Trump’s Middle East proposal a stark departure from US diplomacy, lacks regional support

Trump’s Middle East proposal a stark departure from US diplomacy, lacks regional support
Trump’s Middle East proposal a stark departure from US diplomacy, lacks regional support

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - From the Madrid conference in 1991 until the Obama administration’s trilateral summits between the Israelis and the Palestinians two decades later, successive US presidents have tried to secure the presence of both parties at the table in negotiating peace. But that changed on Tuesday.

As US President Donald Trump’s unveiled his “deal of the century”, outlining a proposal for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, on Tuesday, only one of the major stakeholder in the conflict was present.

The Palestinians did not show up, and the Jordanians declined an invitation to come to the White House. No representatives from either Egypt or Saudi Arabia attended. Riyadh championed the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, and its role has been heavily sought by successive administrations to sponsor a solution.

Instead, the Trump-plan rollout on Tuesday featured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was indicted on three corruption cases that same morning.

The plan itself is a shift in US approach. In the past, the US hosted the parties, or issued parameters (under Bill Clinton), or supervised with the help of the Europeans or Egyptians secret negotiations (Oslo and Taba). Under George W Bush, it presented a “roadmap for peace” that left any final settlement to negotiations between the parties on five main issues: settlements, refugees, borders, Jerusalem, and security.

But the 181-page-plan that Mr Trump endorsed allows Israel to keep all settlements in the West Bank, and to impose its law the in the Jordan Valley. It also opposes the return of Palestinian refugees to the state of Israel, and does not include a timeline for the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

In a briefing with reporters, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said when asked if Israel would have to wait to annex settlements: "No, Israel does not have to wait at all.”

Both Jordan and the Palestinian authority rejected the plan and called for a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. But speaking on CNN, Mr Trump’s son in law and main architect of the plan Jared Kushner said: “I’m not looking at the world as it existed in 1967. I’m looking at the world as it exists in 2020.”

While Mr Trump endorsed for the first time a two state solution, it’s conditioned if the Palestinians meet conditions set out for them in the document, such as “complete dismantling" of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and abandoning extremism.

Ghaith Al Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, did not foresee any Arab state accepting the plan.

“Looking at the map that President Trump tweeted, I can’t see any Arab state accepting this,” Mr Al Omari told The National.

“Settlements remain in place, the map radically diverges from the 1967 borders as laid out in the Arab Peace Initiative, and it allows the annexation of the Jordan Valley, which is a core issue for both the Palestinians and the Jordanians,” Mr Al Omari, a former negotiator with the Palestinians, said, adding that these are all reasons why the plan will not gain Arab support.

“If the Israeli government proceeds with annexation on Sunday, this will create time pressure on Arab states to take a clear decision in the Arab League meeting on Saturday,” he added.

The Palestinian leadership has cut all diplomatic communications with the Trump team following the embassy move to Jerusalem in December 2017. “They [the Palestinians] are not focussing on the content of the plan but the Trump administration itself which they view as an unacceptable mediator due to its previous policies,” Mr Al Omari argued.

As Israel heads into its third election in four weeks and Mr trump faces an impeachment trial, a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unlikely. The fate of the current plan, and future negotiations may hinge instead on the US presidential election in November and whether Mr Trump wins a second term or is succeeded by a Democrat who views the conflict differently.

Updated: January 29, 2020 02:18 AM

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