Now that the mid-term elections are over, President Trump has promised to deliver his Middle East “deal of the century” within two months, ie by January 6.
It’s true that no one knows exactly what it is going to say, but the drift is clear. Trump has spent the last two years undermining the three bargaining chips that the Palestinians still had.
- For the last 70 years the international community – including the US – has funded the UN agency that houses, educates and where necessary feeds the Palestinian refugees forced to flee in 1948 and never allowed to return.
- For the last 51 years the entire international community – again including the US – insisted that Jerusalem could only be the capital of TWO states and they kept their embassies in Tel Aviv until that was agreed.
- For the last 28 years every President from the late George Bush Snr onwards has red-lined the building of settlements in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, the so-called E1 planning area.
By cutting off funds to UNRWA, moving his embassy to Jerusalem and turning a blind eye to new settlements and the demolition of Khan al Ahmar, Trump has removed any reason for the Israelis to negotiate. They already have what they want. Why would they negotiate?
The Palestinians made their historic compromise in the Oslo accords in 1993 when they recognised the State of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine even though they are now more than 50% of the population. It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect them to cede any more land or make any more concessions.
The next chapter in this saga can already be written. President Trump will publish his “deal of the century”. It will be rejected by the Palestinians, by the Arab states, by all the mainly Muslim states and by the great majority of the United Nations.
The chapter after that is more difficult to predict. UK policy is totally at odds with US policy over all these issues – Jerusalem, refugees, settlements. Will the UK stand up for what it believes, for what the UN believes, or will it engage in fudge?
That is up to the members of the UK parliament. You have the power and you may be called upon to exercise that power in the next few months. It is only the UK, France, Germany and other West European states that have the power to change the course of events.
The Palestinian Authority – for all its many faults – has stood up to President Trump, refusing to speak to him or his envoys, and to Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has tried to forge a regional alliance with the Israelis. The Palestinians have lost most of their territory and most of what little bargaining power they had, but they will not lose their dignity.
As the cat-and-mouse game over the imminent demolition of the Bedouin village Khan al Ahmar shows, the Israeli government is adept at playing a waiting game. They can make small concessions or allow minor delays in order to deflect the protests of Western countries, but then as soon as the world is distracted by some other hotspot, they will move forward on their strategic path which is to annex or assimilate the majority of the West Bank and to normalise their annexation of east Jerusalem.
The only way to reverse this process is to grasp one of the many levers that Western countries have to put effective pressure on Israel – by recognising Palestine, stopping trade with settlements or stopping companies from facilitating the occupation.