Anticipation surrounding the Trump administration’s elusive “deal of the century” is on the rise, marked by media speculation and buzz.
The plan is expected to be released as early as June, and suggestions are that it will include very little in terms of Palestinian autonomy and civil rights, and instead focus on “economic incentives” for the Palestinians, while emphasizing “Israeli security.”
Very few details of the proposal have actually been confirmed by officials, but if the Trump administration’s policies in the region are any indication of what’s to come, things are not looking good for the Palestinians.
As Jared Kushner boasts about his team’s “new ideas” and dedication to steering away from the “the old traditional talking points,” Palestinians’ existing fears of a disastrous proposal have only been exacerbated.
Vague comments and empty reassurances
Despite dozens of reports, leaks, and outright guesses as to the nature of the peace proposal, the administration has managed to keep most details of the plan a secret.
Over the past few weeks and months, whether in interviews or anonymous leaks to the press, Kushner has been quoted as saying things like “we will all have to look for reasonable compromises,” and “we’re never going to make progress” within previous negotiation frameworks. Then this week Kushner said the two-state solution has “failed” and “new and different ways to reach peace must be tried.”
Several news agencies have reported that the proposal will feature two major components: one political, one economic.
Reuters reported that the political component will address core issues like the status of Jerusalem, though given Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital and the American embassy move, it is unlikely that any Palestinian claims will be actualized.
Meanwhile, Kushner, special envoy Jason Greenblatt, and other authors of the proposal are expected to put a heavy focus on measures aimed at strengthening the Palestinian economy — given that the Palestinians are not expected to receive much in terms of sovereignty or basic rights. Or as Kushner put it this week, “What can you resolve to allow [Palestinian] areas to become more investable?”
In February, Kushner and Greenblatt toured the Gulf states to promote their plan, with hopes of securing financial resources from Arab leaders for the economic section of the proposal.
But their secrecy and vagueness was met with pushback from leaders who wanted “to know the details before committing resources to a Palestinian fund,” Reuters reported.
Shortly after, Kushner sat down for an interview with Sky News Arabia to make another relatively vague statement: that the political aspect of the plan would focus on “resolving the border issue.”
In previous negotiations, Palestinians have maintained that their future state would require Israel to return to the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, but there has been little to no mention of whether the plan will see anything close to the idea of Palestinian statehood and sovereignty.
While Kushner and other officials have done their best to keep an air of secrecy around the plan, one point they have remained clear and consistent on is the proposal’s dedication to “Israeli security.”
In an Op-Ed for the New York Times on Tuesday, Greenblatt blamed the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza on Hamas officials. In regards to a future peace plan, he said, “Whether or not we achieve a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the future of Gaza cannot be addressed and the people of Gaza cannot be helped in any meaningful way until Hamas is no longer in the picture or makes the necessary choices for stability and, eventually, peace.”
Mixed bag of reactions
Regional and world leaders have responded to the rumors surrounding the peace plan with a mix of outrage, reservation, and celebration.
Palestinian leaders have announced that they, in keeping with their current policy towards the Americans, will boycott the negotiations, and likely reject any plan that the Trump administration puts forward.
Last week, the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh made statements that Trump’s peace plan will be “born dead.”
“There are no partners in Palestine for Trump. There are no Arab partners for Trump and there are no European partners for Trump,” Shtayyeh said, as he implored world leaders to boycott American-led negotiations.
“The whole system is to try to push us to surrender,” he said. “The Palestinians are not interested in economic peace … we are interested in ending the occupation,” Shtayyeh told AP reporters.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the US proposal during the Arab League conference in Cairo over the weekend.
According to Haaretz, Abbas “demanded that Israel fully withdraw from all occupied territories” and called on fellow Arab leaders to be “engaged actively at this critical time.”
Mohammed al-Masri, the leader of the Fatah faction in the Bethlehem governorate, responded to the rumors of the proposal, saying “the American leaders are looking to make a deal, they are not looking for a just solution for the Palestinian people.”
