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After the ‘Deal of the Century’

Feb 19, 2020

On Jan. 28, U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited new Middle-East peace plan, which he called, in grandiose fashion, the “Deal of the Century.” But he suffered a diplomatic setback the moment it was launched. With the exception of Israel, a hardcore supporter, there was little applause, not even from America’s European allies.

The introduction of the “deal” has brought about three new trends in the Middle East. The first is that Israel is taking a tougher stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to go to the United States to join Trump at the unveiling. That political show was a clear indication that the plan was the product of communication and consultation between the United States and Israel.

The deal is biased in favor of Israel, and the agreement, which had not been negotiated with the Palestinian side, meets almost every one of Israel’s main demands, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (the future capital of a Palestinian state will be in parts of East Jerusalem), recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian disarmament, Palestinian refugee issues put on hold and other pro-Israel provisions.

Encouraged by the content of the agreement and a conceptual map of the Israeli-Palestinian border released on deal launching day, Israel has been working to draw a new map of Israel and is eager to quickly translate the content of the agreement into reality.

There is no doubt that with President Trump’s support and the grandiose label of the Deal of the Century, Israel will have no qualms about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and will turn a deaf ear to opposition from the Palestinians and the Arab world. When Israeli soldiers shot a 19-year-old Palestinian teenager during a protest in the West Bank city of Tulkarem on Feb. 8, another footnote was added to the story of Israel’s hardening position.

The second is that the Palestinians are also getting tougher in their despair, and peace talks are almost in vain. Palestine, which was completely marginalized as the Deal of the Century brewed over the past three years, is naturally disillusioned and angry. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angrily called the agreement the “slap of the century” with regard to the Palestinians and a highly unjust document that will be thrown in the trash can of history. Abbas also announced on Feb. 1 that “all ties,” including the security sector between the Palestinians and both Israel and the United States would be severed.

At the same time, Palestinian armed groups have begun to attack Israeli positions. On the evening of Feb. 1, the Palestinian side fired several rockets at Israeli communities east of the Gaza Strip. Forced into a corner, the Palestinians continue to declare that the United States is no longer eligible to reconcile the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The announcement of a complete breakup with the United States and Israel is no doubt tantamount to announcing the clinical death of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In that sense, the introduction of the Deal of the Century has also rendered lifeless the two-state solution, long supported by the international community. The prospects for peace talks between Israel and Palestine also become more remote and distant.

Finally, the U.S. siege of Iran and the marginalization of the Israel-Palestine issue in recent years provided important background for the introduction of Trump’s Deal of the Century and formed an important basis for advancing the agreement in the future.

With Trump occupying the White House, the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East has been to contain Iran and weaken its influence in the region. With this core goal in mind in recent years, the United States has successfully incorporated regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt into core or peripheral areas that support U.S. policy through various means of security and economic cooperation. The Middle East’s core concern, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, has been continually marginalized. And the attitude of regional powers that used to be staunch supporters of Palestine, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and some other Arab countries, has changed also. They are not speaking out against the Deal of the Century and have even expressed support for the U.S. “efforts.” So Arab political support for the Palestinians appears to be waning.

From the perspective of the Palestinians, because of the disparity of power, they have little practical means to counter the U.S.-Israel combination, apart from expressing anger, mobilizing Arab and international diplomatic support and launching some small-scale attacks.

The United States and Israel say the Deal of the Century is the last chance for Palestinian statehood, and the prospects for the Palestinians will only become bleaker.

But whether the Deal of the Century can go from a draft to a reality depends on just how firm support is from other Arab states. Moreover, whether the strategy of pressure for change on the Palestinians will work or not is a big question mark.

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