That US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan would not appear before the end of summer was reported exclusively by DEBKAfile on Thursday, Feb. 14 – contrary to most other publications, which predicted publication directly after Israel’s April 9 election. DEBKA Weekly’s sources reveal here for the first time that the recurrent delays conceal a fundamental US change of plan: The hyped-up Trump deal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace has quietly dropped its political stamp and faded into a noncommittal economic program titled “A Vision of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”
This 30-page document was produced by president’s advisers, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, after two years of laborious effort to crack a dispute that has defied flocks of mediators and every US administration. They have wound up with an outline which cuts out all mention of a prospective independent Palestinian state or references to refugees, whose “right of return” to their former homes in the contemporary state of Israel, has always been a Palestinian sine qua non. The Jerusalem issue is discounted as having been take off the table by Trump’s recognition of the holy city as Israel’s capital. Since city borders were never defined, the US would not object to a deal between Israelis and Palestinians for relocating the Palestinian capital to an East Jerusalem suburb from its present seat in Ramallah.
Having set aside the intractable political hurdles against a comprehensive peace accord, the Kushner-Greenblatt paper concentrates on leveraging the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip out of stagnation through the resettlement of their refugee populations. The US emissaries calculate that 4.9 million Palestinian live on the West Bank – 1.2 million of whom live in 19 refugee camps and are on United Nations rolls. These camps have partially blended into nearby towns. The Gaza Strip has a Palestinian population of 1.9 million, of whom 1.3 million are registered refugees and live in 8 large camps in this self-ruling enclave.
The US “Vision” proposes dismantling all 27 refugee camps and replacing them with modern towns with attached industrial zones offering 2.5 million jobs. The financing is to come from International sources, chiefly the oil-rich Gulf emirates, who would provide the new Palestinian economy with its financial backbone. Palestinian living standards would be boosted additionally by good education and medical services.
This Middle East “Vision” was presented last week to Arab foreign ministers and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Warsaw conference by its two authors and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Earlier, in the second half of January and early February, the document was shown to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayad and Egyptian President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi.
According to our sources, all its recipients flatly nixed the proposal as not only unfeasible but capable of exciting protests across the Arab world and complicating their own lives.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration means to press forward and publish its “Vision of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” at the end of summer, because –
1. The president wants to concentrate on another Middle East plan, the speedy formation of a new security and political alliance with the six Gulf Arab states, Jordan and Egypt, for confronting Iran as a bloc.
2. After talking up the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the first part of his tenure, Trump is anxious to put it behind him now before plunging seriously into his 2020 re-election campaign.
How did the ”Deal of the Century” come to shed its political dimension and wind up as an economic program? DEBKA Weekly traces some the causes:
1. Palestinian leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Ramallah, refused to look at President Trump’s peace initiative from the word go, claiming they had no common ground. Abbas and his veteran associates have a long and consistent history of non-cooperation with a profusion of peace initiatives from a succession of US presidents and Israeli prime ministers. The Palestinian leadership always counted on those leaders being transitory and waited for them to disappear along with their peace plans. Abbas was confident that Trump would not last in the White House and could be ignored.
2. But Abbas got into real trouble by quarreling with Egyptian president Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisiand the two crown princes, Saudi Muhammed Bin Salman and the UAE’s Sheikh Muhammed bin Ziyad. The loss of the Palestinians’ most consistent Arab backers caused them more harm than not getting along with President Trump – especially when all three were American allies. Abu Mazen found he has led the Palestinians into isolation from their natural Arab milieu as well as internationally. Like the ayatollahs, he soon found that the Europeans could not be counted on for tangible support.
3. In contrast to the rigid policies of octogenarian Abu Mazen and his deeply corrupt family and Ramallah administration, Palestinian extremist groups, led by Hamas, are dynamic and bursting with new ideas, while willing on the quiet to pretend to a measure of flexibility. After 60 years as the dominant Palestinian voice, Abbas and his Fatah are a spent force with Hamas taking the lead on the Palestinian street.
The Americans, Saudis, Egyptians and Emiratis more or less dropped the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. At first, the US emissaries turned their efforts to carving out a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip – only to be stopped by the realization that it was ruled by an immovable terrorist organization, Hamas. With partial support from Tehran and Hizballah. The Gaza plan was shelved for another day when the time was right for planning a political future for the Palestinians atop the US-conceived economic program. For now, there is no certainty that even an economic betterment program for the Palestinians is a realistic prospect.