The steal of the century

The question of Palestine and Palestinian statehood has been one of the most significant issues in the Middle East for over seventy years.  But yesterday President Trump declared the problem solved with his “Deal of the Century”. Describing his vision of the deal, President Trump, flanked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, but with no Palestinian leaders present or involved in the preparation of the deal, stated that it “…presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security”.

In this incredibly one-sided deal, the only real winner is Trump’s closest ally, the Israeli State. The aspirations of the Palestinian people, and the focus of UN resolution after UN resolution, has always been for a settlement based on the 1967 borders, before the Israeli Defence Forces illegally occupied Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In the “Deal of the Century” pivotal issues of concern to the Palestinian people – the illegal settlements, their entitlement to East Jerusalem, the right to return of refugees and the apartheid wall – are all waived away.

Instead the deal proposes giving Israel complete control of Jerusalem, allows its annexation of the Jordan valley and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and offers no right of return for Palestinian refugees. In return for an economic incentive of $5 billion the proposed Palestinian entity is to have no military, no air force and no control over its borders, airspace or seas. The proposals include a map of the new State of Palestine depicted as a collection of isolated Palestinian enclaves connected by roads, bridges and tunnels, including a tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank.

The economic incentive is portrayed as an act of benevolence to help turn the Palestinian social-economic system around. Yet it fails to acknowledge the role that Israel and the US have played in bringing the Palestinians to breaking point: including Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and the US ending funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) and making cuts in direct aid to Palestinians.

Palestinian leaders have already made it clear that they reject the plan, a plan on which they have not been consulted. Instead the deal has been spearheaded by a President facing impeachment and a Prime Minister facing indictment. Many commentators suggest that the publicity associated with a proposed, historical Middle East peace deal is a helpful distraction for two world leaders whose own political futures are deeply uncertain. In these circumstances, a deal championed by Trump and Netanyahu, and formulated without any Palestinian involvement is wholly illegitimate.

Of utmost concern for those who genuinely seek peace, is the possibility that Trump is simply giving Israel a green light to annex the Jordan Valley and the West Bank, and to extend Israel’s dominion over all of Jerusalem, with or without the consent of the Palestinian people.

Neil Ballantyne, spokesperson for the Palestinian human rights group, Wellington Palestine, said,

“In 2016, when the New Zealand Government served its term of office on the UN Security Council it was a strong advocate for Palestinian human rights and sponsored UN resolution 2334. This resolution acknowledged that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine had no legal validity, constituted a flagrant violation of international law and were a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security. In response to the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ the New Zealand government must reassert its solidarity with the Palestinian people and call out this US intervention for what it is: another major obstacle to a genuine peace process and one that risks sparking a serious conflagration with further loss of Palestinian lives”.

Press Release issued on 29th January 2020.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

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