The United States would announce new proposals or a blueprint next month for resolving the long-standing dispute over Palestinian statehood. In part the move is designed to build up support for President Trump as a leader who can take difficult decisions and ones which reflect the aspirations of the predominant white majority of the population.
The stage is set for the new Palestine initiative. In 2017, Mr Trump announced the US government’s approval for recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Last year, that is, in 2018 the US embassy was relocated to Jerusalem.
Following up on this unprecedented decision that sparked widespread protests in the Arab Middle East, the President went on to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Obviously the president was acting in the belief that a war-shattered Syrian regime is in no position to galvanise support of the Arab nations against the US move, reeling from the destructive consequences of war that has disfigured the region.
The move to accept Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan heights was also meant to help Netanyahu win another term as the Zionist state’s undisputed ruler.
Netanyahu had promised during his election campaign that he would annex the Jewish settlements in the West Bank if he wins. If that happens the chances of any peace would further recede.
Not only that, the noose is being tightened around the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US has cut delivery of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority since last year. The move is calculated to bring pressure to bear upon the PA to begin to show flexibility and abandon its stance of defiance on the yet to be announced US proposals.
The pressure on the Palestinian Authority is not coming only from the US. Israel has also started squeezing the Palestinian government by withholding tax revenues. Under an agreed formula, Israel collects taxes on goods imported for the West Bank and Gaza strip. Such collections are then released to the PA for running its lopsided administration.
Israel has now decided to deduct five per cent from the tax revenues that it would release to the Palestinian Authority claiming that this sum is being dished out by the Palestinian government to the families of those who were in Israeli jails and have committed crimes against Israel and its citizens.
Mahmud Abbas has refused to accept the partial tax remittances from Israel. Abbas claims the PA is entitled to all the money under interim peace deals.
The PA is in dire straits .The World Bank estimates the Palestinian financing gap could exceed one billion dollars in 2019. That would further strain an economy that has registered 52 per cent unemployment.
The Palestinian Authority’s main source of legitimacy is its capacity to provide employment to a large number of desperate and impoverished citizens. But if the PA is weakened as planned, the security situation would considerably worsen in the West Bank and Gaza strip.
Israel knows but does not acknowledge that peace in Palestine has been achieved largely because of the cooperation that Israeli security forces have received from their Palestinian counterparts. For the last many years there has been no significant act of terrorism within Israel because of the cooperation that has existed between the two security forces.
If this were to change, the awful consequences of an escalating cycle of violence could well be imagined.
President Trump believes economic sanctions which affect lives would force the Palestinians to seek a compromise on terms the Israelis would offer. That is not likely to happen.
To add to the woes of Palestinians, Trump’s adviser and son in law Jared Kushner, who has close family ties with Benjamin Netanyahu, is in charge of the new Palestine policy. President Mahmud Abbas has refused to deal at a political level with the US administration since the US president recognised Jerusalem as Israeli capital in 2017.
The ‘two-state solution’ that has been touted as the best insurance for durable peace, does not seem to have been included in the proposals that Jared Kushner and his team are going to present to the world in just a few weeks from now. In an interview recently he confessed there would be no mention of ‘two states’ in the new framework he is going to unfold.
It is surprising how a US government can repudiate with impunity all that the previous administrations had adopted as the red lines that are not to be crossed.
For all their support to Israel, no previous administration had either dared to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli capital, or accepted Tel Aviv’s occupation of Golan Heights or acquiesced in Israel’s expansionist policy to go on creating more settlements in order to bury deep the concept of a Palestinian state.
All this has happened because of the wars, turmoil and deepening polarisation in the Arab Middle East. The US proposals, judging from the current mood in Washington, would not change much as far as the core issues are concerned. It is unlikely that the new policy would lead to any breakthrough on creating a Palestinian state. The struggle for autonomy and freedom would continue.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2019.