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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Loser’s justice is now the most that Palestinians can hope for

White House concessions to Netanyahu means that to end decades of oppression, Palestinians must concede key political aims, striking a peace deal in name only, writes Mustafa Alrawi

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas chairing a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 3, 2018. Abbas Momani / AFP
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas chairing a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 3, 2018. Abbas Momani / AFP

There is a peace paradox at the moment in the process towards a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, if that is what it even is anymore.

That a deal will be reached before the end of the year between Israelis and Palestinians, as represented by Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, is in little doubt, to my mind at least, following the efforts of the administration of US President Donald Trump. The stream of previously unthinkable concessions provided to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent months, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, means there has never been a better time for him to secure these gains in writing.

Meanwhile, the leadership, under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, are in a bind. To not agree to a deal, no matter how unjustly it cements the status quo of settler land grabs and discrimination against their people, will only serve to give Mr Netanyahu what he wants. He will be able to say he was right all along; that there has been no trusted partner for peace, and still keep all that has been gained. Not accepting a deal also means condemning the two million people of Gaza, in particular, to the indeterminable hell in which they have been living these past 11 years.

The paradox at work is that we might be closer to a “peace deal” than ever before but that trust appears to be in its shortest supply on all sides. A scan of Twitter comments underlines the polarisation of attitudes. Both Israeli and Palestinian views show they are equally convinced that it is only they, and not the other side, who truly want peace. The haranguing squawks on social media aimed at proving who is the more malevolent have become unbearable. All the while, the people of Gaza are very much on their own.

Mr Trump put the fate of the Middle East’s most intractable issue in the hands of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who he boasted would get a deal. The clichéd explanation here would be that he hates the man his daughter married so much that he gave him the most difficult task possible and then built up expectations, only to watch him fail.

However, Mr Trump doesn’t play to type and never struck me as overprotective of Ivanka. He happily let her and Mr Kushner take the barbs and criticism at the official opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in May as Palestinian protests in Gaza turned deadly.

It is more likely that Mr Trump believes wholeheartedly in Mr Kushner’s negotiating skills. He is certainly unorthodox. A bizarre decision by the White House’s Middle East team, including Mr Kushner, to put their names to an op-ed in the Washington Post this month that lectured and scolded Hamas and the Palestinians, can only be justified if it was for the consumption of the Israeli camp. If it really was a message for Hamas and its rival Fatah about the correct route towards peace, then it was on the wrong platform and took on an unproductive, adversarial tone.

Last month Mr Kushner also criticised Mr Abbas for being afraid to make a deal. It is hard to blame him for being concerned about what a deal right now would mean for his people. There is no likelihood that with it will come any dignity for the Palestinians. Of all things, over the decades, Israel has proven itself adept at stripping them of it and dangling it an arm’s length away. Without the hope of dignity, the Palestinians will only see the deal as defeat. They would be right not to see it any other way.

None of the established powers in the Middle East, the United States, Russia or, sad to say, any other nation, can act as a trusted broker and provide a modicum of hope of a deal being anything else.

It would take the entrance of a new player with no history of excessive support for either side to be able to show that there is a trusted broker at the table. At this stage, it is highly unlikely that Mr Netanyahu will let that happen and risk the charmed position he has found himself in.

So we will have a deal and the so-called peace will be kept for a while at least, giving the people of Gaza some respite. However, as we have seen from the scenes and anger at the border these past few months, there is more needed here than just a break from the cycle of violence.

Young Palestinians have to be able to see some kind of path forward for them that might mean a life of productivity and added value. Israel has made it clear – and now enshrined it in law – that it believes Palestinians to be lesser people, so what can it offer them that says otherwise?

The leadership of the Palestinians, whether Hamas and Fatah, are in no better position than their enemies. Attempts at unity have failed. There is no cohesive vision of where to go from here. How can they make any plans when the reality of existence is so harsh and limited? The road to recovery for the Palestinians will be long; it might take centuries to heal the trauma and damage wrought by the past 70 years.

A ceasefire is a start; a peace deal which will seem a victory for Israel will be the next step but beyond that, nothing is guaranteed and given the experiences of so many Palestinians, why would they think that the future will offer them anything new? Money isn’t the answer; billions of dollars have been thrown at the problem to no real advantage, beyond keeping things the same. Isn’t that another way of saying things have only gotten worse this past decade?

Perhaps honesty is the only way to get any trust back. Let’s call whatever deal the White House cooks up what it is: the negotiated and unconditional defeat of the Palestinian people.

Historically speaking, dignity has more often been found in defeat than in peace. Victors have some responsibility to the vanquished. Restoring the dignity of the Palestinian people has to be the priority and the first step towards that is to stop lying to them. That may begin to revive some trust.

Mustafa Alrawi is the assistant editor-in-chief of The National

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