires Palestinians to grant Israel responsibility for security and control over all air space west of the Jordan River. Moreover, it implies that the Palestinian state will be responsible for suppressing Palestinian resistance movements, which can only be understood as meaning internecine fighting between Palestinians. Finally, the plan makes it a prerequisite of any state that Palestinians create transparent institutions opposed to corruption, institute curricular reform and end “incitement to hatred”. Only “[i]f these steps are taken and the criteria set forth in this Vision are satisfied, then the United States will support the establishment of a Palestinian State.”

II: Land and Transfer

The plan stipulates that 87% of the territory currently under Israeli control in the West Bank will be annexed to Israel. 97% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank will live under the proposed Palestinian state, while the remaining 3% will live in enclaves within Israeli territory.[3] It is stressed that there should be no “forced population transfers of either Arabs or Jews” that might lead to civil unrest.

Nonetheless, the plan proposes a territory transfer that would reduce the demographic burden on Israel – specifically of the “Triangle Communities” populated by Palestinians holding Israeli nationality, defined as Kufr Qara, Ar’ara, Baha al-Gharbiyye, Umm al Fahm, Qalansawa, Al Tayibe, Kufr Qasim, Al Tira, Kufr Bara and Jaljulia. It explains that “[t]hese communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated. The Vision contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine. In this agreement, the civil rights of the residents of the triangle communities would be subject to the applicable laws and judicial rulings of the relevant authorities.”

III: Jerusalem

The plan stipulates that Jerusalem will remain the united capital of the State of Israel within the current borders of the municipality. The capital of the Palestinian state will be in the eastern part of the city in the areas to the north and east of the security wall, including Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis – to be referred to as “Al Quds” or some other name chosen by the Palestinian authorities. Since the release of the plan Netanyahu has reaffirmed that the Palestinian capital will be in Abu Dis, which sits 1.6km east of the Old City of Jerusalem.[4] Islamic holy sites are to remain under Hashemite supervision rather than Palestinian sovereignty, with real-terms sovereignty remaining permanently with Israel. The map stipulates that Palestinians resident in Jerusalem “beyond the 1949 armistice lines but inside the existing security barrier [should be able] to choose one of three options: 1) Become citizens of the State of Israel; 2) Become citizens of the State of Palestine; 3) Retain their status as permanent residents in Israel.”

IV: Borders and security

The plan and attached map show that the Jordan Valley will remain under absolute Israeli sovereignty and that Israel will be responsible for the security of all international border crossings into the Palestinian state, including Rafah, where special arrangements will be implemented between Israel and Egypt. The Israeli Coast Guard will also have the right to prevent the delivery to the Palestinian state (including Gaza) of weapons and prohibited materials that could be used to make them. Although the plan stipulates that the Palestinian state will have the right to develop its own port as well as possibly having access to specific Israeli facilities at the ports of Haifa and Ashdod, all this will take place under Israeli oversight. The new state will have no right to conclude military, intelligence-sharing or security treaties with any state or organisation that threatens Israeli security as defined by Israel. It will not have the right to develop military or paramilitary capabilities within or without its borders. Israel will have the right to conduct raids in Palestinian areas if there is any threat to its security.

V: Refugees

The plan emphasises that the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement must guarantee an end to any historical Palestinian claims: “there shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the state of Israel.” Moreover, the plan claims that there is a second refugee problem – that of the Jews “expelled from Arab countries shortly after the foundation of the Jewish state” – who deserve “a just, fair and realistic solution for the issues relating to Jewish refugees [which] must be implemented through an appropriate international mechanism separate from the Israel-Palestinian Peace Agreement.” It stresses that it is Palestinians’ “Arab brothers [who] have the moral responsibility to integrate them into their countries as the Jews were integrated into the State of Israel”.

Those Palestinians who have settled permanently elsewhere will not be allowed to return, even to the Palestinian state, although they will retain the right to compensation within a special international framework. The plan offers them three options: “1) Absorption into the State of Palestine [subject to restrictions including an agreement between Israel on the volume of refugee movement]; 2) Local integration in current host countries (subject to those countries [sic] consent); or 3) the acceptance of 5,000 refugees each year, for up to ten years (50,000 total refugees), in individual Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member countries who agree to participate.”

The plan also states that with the signing of the agreement Palestinian refugees will lose their international legal status and UNRWA will be dissolved. The economic section of the plan will seek to break up refugee camps and replace them with new residential areas.

Timing of the Announcement

The plan was announced at a time in which both Trump and Netanyahu have problems at home. Trump is facing impeachment proceedings in the Senate in which he stands accused of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is dogged by allegations of corruption dating back to 2019, with Israeli prosecutors formally submitting a list of charges on the same day that he stood alongside Trump in the White House announcing the US peace plan; this followed his withdrawal of a request to the Knesset to grant him judicial immunity when it became clear that the majority of members would vote against him. Netanyahu will now go into the 2020 Knesset elections armed with a peace plan that clearly favours Israel, a plan which consolidates Israeli control over large swathes of the West Bank and confirms Israel’s status as its “unified capital”.

Even if Netanyahu is not successful in the upcoming elections, opposition leader Benny Gantz has shown himself similarly eager to place much of the West Bank – including Jewish settlements – under Israeli sovereignty. In fact, Gantz has promised to do so more competently than Netanyahu and Likud, hoping that this will attract more right-wing votes. This position has in turn meant that Washington no longer has to worry about appearing to favour one nominee at the expense of the other, allowing the US administration to invite Gantz to inspect the details of the plan and give it his blessing a day before it was announced.

The Trump administration is also seeking to benefit from intra-Arab divisions while many Arab countries are distracted by the conflict with Iran and some have shown themselves willing to work with Israel to confront Tehran. It seems that the administration hopes that Arab states will place inexorable pressure on Palestinians until they sit down to negotiate having accepted the proposed plan as a starting point.[5] These calculations may have been proven right by the presence of the Emirati, Bahraini and Omani ambassadors in Washington at the announcement ceremony and by the Saudi and Egyptian responses to the plan, which called for negotiations under US protection.

Conclusion

The Trump administration is hawking the same solution suggested by the Israeli extreme right many years ago. Having made a few minor modifications, and benefiting from Palestinian and Arab divisions – and the failure of the Palestinian leadership to come up with any clear strategy to combat a project which has already largely been implemented on the ground over the course of the last few years – Trump is presenting it as a novel American proposal. However, while the circumstances may seem favourable for its implementation in the US and Israel, the plan is unlikely to win popular approval or the approval of any Palestinian party and will not be given any legitimacy.

[1] Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” The White House, 28/1/2020, accessed on 3/2/2020, at: https://bit.ly/2tnPcV7

[2] “The Manama Workshop: Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan Plummets before Lift-Off”, Situation Assessment, ACRPS, 01/07/2019 (accessed on 03/02/2020 at https://bit.ly/2RUcoE7).

[3] Malik Sammara, “ “Demographic Transfer” and a New “Jerusalem” between Abu Dis and Shuafat,” Alaraby Aljadeed, 29/01/2020 (accessed on 03/02/2020 at https://bit.ly/2uXOyhw).

[4] Stephen Farrell, “What’s in Trump’s Middle East peace plan”, Reuters, 28/01/2020 (accessed on 03/02/2020 at https://reut.rs/2OoM96k).

[5] Jared Kushner, “A Pivotal Moment in the Middle East,” CNN, 29/01/2020 (accessed on 3/2/2020 at: https://cnn.it/2OkP288).