Trump plan: Economics first, diplomatic solutions later

Trump, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen Collage: Tali Bogdanovsky
Trump, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen Collage: Tali Bogdanovsky

The little that is known about President Trump's 'Deal of the Century' suggests that it includes much on economic aid to the West Bank, ignores Gaza, and stops short of a sovereign Palestinian state.

While the Trump administration's plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is being called the "Deal of the Century," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been hinting for the past year that the concept behind it is to give the Palestinians less than an independent state. The Israeli side is talking about maintaining the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a few adjustments likely to improve mainly Israel's situation.

The plan, about which Netanyahu never speaks in public, deals mainly with matters regarded by the Palestinians as negative. There is a long list of such matters: no to a Palestinian state, no to a fully political entity, and no to Palestinian independence.

What are the adjustments likely to improve Israel's situation? For example, continuation of the process of eliminating the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) by depriving it of its financial resources and elimination of refugee status.

In addition, Israel is talking about annexation of certain groups of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, and Ariel) and applying full Israeli law to additional Jewish communities, including isolated ones. Furthermore, any measure that increases the separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is likely to be welcomed by Israel.

If you break it down, the Trump plan amounts to calling on the Palestinians to accept quasi-economic autonomy, with a US administration giving them monetary support and raising money for them from countries in the region - the "Arab NATO": Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Arab Persian Gulf states. This group will provide economic backing and infrastructure development for the Palestinians, while on the other hand constituting a coalition against Iran.

The "Deal of the Century," as the White House calls it, will have a detailed economic section, and will lead the countries in the region to recognize Israel. On the Palestinian side, the countries will provide the Palestinian autonomy with a brighter future in terms of economic development, status quo in religious matters, and freedom to create international trade ties. The Palestinians, however, will have no sovereignty.

Trump's Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt frequently states on his Twitter account what the "Deal of the Century" does not include. The plan, scheduled for publication some time after the forming of the 35th government headed by Netanyahu, and after the Ramadan holiday, is currently preoccupying government officials in Washington, Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. The Europeans are also trying to understand the new tack that the Trump administration is trying to take, but most of them have been left in the dark. The US is keeping the plan under close wraps.

"Another incorrect story," Greenblatt tweeted before the Passover holiday, referring to an article by Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab published in the "Jordan Times." "Our vision doesn’t provide for "baseball arbitration"…There’s no avoiding direct negotiations between parties to reach a comprehensive deal. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken."

Kuttab based his article on the assumption that the lawyers for Trump and Greenblatt, a former Trump Organization EVP, joined the White House over two years ago straight from the world of business, and therefore believed that any diplomatic or political problem can be solved with money. Greenblatt completely rules out this attitude.

He also rejects other options. "Hearing reports our plan includes the concept that we will give a portion of Sinai (which is Egypt’s) to Gaza," Greenblatt wrote on Twitter before Passover. "False! Please don’t believe everything you read."

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, said, “It (the Trump administration) requires everybody approaching the plan with an open mind.” While Greenblatt and Kushner's intentions in promoting the plan are good, it appears that the White House is doing very little to enhance trust among the general public in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). There is little information or public discourse about the plan, and a majority of the public in Israel voted for a government that opposes any diplomatic change.

The plan, which has been discussed in Washington for almost two years, was supposed to be published six months ago, but the US administration held it up because of the elections in Israel. The currently projected publication date is now from June onwards.

Message to the Palestinians: It can be worse

At this stage, a large number of negative adjectives are accompanying the "Deal of the Century": no Palestinian state, no full political entity, no Palestinian independence, and also no union of Palestinian factions, meaning not including the Gaza Strip in the deal. It appears that the Palestinians will have no sovereign airport or seaport exit. Refugees will not be allowed to return, Jerusalem will not be included in the settlement, and the new entity will certainly have no sovereign military forces.

"There is no reason to use the term 'two-state solution,' the reason being that every side sees it differently," Greenblatt said on a Sky News broadcast in Arabic. Actually, it appears that senior US and Israeli government officials are coordinating with each other, and are referring to a political entity that will maintain the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Senior Palestinian officials broke off formal contact with Washington in December 2017, when Trump announced the transfer of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. As far as is known, Greenblatt's efforts to convince them to reenter some kind of dialogue were unsuccessful.

