By Sun Degang
Previous American presidents have wished to leave indelible footprints and political legacies in the Middle East peace process from the 1979 Camp David Accords to the 1993 Oslo Accords, from President Clinton to President Obama, with Trump being no exception.
However, the New Middle East Peace Plan that the Trump administration spent nearly three years drafting received little response except for Israel after its release. Palestine, as a stakeholder in the New Plan, strongly opposed it and cut off all its ties with the US and Israel; the League of Arab States held an emergency meeting and announced the rejection of the New Plan; Iran, Syria, Turkey and Jordan criticized the US for being partial to Israel; China, Russia，EU and the UN called for resolving the Palestine-Israel issue according to relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council; and even Saudi Arabia and UAE that were supposed to support the plan have been unclear.
First of all, in terms of security, the proposal of the New Plan is not to achieve peace between Palestine and Israel, but to remove all security threats faced by Israel once and for all.
According to the US, Palestine’s poor governance capability has made itself a hotbed for terrorism and a source of regional instability, rather than a trouble shooter. Therefore, the US needs to customize a security governance system for Palestine, and work with Israel to inflict a “peaceful transformation” on it.
The New Plan categorizes the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Islamic Jihad Movement (Jihad) as terrorist organizations on the grounds that advocate violent and extremist ideas and strategically help Iran build a ring against Israeli encirclement in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
The New Plan makes a string of demands - Palestine should be demilitarized, Hamas and Jihad be disarmed, Palestine retain only limited security forces to perform police and anti-terrorism tasks with no ability to pose any threat to Israel, and the Israeli Defense Forces have the right to carry out security operations within Palestine’s territory.
It’s clear that the New Plan is aimed to resolve the “Palestine issue” rather than the Palestine-Israel issue, and to clear the way for Israel’s development. It put the US and Israel in the position of the “governor” and Palestine the “governed”.
Second, on the political side, the New Plan demonstrates the typical unilateralism of the incumbent US government.
It is an international consensus that the Palestine-Israel issue should be resolved based on the Resolution No.242 of the UN Security Council and on the principles of “two-state solution” and “land for peace”. On the basis of their borders delimited in 1967, an independent state of Palestine with full sovereignty should be established with East Jerusalem as the capital, and it should be supported to join the UN and other international organizations.
Nevertheless, unlike its predecessor, the Trump administration has cast caution to the wind on this issue, not only relocating its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and shutting down Palestine’s representative office in the US, but also recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and supporting it to build Jewish settlements in Palestine. As Palestine is much weaker than Israel and suffering from an internal division at the same time, the US has completely ignored and denied its position on holding dialogues with Israel on an equal basis.
While drafting the New Plan, Washington condescendingly demanded the security obligations that Palestine shall assume unilaterally without ever communicating with it, but didn’t impose reciprocal obligations on Israel. It not only deviated from the peaceful and just role it should play as a mediator, but also challenged the international consensus on the Palestine-Israel issue and changed the country’s consistent stance on it.
Third, regarding disputes, the US has shifted from “Palestine-Israel balance” to “Preference for Israel”.
As Washington reckons Israel as strong and democratic, but Palestine as ill-governed, it even threatened Palestine to take this last chance, because it is Israel which has the initiative.
The New Plan attempts to consolidate Israel’s vested interests and aggressive position, and further squeeze the space for Palestine, and tries to turn that into a fait accompli. For instance, it demands Palestine to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state and Jerusalem as its inseparable capital, while Palestine itself can only build its capital in East Jerusalem, and isn’t allowed to join any international organization without Israel’s approval. If it were implemented, Palestine would become an “autonomous region” within Israeli territory rather than an “independent state”.
At last, on the economic side, the US-proposed “peace to prosperity” is nothing but a “Barmecide feast”.
The New Plan pledges to invest USD50 billion in Palestine’s infrastructure in the next ten years, which is intended to force it to make political concessions and trade “sovereignty for capital”.
However, the 50-billion investment is just an idea at this stage without any details on who will pay it and how it will be allocated. Washington wants its Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia and UAE to pay the better part of the bill, but only plans to bear a tiny part itself. What’s more, even if Palestine gives up its political demands, whether it will get any economic benefit is still uncertain, and it may well end up with nothing at all.
Perhaps the US and Israel know perfectly well that Palestine won’t accept this New Plan, but then they can kick the ball to the other side and blame Palestine for “refusing to talk”.
All in all, the New Plan was put forth by the US when the Arab-Islam world is splitting and, Hamas and Palestine National Liberation Movement (Fateh) are in serious confrontation.
It has been snubbed mainly because of its unfair and unjust core contents. The Palestine-Israel issue has been marginalized in recent years due to the development of many other issues, such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iran nuclear issues. The release of the New Plan has drew the international community’s attention back to the fundamental position of this issue in the Middle East, and Palestine will hopefully win more attention and compassion in the world.
America’s partiality to Israel and their unilateral announcement of the New Plan by leveraging their dominant position will not fundamentally eliminate the root cause of Palestine-Israel conflicts. Quite on the contrary, what they did will add fuel to flame and arouse the Palestinians’ indignation, even cause local conflict.
Palestine and Israel are in a symbiotic relation both in terms of security and economy. If their disputes cannot be solved in a just manner, the interests of the US and Israel will be harmed too in the long term, leaving no one a winner.
(Sun Degang, a researcher at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai)