The long-awaited “deal of the century” being prepared by the Trump administration to supposedly resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict has yet to be announced, with no clear timetable for when it might be finalized. However, there are enough facts known about it to cause serious alarm among Palestinians and in the wider Arab and Islamic worlds.
First, the deal is being worked out by two novices, President Donald Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, who have no understanding of the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the compromises necessary from both sides to make a deal stick. Moreover, both men have displayed a significant ideological bias toward Israel.
Second, the Trump administration seems to think that it has taken Jerusalem off the table through its decision last December to recognize the city as Israel’s capital. However, by doing so, it totally ignored that East Jerusalem stands at the core of a minimally acceptable deal for Palestinians.
Third, the American negotiators seem to hold the naive view that they can impose a “regional” settlement, one that involves Arab states willing to compromise with Israel, without necessarily taking into consideration the will of the Palestinians themselves! They appear to believe, for instance, that the Saudis can push the Palestinians into signing off on an accord that does not include East Jerusalem.
But that is not all. According to what has been leaked from private discussions U.S. officials have held with the Palestinians and others, the American team believes that the Palestinians can be made to accept an arrangement that, in addition to eliminating East Jerusalem, would also exclude from a future Palestinian state the Jordan Valley, the lands on which Israeli settlements have been built, and any, even a symbolic, right of return for Palestinian refugees. Only those not aware of the most basic facts can have the audacity to call such an absurdity “the deal of the century,” unless they only have the interests of one party to the conflict—Israel—in mind.
The Palestinians have presented their own affirmative plan of what their conditions are to accept a regional solution to the conflict. It is a land-for-peace formula based on the Arab Peace Initiative agreed at the Arab League summit held in Beirut in 2002 and endorsed by all Arab countries. That means a solution that is based on the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem included.
The Trump administration is dead wrong if it thinks the Saudis can convince any Palestinian leader, or their own public for that matter, to give up on Jerusalem and sign a deal that will be regarded as an insult to the sensibility of Palestinians, of all countries in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and of most countries around the world. In 2000, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat found it difficult to accept a deal that would have awarded him all of East Jerusalem outside the old city’s walls, and most of it within the walls. Arafat’s successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who does not have his predecessor’s stature, would not even be able to contemplate accepting the U.S. deal currently being worked out. It is also highly doubtful that any alleged pressure by Saudi Arabia on the Palestinians, even if reports about this are true, can become publicly known without provoking serious negative reactions from Saudi domestic public opinion and undermine the country’s standing as leader of the Islamic world.
The “deal of the century” is a non-starter, a non-deal, if leaks about its provisions end up being confirmed. The Palestinians are sure to reject it, with life continuing under the occupation. As a worst-case scenario, Abbas is more likely, if it becomes clear that an acceptable deal is not in the works, to dismantle the Palestinian National Authority and hand back the keys to the Israeli occupation authorities. That is a far more probable scenario than the political survival of a Palestinian leader who accepts a settlement based on current U.S. thinking.
What does all this mean? For Palestinians, the rejection of the deal would mean continuing to live under Israeli occupation, but with a different twist. The new generation, which is increasingly convinced that a two-state solution is not in the works, is already shifting its emphasis from focusing on the shape of a solution to a rights-based approach. Younger Palestinians are intent on raising the cost of the occupation and attaining civil and political rights for their people, even under Israeli control.
For Israel, it also means the occupation continues—but not indefinitely. The future path is rather obvious: If there is no two-state solution, the Palestinians’ only long-term option is to insist on, and work toward, a one-state solution with equal rights for Palestinians. The demographics are clear as to what that would entail. With the populations of Palestinians and Israeli Jews in areas under Israel’s control roughly equal today at around 6.5 million each, the unequal birth rates of the two communities mean that Palestinians will be a majority in a generation’s time. While Israel will probably attempt to have a two-layered citizenship approach then—in other words an apartheid system—no minority in history had been able to rule over a majority population indefinitely.
The deal of the century? The Israelis may have their cake and eat it in the short run, but in the long run the situation may be reversed in the Palestinians’ favor. Any serious deal will have to take the interests of both sides into consideration.