June 28, 2019
On June 22, the White House released the first of a two-part Middle East peace plan, “the deal of the century”. Three days later, in Bahrain, President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner presented the administration’s vision of a new prosperity for the Middle East, if peace could be achieved. As for the political dimension, all he said was: “We’ll get to the political plan when we are ready to get to the political plan. However, today is not about the political issues.”
One cannot but recall that a former special US envoy to the Middle East Ambassador Dennis Ross, a scholar, had served two years as special assistant to President Obama and National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and a year as special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is also the author of several books.
George Mitchell, an American politician and diplomat who had served as a member of the Senate, including service as majority leader, and later as special adviser to the peace process in Northern Ireland under Bill Clinton was another US special envoy to the Middle East under Barack Obama.
Jared Kushner is President Trump’s son-in-law. And, Trumps and Netanyahus are family.
In his newly disclosed testimony, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson said President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, operated independently with powerful leaders around the world without coordination with the State Department, leaving Tillerson an others in the dark. (1)
Snap legislative elections are due to be held in Israel on September 17. How President Trump will support Mr. Netanyahu this time remains to be seen. Before the April 2019 Israeli elections, Mr. Trump recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory; remained silent on Mr. Netanyahu’s drive for new West Bank settlements; and, designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. (2)
After the election CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote:
“President Donald Trump is celebrating Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli election victory like it’s his own — and in many ways, it is.
“Trump and his foreign policy team orchestrated one of the most undisguised US interventions in an election abroad of recent times, helping to win the Israeli Prime Minister a fifth term.”
Nobody expected the “deal of the century” to offer much to the Palestinians. On the contrary, general impression was that this would be a step back from the two-state vision. Before and after the Bahrain workshop there was hardly an expression of support or appreciation for the “Peace to Prosperity” economic plan. The Palestinians rejected calls to attend the workshop and even limited Arab participation was linked to Israel’s absence.
In brief, the timing of the launch of the Kushner initiative, given the current adverse features of the regional political stage, raised questions, as did its venue and title and not least the identity and level of its participants. Despite the intensity of public relations effort that may have gone into its promotion, it did not have a seismic political impact.
On the second day of the Bahrain workshop Oman, a country with a distinguished record of quiet diplomacy, announced that it has decided to open an embassy in the Palestinian territories in support of the Palestinian people, in a first for a Gulf Arab state.
“Peace to Prosperity” economic plan consists of three initiatives designed to support distinct pillars of the Palestinian society: the economy, the people, and the government. With the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over ten years, it claims to represent “the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date”.
Under the third pillar it says: “… Just as the Japanese, South Korean, and Singaporean governments rose to meet the daunting challenges their societies faced at critical times in their respective histories, so too can the Palestinian leadership chart a new course for its people…”
According to the World Population Review there are 1.7 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and 2.8 million in the West Bank. With enough international financial support and Israeli cooperation there can indeed be substantial economic transformation in these areas. The reference to Japan, South Korea and Singapore is no doubt an attempt to highlight the prospect and make the “Peace to Prosperity” economic plan appealing to the Palestinians.
Nonetheless, the assumption that the Palestinians will give up the two-state solution in exchange for a promise of prosperity is unrealistic. Because, it overlooks the root cause of the problem.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told Israeli Channel 13:
“Yes, you do have a peace agreement with Egypt. You do have a peace agreement with Jordan, and … some kind of understandings with the Palestinians. … But this is not the limit of the scope of where you belong. Israel is a country in the Middle East. Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region historically. So the Jewish people have a place amongst us. So communication needs to be a prerequisite for solving all the dispute. We should talk.”
He is right. Indeed, Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel. Should the Gulf states wish to follow suit this would be their independent choice.
The 2002 Arab Peace initiative called upon Israel to affirm:
- “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
- “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.
- “The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
And, the Arab countries affirmed the following:
- “To consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over and to enter into a peace treaty with Israel to consolidate this.
- “To achieve comprehensive peace for all the states of the region.
- “To establish normal relations within the context of comprehensive peace with Israel.”
By establishing diplomatic relations with Israel now, Gulf states would be taking the first step, fulfilling their part of the proposed peace deal. The question would then be how Israel would react.
However, Gulf states would be well-advised to avoid giving the impression that normalization of relations with Israel is being undertaken as part of the effort to forge a regional anti-Iran bloc at Palestinians’ expense. Because this would offer Iran the opportunity to emerge as the leading advocate of the Palestinian cause.
The Bahrain workshop met under the shadow of rising tensions between Tehran and Washington and its Gulf allies. So, “confronting Iran” must have been a top agenda item in behind the scenes talks during the workshop. Members of the anti-Iran regional bloc need to see that a new conflict in the Middle East will only result in further destruction and chaos which will inevitably have an impact on their internal and external security.
As the foreword to the Peace to Prosperity economic plan says, generations of Palestinians have lived without knowing peace. Neither have the Iraqis for the last four decades. Iraqi President Barham Salih, after underlining Iraq’s yearning for lasting peace, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week, “We do not want our territory to be a staging post for any hostile action against any of our neighbors, including Iran.”
The JCPOA was world’s way of dealing with the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. And so far, Tehran is abiding by its commitments.
A more troubling global threat is the Islamic State. And there is no possibility of striking a “deal” with it even by the world’s number one dealmaker. The threat has to be eliminated. Since the Islamic State has largely been defeated on the battlefield, the world agrees that priority must now be given to defeating its evil ideology. An honorable Israeli-Palestinian peace can deal a mighty blow to that very ideology.
A final note: Presenting the conclusions of her investigation into the Khashoggi murder, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations expert said, “There is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the crown prince demanding further investigation.” Regardless, Saudi Crown Prince figured prominently in the “family photo” of G20 leaders in Osaka. So much for international moral standards…