Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ offers nothing good to Palestinians
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Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ offers nothing good to Palestinians

No other US president has dared do this, he bragged. Israelis and Palestinians could never agree on sharing Jerusalem — Palestinians want occupied Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the independent state that was foreshadowed in the Oslo agreement, signed 25 years ago this month. “Now it’s off the table,” Mr Trump said. “There’s nothing to negotiate.” As a result, the president added in his transactional way, “Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing”, and the Palestinians will “get something very good because it’s their turn next — let’s see what happens”. Predictably, this extemporaneous approach to the Middle East set nerves on edge in Israel. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu — tilted towards an ultra-right that wishes to expand Jewish settlement in, and annex most of, the occupied West Bank — was confident this president would finally end talk of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But it seems the Israeli political class need not have worried about Mr Trump’s casual musings. The Palestinians got to “see what happens” within days. The Trump administration ended virtually all US aid to the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, in charge of enclaves amounting to less than half the West Bank, and cut the remainder of its funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency. Mr Trump, it will be recalled, has repeatedly promised to deliver “the ultimate deal” in the Middle East. He has deputed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner (another property businessman with no experience of conflict resolution) to broker the deal. Mr Kushner said in June that he was “ almost done” — an astonishing claim. Soon, however, there will be no need for him to unveil any plan. This administration is ticking off most of the Israeli right’s wishlist, on which there is nothing “very good” for the Palestinians. Take the refugees question. This was one of the four main issues the Oslo framework deferred to “permanent status” talks that never took off, along with the future of Jerusalem; the future of Jewish settlements in occupied territories; and the final borders of Israel and a Palestinian state. Israel’s position on Palestinian refugees is that they have no “right of return”. This is an emotive issue given that Jews and Arabs are roughly equal in number in the cramped space encompassing Israel and the Palestinian territories. Yet this issue should not be as intractable as it sounds. An Arab League peace offer from 2002 proposed a “just solution” suggesting compensation rather than return for a majority of refugees. Israel has ignored it. Israel has always said the Arab offer is too nebulous, although it negotiated just such a deal with Syria in 1999-2000, with an internationally funded $17bn package for the 450,000 refugees registered in Syria. That deal fell apart over the amount of Syrian land Israel was prepared to return. Now, Mr Trump arrives to magic the problem away at the stroke of a pen, ceasing to fund the UN Relief and Works Agency, which for almost 70 years has looked after Palestinians who were forced out in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the Six-Day War of 1967. Israeli and American critics insist it is the UNRWA that inflames the problem — by covering more than 5m refugees and their descendants — rather than Israel’s refusal to discuss it. Mr Netanyahu on Sunday hailed the defunding of what he called a “refugee perpetuation agency”. The UNRWA provides health and education services, as well as food, to refugees in 60 camps, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in neighbouring Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. If the US gets its way and redefines refugees as only the survivors among those who fled in 1948, Israel will still be ringed by these huddles of misery and despair. Meanwhile, Israel’s strategic colonisation of occupied land continues, foreclosing physically on a Palestinian state. The Kushner plan has swept aside Arab and Muslim religious attachment to Jerusalem. Now, Arab officials say, Mr Kushner is pushing the idea of a confederation between Jordan and the Palestinian rump of the West Bank. Far from new thinking, this recycles one of the oldest mantras of Israeli irredentism: that the Palestinians already have a state — Jordan. Mr Trump is full of surprises. But his “deal of the century” is far from resolving this conflict — for Palestinians or Israelis. Israel, by casting aside the idea of two states living side by side with US encouragement, is heading towards a deeply non-consensual single state. After the recent passage of Israel’s national identity law, reserving the right of self-determination to Jews, it looks like Arab citizens of Israel (20 per cent of the population) are reduced to second-class status, while Palestinians in the occupied territories, who can at most aspire to a sort of supra-municipal government, will de facto be third-class citizens. Israel’s growing number of critics will liken this to apartheid. You do not need to believe them. Just listen to past Israeli prime ministers.

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