On May 15 Palestinians commemorated two anniversaries. The first was of the Nakba, which recalls the forced displacement of more than three-quarters of the Palestinian population from their homeland in 1948. The second was of the opening last year of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the inciting event that led to the unlawful killing of 59 Palestinian protesters by Israeli sniper fire in Gaza in one day.
As dark as both these events are for Palestinians, in the next few weeks the release of the Trump administration’s peace plan is likely to pose even more difficult of a challenge for them. Rumors about the contents of the plan abound. One Israeli newspaper owned by Trump megadonor Sheldon Adelson published a purported leak detailing how the U.S. aims to establish an entity called “New Palestine,” which would essentially formalize the status quo and confirm every fear that Palestinians have had about the U.S. plan.
Some former members of Israel’s security establishment have also set up a website with an animated video depicting another plan called “the New State Solution,” which would involve establishing a ministate in Gaza and part of the Sinai. This is an idea with a few similarities to one that senior U.S. presidential advisor Jared Kushner presented to diplomats during a March 2018 meeting at the White House called to discuss solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
According to Kushner, the chief architect of the administration’s peace plan, it is not helpful to talk about Palestinian sovereignty when discussing the plan. If Palestinians cooperate, Kushner has promised them a better quality of life and more economic opportunity—underwritten by the international community.
Despite such revelations from members of the administration and regular unsourced leaks to the press, most Palestinians have their attention turned elsewhere. In Gaza, Hamas and Israel are on the verge of another full-scale confrontation despite the latest ceasefire agreement. United Nations Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov has warned that this may be the “last chance” to prevent all-out conflict in the territory.
Meanwhile, of the 7,000 Palestinians shot by Israeli forces over the course of the last year of popular protests in Gaza, the UN reports that 1,700 may require amputation of their limbs because of a lack of funding for needed medical treatment. And by next month the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which cares for Palestinian refugees, will cease providing food support to 1 million of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants if donors do not come through with another $60 million in funds. Unemployment in the dedeveloped enclave has reached over 50 percent as a result of a twelve-year blockade and what the UN and legal experts consider an ongoing military occupation, due to Israel’s continued control over the territory’s land, sea, and air access, as well as its population registry. Therefore, such UNRWA assistance is critical to families.
In the West Bank things are not much better. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is facing financial strangulation. The termination of U.S. economic aid and the refusal of the PA to accept tax revenues that Israel collects on its behalf for as long as Israel withholds part of the money, means Palestinian coffers will dry up by the summer. In this context, former Israeli military chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reportedly told Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, that careful consideration should be given to the release of the plan as it may provoke a violent reaction among Palestinians that could take Israel years to quell.
If Kushner and the rest of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team want Palestinians to study the peace plan and engage with it, logic would dictate that they should be trying to create a conducive environment for this. Yet, whether it is Greenblatt’s twitter feed that regularly directs blame at Palestinian leaders without a word of criticism for Israel, or Kushner’s cryptic interviews in which he sidesteps the question of what legal status Palestinians will have in their nonstate to be, or U.S. Ambassador David Friedman’s speeches-cum-sermons on Israel’s biblical destiny and the role that he and the Trump administration have played in realizing God’s plan, it is hard to believe that Washington is serious about dealing with the Palestinians. Rather, Trump’s team appears almost to be daring them to reject the plan even before it is released.
Add to this mix the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative office in Washington, D.C. and the recent denial of a U.S. visa to former Palestinian peace negotiator Hanan ‘Ashrawi and it begins to make perfect sense: Palestinian acceptance is not part of the plan at all—rejection is. If Palestinians have lost it all—Jerusalem, a refugee return, the 1967 Green Line, fiscal and physical security, and political recognition of their leadership—they don’t need to bother looking at any U.S. peace plan. They have received the message loud and clear that the sun has set on the political horizon that they had been negotiating for the past 28 years.
A Palestinian “no” to the U.S. plan allows Israel to appear magnanimous with a qualified “yes,” while it proceeds to extend Israeli law over the greater part of the West Bank. The U.S. can stand by ready to offer recognition of Israeli sovereignty when and if the time is right—perhaps when Trump’s evangelical base and pro-Israel megadonors need to be rallied as the 2020 elections approach.
So what should Palestinians do instead of rejecting the plan out of hand? Wait and allow the UN, the European Union, and the Arab League to give their responses first, with appropriate reference to applicable UN Security Council resolutions, international humanitarian law, and human rights treaties. The plan would then fall flat, exposed as the farce it always was. Palestinians could then go back to doing what they have so successfully done for over seven decades: resisting and building international support for a solution to the conflict that respects their human dignity.