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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

Trump must show his Arab-Israeli peace plan

The administration has announced further delays in unveiling its “deal of the century”

David Friedman and Israeli Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the opening ceremony of the US consulate in Jerusalem. EPA/Abir Sultan
David Friedman and Israeli Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the opening ceremony of the US consulate in Jerusalem. EPA/Abir Sultan

More than two years after he won the US presidency promising the “ultimate deal” to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict, it is time for Donald Trump to show his hand. This is, after all, the region’s pre-eminent question, upon which any hope of peace in the Middle East depends. So, while expectations are low from an administration that has consistently placated the Israeli right, we must properly assess the merits of the plan.

After promising delivery by January, the US administration has again delayed its plan. American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman – himself no friend of Palestine – said on Sunday that the proposal will not be released for a further several months. That is not just a blow for all those in the Arab world who dream of a solution to this conflict. Worse, it gives the Israelis more time to change the facts on the ground and further chip away at any hopes of true justice or statehood for Palestinians. It emerged this week, for instance, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was lobbying the US to regognise its sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Under Mr Trump, the US is not an honest broker in the dispute. One by one, his administration has implemented the wishes of Israeli hardliners, from slashing humanitarian aid, closing Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and America’s in Palestine and, most egregiously, relocating its embassy to Jerusalem, recognising the occupied city as Israel’s capital. Mr Trump himself has suggested that the Palestinians could be strong-armed into accepting his deal by cuts to aid. What we have before us is the nub of Trump’s book The Art of the Deal – offering so little that what was once unacceptable looks attractive. Palestinians again face a Hobson’s choice, forced to accept a plan that is likely to favour Israel or the status quo: crippling occupation by an Israeli state with scant interest in peace.

The US administration is guilty of thinking economic concessions can end a conflict driven by history, birthright and principle. Jason Greenblatt, who is drafting the plan alongside Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, wrote in December on these pages that thousands of tech jobs could exist in Palestine if its leadership had not “barricaded their people from those opportunities”. There are certainly problems within the Palestinian leadership – President Mahmoud Abbas, 14 years into a four-year term, is devoid of new ideas – but to be clear, it is the Israeli blockade and occupation that is most to blame for the many woes of Palestinians.

With an election nearing in Israel, and a government shutdown in the US drawing Mr Trump’s attention away from foreign policy, this delay is not unanticipated. Palestinians will not expect much from an administration that has repeatedly placated Israeli hardliners, but after decades of conflict, a resolution must be found. As a result, we await Mr Trump’s “ultimate deal” with a cautious but open mind.

Updated: January 7, 2019 06:32 PM

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