“We will refuse any solution they put in front of us,” al-Masri continued, in an interview with Mondoweiss. “We don’t have anything left to give to them during negotiations.”
“We accepted to recognize Israel as a country, and we have abided by all the agreements,” he said, highlighting the daily human rights violations committed by the Israeli government, along with violations of international law and the Oslo Accords.
Al-Masri said he believes the PA will refuse the American proposal, though it will bear severe financial consequences on an already struggling Palestinian Authority.
“We cannot accept this deal as it stands. They want us to have a Catalonia like system. No power, no borders, and just give us some economic freedom,” al-Masri said.
“Their plan is to put us in a desert and offer us some drops of water so we are forced to accept it.”
Al-Masri’s comments are reflective of the general sentiment of Palestinian leaders and citizens toward US-led peace negotiations.
With the defunding of UNRWA and USAID, among several other economic sanctions affecting Palestinians, there is no shred of hope any more that the US could be a fair arbiter of the peace process.
In an interview in the Atlantic, Gerard Araud, the outgoing French ambassador, offered up a biting criticism of Kushner and his plans in the Middle East.
“Everywhere in the history of mankind, when there is a negotiation between two sides, the more powerful [party] is imposing terms on the weaker party. That’s the basis of Jared Kushner’s [peace plan]—it will be a proposal very close to what the Israelis want,” Araud said.
Araud added that he believed that the plan has a 99% chance of failing, though he did note that Trump’s popularity with the Israelis and the fact that he has “given them everything” could give the Americans some leverage.
“The problem is that the disproportion of power is such between the two sides that the strongest may conclude that they have no interest to make concessions,” he added. “If you offer the Palestinians the choice between surrendering and committing suicide, they may decide the latter. Somebody like Kushner doesn’t understand that.”
Israeli politicians have remained relatively quiet on the subject of peace negotiations, choosing instead to maintain their rosy relationship with the Trump administration leading up to June (i.e. thanking Trump for his support by naming an illegal settlement in the occupied Golan Heights after the president.)
As for the pre-election promises from Netanyahu saying he would annex major portions of the occupied West Bank, Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Danon said, “I don’t think we will see any major action by our government before the peace plan will be presented.”
All eyes on Arab leaders
As the dust settles from a tumultuous election season in Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begins forming his right-wing coalition, the American and Israeli administrations could not be in greater alignment.
With a Netanyahu reelection, the Trump administration has spared themselves the trouble that would have unfolded had a new Israeli PM, potentially with different views on “peace” with the Palestinians, been elected to office.
As for Netanyahu, his government is certain that whatever the American proposal has in store for them will be favorable to the Israelis. After all, Trump “gifted” the Golan Heights to Netanyahu as a pre-election benefit.
With all the stars aligned, the rollout of the plan seemingly could not come at a better time for both the Americans and Israelis.
But as Robert Satloff put it in an article for Foreign Policy magazine, if the Palestinians outright reject the plan — something Abbas has promised to do — it would give the Israelis opportunity to claim they have no willing partner in negotiations, thus “gutting a key rationale for keeping the status quo alive.” And annexation could get a boost:
“Instead, rightist politicians will argue that, with no partner, Israel should simply extend its sovereignty to key parts of the West Bank (i.e., annex them), just as it did 38 years ago on the Golan Heights—and they will point out that Trump’s recent decision to recognize the legality of the Golan annexation is a powerful hint that the White House will greenlight West Bank annexation.”
Were Israel to move forward with annexation, Satloff points out, it could trigger measures taken by surrounding Arab states against Israel on the international stage, an end to security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, and damaging effects on US political and public support for Israel.
Some have argued that the one thing that could save Kushner’s plan from completely backfiring would be garnering enough support from the surrounding Arab countries — hence the February tour of the Gulf States.
While Kushner has managed to maintain great personal and political relationships with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E, it would be in America’s best interests to get countries like Egypt and Jordan on board. Without the support of those two countries, which have publicly condemned Trump’s Jerusalem and Golan moves, it’s highly unlikely that the administration would get the full regional backing of its plan.