The “deal of the century” is the peace plan proposed by the Trump administration to end the disputes in the Middle East. The plan was not announced officially but was instead leaked by an Israeli newspaper, “Israel Hayom”.
How is the “deal of the century” being implemented in reality? And how is it affecting the Palestinian territory and the Palestinian people before any indication or steps are even taken towards its endorsement or signing?
All parties concerned, the Middle East, and the entire world are waiting to see what the “deal of the century” holds in its details, what it has to offer to speed up the peace process, and what is to be expected as an outcome to put the conflict to its permanent end. The details of the deal are yet to be addressed publicly, or discussed directly with the concerned parties.
In early May this year, details from the deal of the century have been leaked by Israel Hayom. Accordingly, the deal will involve three parties: the Palestinian Liberation Organization “PLO”, Hamas governing Gaza Strip, and the state of Israel. The fact that none of these parties negotiated or signed or agreed on the deal in any way, (the deal itself has not been made public in the first place) looms over its legitimacy.
This implementation contradicts the right of every state and every party to choose the legal obligations it wishes to be bound by, and with the conditions and timing it deems best suitable. Furthermore, the deal contradicts the principle of relative effects of international treaties. This principle stipulates that a state or organization is only obligated under the treaties and conventions it has signed or ratified, in other words, a treaty is only binding if the party accepted those obligations. The mere assumption that the deal was signed or accepted by Israel and the United States does not change the fact that two out of three parties did not agree to the deal.
The leaked documents provide a number of areas which the deal assumingely will discuss, and the suggested solution to the disputed matters between the parties. The White House refused to comment on the news or verify it in any way. The key points addressed in this article are the aspects of the deal that have been implemented on the ground before the actual signing of the agreement.
A first example is the international status of Jerusalem. The US government already declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the embassy last May. Second, is the status of refugees. The US government has already stopped all funding and aid to UNRWA. Third is the status of Gaza and the “New Palestine” calling for a new state with a new elected government, where Hamas must handover all weapons to the Egyptian authority, and all borders would be reopen to commerce, which seems to be the purpose of the siege and war against Gaza.
The situation in Jerusalem has always been of a special nature. Ever since the end of the British Mandate the city has been put under an international trusteeship regime by the United Nations General Assembly resolution number 181. Until this day, Jerusalem has remained subject to similar regimes, yet under different ruling powers. The city was divided into two entities, with the western part recognized as part of the Israeli state, and the eastern one as a Palestinian territory. This division was the result of the international adoption of the partition plan as a suggested solution to the conflict in the region.
This was theoretically the case until the Arab-Israeli war of 1976, when Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem including the old city. This annexation, in violation of the UN resolution and international law, was not recognized by the international community, which was the stand taken by the Palestinian leadership and the people of Palestine.
Seeing that Jerusalem contains many of the holiest sites for Muslims, Jews, and Christians, it is of great religious significance to all three religions. Moreover, the city of Jerusalem is of great political importance to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides as well. Situated at the center of the conflict, it has a strategic location and gives great advantage in the balance of power. Many Palestinians and Israelis view Jerusalem as an undivided capital of their own state, which is precisely what would make the actual division of the city rather difficult.
Palestinian affairs and paperwork were covered by the United States consulate general in Jerusalem, which acted as a de facto embassy for the Palestinians. In December 2017, the American government lead by president Donald Trump signed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which recognizes the undivided city of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. The signing of this order lead to the moving of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, and lead to the closing of the Palestinian consulate and replacing it with an embassy for Israel.
This step taken by the US government is seen as a step towards the implementation of the “deal of the century”. The deal is presumed to contain a special regime for the city of Jerusalem, that entitles the Israelis to complete sovereignty over the territory, while maintaining and assuring the freedom of religion to others in the city, but ultimately making the whole undivided city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The deal allegedly suggests that Jerusalem would remain undivided but responsibilities would be shared between Israel and the "New Palestine".
Palestinian refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict”. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is a UN body that is responsible for aiding those refugees. Funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN Member States, as well as funding from the Regular Budget of the United Nations. The United States have always been one of the major contributors to this agency, donating more than $350 million in 2017 only.
In early 2018, the US government took a decision to stop all funding to the agency. This decision took place only days after cutting over $200m in Palestinian aid. The US government gave a number of justifications to this decision. On the one hand, the US government believed that other states ought to contribute to the agency, explaining that their disproportionate contribution was the main source of funding to the agency. Moreover, the government claimed that the work of the agency has been “irredeemably flawed”. On the other hand, this decision is viewed by many as a way of putting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiation table, based on President Trump’s threats in early 2018.
This would appear to be a step towards the deal president Trump is proposing. The deal of the century is allegedly proposing a permanent end to the refugee problem. According to the deal, Palestinian refugees are to be naturalized and settled in the several countries where they reside. This is shown most clearly in the first step the US government took in Lebanon in May this year, when the acting assistant secretary at the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs visited Beirut to mediate between Lebanon and Israel on demarcating the land and sea borders between the two countries. This mediation by the US is believed to be a step in the direction of pressuring the Lebanese government into granting citizenship to Palestinian refugees living in the country.