With its rapid unilateral measures on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and funding cuts for UNRWA, however, Washington is delivering a message to the Palestinians: if you don't straighten up and achieve normalization with Israel, you are likely to lose everything you hoped and dreamed for. For the Palestinians' aspirations, it can be much worse.

On the way to el-Sisi: Abbas's intransigence

The PA has declared war, at least diplomatically, against the "Deal of the Century." In the coming weeks, the Palestinian Executive Committee, the agency responsible for making foreign policy decisions, will convene to decide on measures in response to publication of the US plan. Abbas advisor Nabil Abu Rudeineh advisor to PA chairperson Mahmoud Abbas, told "Globes" that the discussion would concern everything that has happened: the cut in direct US aid to the PA and the cut indirect aid through UNRWA and USAID, which resulted last week in the firing of dozens of USAID workers and the cancellation of almost all of the organization's projects.

The Palestinian leaders will also discuss the reduction in tax money transferred by Israel, following the law deducting money granted by the PA to terrorists and their families from the money transferred. The PA groups these measures together with the "Deal of the Century," and the response will be severe. Among other things, the Palestinians are threatening to unilaterally cancel the economic agreements, including the use of the shekel as legal tender in PA territory. According to the plan, Abu Rudeineh says that if the substantial problems are not put on the table, including Jerusalem and an independent state, the US plan will not be brought up for discussion. "There is no discussion, and will be none, of any plan with the US under the current administration, which has essentially adopted the positions of the Israeli extreme right. Without intervention by European countries and Russia, there will be no negotiations."

The Palestinians are hemming themselves in by opposing the plan in advance, but at the same time, they fear that the moderate Arab countries will not reject it out of hand. Abbas, who traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President el-Sisi, is trying to obtain el-Sisi's support for a severe condemnation of the US plan by the Arab League, and his support for opposing any discussion of it. It is not certain that he will obtain it. As far as the US and Israel are concerned, el-Sisi is an important beneficiary of the plan, and in effect of everything that happens in the region. The economic and political benefit that he is likely to derive from promoting the Trump plan is enormous. He is therefore unlikely to support all the Palestinian measures.

Jordanian King Abdullah is more comfortable for the Palestinians, although his country is also due to benefit economically from implementation of the plan. In contrast to el-Sisi, however, Abdullah has a large Palestinian minority in his territory that strongly opposes compromises with Israel.

The Arab Persian Gulf states, headed by Saudi Arabia, favor the plan in general. Following the decline in the Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman's power caused by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, however, its support for the plan cannot be taken for granted.

First economics, later (maybe) a diplomatic solutions

The many difficulties in finding political-diplomatic solutions to the core issues in the conflict - Jerusalem, refugees, blocs of Jewish communities - resulted in the proposed plan prepared by the Trump administration to focus mainly on economics. The logic underlying it is "economic peace," which holds that improving the economic situation in the territories will improve the daily lives of the people living there, and that violence will consequently diminish.

The US is offering the Palestinians first of all economic independence. "Globes" six months ago published the initial sum that the US is offering the Palestinians in return for coming to the negotiating table - $5 billion, together with a plan for tens of billions more in infrastructure investments and construction for Palestinian economic independence in the long term. This includes industrial and business infrastructure, power stations, and water supply, water purification, and sewage systems. Most of the details are still unknown, and some are deliberately unclear, but according to US diplomatic sources, Israel will participate in only some of the projects in order to create independent economic foundations for the Palestinians.

The US is not ruling out a two-state solution, but is also not mentioning it. The idea is to create an easier atmosphere through economic improvement, while postponing the full diplomatic solution to the longer term. Due to the opposition by the Palestinian leadership, the plan will be marketed to the Palestinian and general Arab public above the leadership's head.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on April 22, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Trump, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen Collage: Tali Bogdanovsky
Trump, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen Collage: Tali Bogdanovsky
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018