The political contours of the Deal are likely to be unveiled after the Israeli elections in September this year.
By Amb. Anil Trigunayat (IFS retd)
Is the dream of a Palestine, as conceived in the international agreements, understandings and the UNSC Resolutions and above all in the psyche of the Palestinians themselves, receding every passing day? This seems to be so despite the “Deal of the Century” proposition by President Trump that was aimed at resolving the issue for good. While the exact contours of the Deal are yet to emerge, the main architects Jared Kushner, son-in-law of the President and his main Arabian horse along with Special envoy Jason Greenblatt have decided to unveil the economic content of it at the “ Peace to Prosperity” conference being held in Manama, Bahrain on June 25-26 . As expected, the Palestinians have rejected it outright but several of their supporters from the Arab world will attend for their own geo-political reasons. Most Israelis also want the issue to be resolved so that they can live peacefully. The political contours of the Deal are likely to be unveiled after the Israeli elections in September this year.
Meanwhile Manama workshop will test the waters as the Palestinian leadership has refrained from any interaction with US officials after the US decision on Jerusalem. The economic content includes a Marshal Plan type reconstruction and development programme with an estimated US$50 bn Fund that will lead to employment opportunities for over one million Palestinians .Half of which is expected to be deployed in Palestine and Gaza and while the rest will be used to fund projects in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon as they have large number of refugees and significant part of the population is of Palestinian origin especially in Jordan. It was estimated that $28 billion allocated to the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, $7.5 billion to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion for Lebanon. The projects included will pertain to infrastructure, power, water, telecom, tourism and medical facilities while arranging greater connectivity between Gaza and Sinai Peninsula for trade and services via Egypt. The Funds will be managed by a multinational international bank to avoid pilferage which further irked the Palestinians who seemed to want the infrastructural development according to their own sovereign wishes and needs.
Participation of Jordan and Egypt is historically important since they are contiguous and are directly impacted by the developments with regard to Palestine. More importantly these are the two countries that have Peace Treaty with Israel. Besides King Abdullah II carries the mantle on behalf of Palestinians and Muslims as the Custodian of the third holiest Al Aqsa mosque and other religious sites in Jerusalem- which is the confluence of the three Abrahamic religions and a real bone of contention. In Jordan there have been several “Angry Friday” demonstrations against the Deal and Jordan’s participation. But given the fact that US is its major benefactor as such and would not like to be presented with a surprise Jordan would like to be part of what ever deal finally emerges so that it can safely articulate its concerns and ensure its interests since more than sixty percent its population is of Palestinian origin.
This was averred by Jordan Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi “We are studying the invitation, and, if we attend, we would go to express our steady and unwavering position by having a positive interaction,". Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, UAE and other gulf states have their own stakes vis a vis US and Israel. Since the onset of Trump on the international horizon Israel has successfully established significant understandings and communication lines with the Gulf leadership especially Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman who are major supporters of the Manama workshop. And with Qatar through sports diplomacy and now the meeting being held in Bahrain the cycle is almost complete. The Palestinians feel that they have lost a sanguine Arab support.
Ironically Turkey and Iran have emerged the most vocal supporters for the Palestinian cause. One of the key components of the economic deal is the provision for a land bridge and a geographical link between West Bank and Gaza through the Israeli territory that might not please Netanyahu but he might consider it as a prudent bargain for primacy in Jerusalem as well as retention of the settlements.
There is no clarity as to how the requisite $50 bn will be generated. It appears that the deal makers are dangling the carrots by engaging in direct appeal to the people hoping that they might take the bait that will come through Part II of the “Deal of the Century” which will be the real test because for Palestinians their land would count first. It is very unlikely that US will be funding the deal but instead might impress upon the rich but stressed gulfdoms to shell out the moolah required. Will they buy peace through the Petro- dollars remains to be seen as their own appetite for funding is saturating.
Moreover, sooner or later they will also have to address the reconstruction of Syria and Yemen. While this effort to reach some way forward could have perhaps been pulled off, like others in the past, but the Trump Administration’s credibility is at its lowest as far as the Palestinians are concerned. This is further compounded by the statements that Palestinians are not ready to govern themselves or when the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman claims in an interview to New York Times that “ Israel has a right to retain some, but unlikely all’ of west ban” .Further Trump and Kushner’s vocal predilection for Israel, even if based on some existing ground realities, appeared too stark that led Palestinians to claim that “The Palestinians do not trust the Americans “.
This really happened due to the de facto declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel since Trump took a decision to move the US embassy there last December. This was further compounded by his decision to withdraw funding the UNRWA that looks after the Palestinian refugees. Similarly, the desalination plant in Gaza is now being funded by the Europeans. Similarly, the Arab League finance ministers have agreed to provide US$100mn per month ’safety net’ for the survival of the Palestinian Authority. It was perhaps in sync with the US foreign policy of maximum pressure tactics that the current administration seems to apply in all situations from North Korea to Iran to China to India to Russia to Mexico and even Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia- friends and foes alike.
While such policy may give occasional dividends in some situations but for some others like Palestine it may provoke a disproportionate discontent and consequent intifada or violence. Meanwhile on the one hand Hanan Ashrawi a senior Palestinian official rejected the conference by stating "First lift the siege of Gaza, stop the Israeli theft of our land, resources and funds, give us our freedom of movement and control over our borders, airspace, territorial waters etc. Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free and sovereign people," and on the other the Palestinian groups like Palestine Liberation organisation (PLO) , Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have decided to have their own Summit in Beirut on same dates as Bahrain meet. This does not augur well but given the century old mistrust this was expected .
All the same if the US is really serious and comes up with genuine proposals and objective efforts (?) palatable to both Palestine and Israel we could witness a thaw in the frozen and frigid landscape of hatred and hermetically sealed positions. But it is too early to call as it needs two to tango. But try one must.
(The author is Former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta. Views expressed are personal.)