Moreover, in May 2019, US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, proposed at a UN Security Council meeting dismantling the agency as a whole, and suggested that host countries, or other international or local non-governmental organizations take over the services the UNRWA has been providing for over seven decades across the Middle East. This suggestion was refused by the agency, the Arab states where Palestinian refugees are mainly resident, and the international community, which still believes in the essential part and duty the UNRWA has towards a vulnerable group, such as refugees.
The US mediation between Lebanon and Israel, and it’s plan to nationalize Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, is just a stage in the planned interference in the region. Additionally, the ending of all donations to the UNRWA is a clear indication to where the US policy is headed in its peace plan for the Middle East. Finally, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated that she believes the US should eliminate the right of return from the negotiations table. All this makes the details of the deal of the century in relation to the refugee situation and right to return more obvious.
After Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip in 2007, and after declaring the state of emergency and dissolving the unity government, Gaza became a self-governing territory under Hamas authority. Ever since the takeover and the established government in Gaza, there have been no elections in the territory, or change of authority.
There has been ongoing tension and repeated hostilities between the Israeli side and the government in Gaza. This has naturally affected the two Israeli controlled crossings into the Gaza Strip: Erez and Kerem Shalom. This also resulted in a sense of instability when it comes to crossing points and borders. However, and regardless of the hostilities and the tensed situation, the control over these crossings remains in Israeli hands.
In early April this year, the new Palestinian government was formed and sworn in. However, a presidential or legislative election does not seem to be in the horizon, which was supposed to be held in May in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court. Yet, the establishment of a new government is a step towards the establishment of a new state, and towards a long-awaited election, especially in light of the statements of the de facto president of the Palestinian authority, saying that an election is not possible at the time, considering the situation in East Jerusalem and Gaza.
The alleged deal of the century proposes the creation of a "New Palestine", which would include the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, excluding illegal Israeli settlements, and considering Arab residents of Jerusalem to be citizens of New Palestine. Accordingly, Hamas will agree to hold a free election a year after the deal is made, which will determine the new government of the “New Palestine”.
The neighboring territory of Sinai is to be leased from Egypt for the interest of New Palestine, where an airport and an industrial zone will be created. In addition, a land corridor would be built between Gaza and the West Bank to connect the two territories, and it would be possible to transfer desalinated water via an underground conductor between the two places. At the same time, the West Bank is to be connected with Jordan through the Jordan Valley by two crossings. The Jordan Valley itself is to remain under Israeli control, and be annexed to Israel. What this suggests, is the cleansing of Palestinians out of the territory of Gaza, and providing Israel yet more control over the West Bank.
It can be concluded from this that even though an election is not possible in the time being, the deal of the century would ensure the possibility of such elections by nationalizing Palestinian refugees in their resident countries, connecting Gaza and the West Bank together, while keeping Arab residents of Jerusalem as Palestinian citizens who would have the right to participate in the upcoming election. However, all this, even if it will help bring the Palestinian election closer to reality, does not fall within the interest of the Palestinian people, whether in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, or in the diaspora.
The Palestinian leadership has refused to take part in this deal, and rejects any peace plan proposed by the American government. Even before any details or information about the deal were made clear or leaked, the position of the Trump administration has been made clear to the Palestinians. This refusal has been a continuous reaction to the American policy towards the dispute in the region. The acknowledgment of the undivided city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as the acknowledgment of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the cutting of funds to the UNRWA, have shown the Palestinians the stand and position of the American government.
Moreover, the Palestinian refusal of any peace plan comes from serious concerns that no matter what the deal might offer, it would still fall far below their hopes for an independent state over the occupied territories in 1967 as part of their claim for a two-state solution. This claim has been long supported by the UN resolutions and almost all of its 193 member-states.
Regardless of the Palestinian anticipation or expectations towards the “deal of the century” or any other deal proposed by the American government, the alleged details of the deal, if proven true, speak for themselves. The illegality of considering the undivided city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as the clear annexation of occupied territories, through legitimizing the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank by excluding them from the territories of “New Palestine”, has lead many states to view this as a violation of international law and the basic rights of Palestinians.
The international and regional scene is witnessing a complete failure of the project proposed by the Trump administration. On the one hand, the Israeli side seems not to be able to accept the deal, especially after Israel’s decision to hold another parliamentary election this year, and the vacancy this will leave on the Israeli side. This delay is thought of by many experts as a possible ending to the peace plan. On the other hand, the Palestinian side is rejecting the terms suggested and laid at the table, which they view as a surrender, rather than a deal.
The Palestinian side has rejected any peace offer by the US government, as was clear with the rejection to attend the Bahrain Workshop which is said to be held in order to encourage various investments in the occupied Palestinian territories. With plenty of anticipation towards the plan and the situation in the Middle East, the Trump administration seems to have failed to find a plan for peace in the region.
*The author wishes to thank Karam Omar for the comments and reviews on the first draft.