A Hamas delegation last week arrived in Cairo in response to an Egyptian initiative to pursue reconciliation between the Palestinian factions — Fatah and Hamas — which have been estranged since 2007, with Fatah controlling the West Bank and Hamas the Gaza Strip. Egypt has made it clear to Hamas that, without reconciliation, it will close the Rafah crossing, the only lifeline for Gaza’s two million residents, who effectively live in an open-air prison.
On the same day, Israel announced the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which goods are trucked into Gaza, affirming once again how much the Gazans are at Israel’s mercy.
Recent developments in Palestine are directly related to the US-initiated “peace plan” to address Israel-Palestine issues, described by President Donald Trump as the “deal of the century” and, more recently, as the “ultimate deal.” This deal is being promoted by his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
The yet-to-be-revealed deal has already lost much of its credibility among Palestinians after the US administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy there. The new embassy was opened with a high-profile ceremony on May 14, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. While the ceremony took place, Israeli soldiers killed 60 Palestinians and injured more than 2,000, as their “Great March of Return,” which had been ongoing since March 30, reached its climax. All told, Israeli forces killed 135 marchers and injured 14,000.
At the end of June, Kushner visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Israel to promote the “ultimate deal.” Since no details of the peace plan have been officially announced, regional media has been awash with speculation, possibly based on background briefings and/or calculated leaks.
The rumored US ‘deal of the century’ has impelled the Palestinians to promote their unity and mobilize themselves for a fresh resistance.
Most reports suggest that the Palestinian “state” will have limited sovereignty over some parts of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip (subject to disarmament by Hamas), with Israel exercising security responsibility over the West Bank and the border crossings. In a fresh development, it now appears that Israel will retain the Old City of Jerusalem, but three to five suburbs will be given to the Palestinian state, which would have Abu Dis, a town east of Jerusalem, as its capital. This Palestinian state and Jordan would be joint custodians of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
However, other reports have painted a very different picture of the scenario put together by Kushner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It now seems that, rather than address peace-related matters, the focus will be on providing economic development and employment opportunities to the Palestinian community. Thus, Egypt’s Rafah area abutting Gaza will have an airport, a seaport, a power plant and a desalination plant. Again, a major industrial free zone will be set up in the Sinai, which will encourage economic upliftment in an under-developed area that is prone to extremist activity, and will also provide employment to the Palestinians of Gaza.
This rumored variation of the peace plan does not speak of a Palestinian state, however limited its sovereignty might be.
The US has exerted considerable pressure on the Palestinian Authority and even some regional leaders to back these ideas. Following Trump’s decision in March to deny $300 million in aid to the PA, Israel and Australia have announced significant deductions in assistance to the PA, leading to severe cuts in the salaries paid to government employees.
As of now, the US has reportedly found no takers for their plans. The Arab leaders whom Kushner met saw no merit in what he proposed and, instead, re-affirmed the Arab peace plan calling for Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines and the setting up of a sovereign Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital. They also rejected the idea that a plan could be imposed without the consent of the Palestinians themselves.
Arab commentators have noted that what the US was offering was not a peace plan, since Israel is not interested in any plan that would put limits on its territorial aggrandizement. Hence, what Kushner has seemingly come up with is a “crisis management” effort that would provide economic incentives to the Palestinians as a substitute for a political settlement, thus ending Palestinian demands once and for all.
The US peace plan seems to be aimed at forcing the Palestinians to accept a deal that would improve their living conditions (made onerous by calculated Israeli and US actions) in return for giving up their national identity and legitimate aspirations. This fresh challenge has instilled a new sense of purpose among the Arab states to deny US machinations, and has impelled the Palestinians to promote their unity and mobilize themselves for a fresh resistance
As an inspirational poster said during the Kushner foray: “No right is lost if someone continues seeking it.”
- Talmiz Ahmad is a former Indian diplomat.