By Rustam Shah Mohmand
The long awaited US plan for resolving the intractable conflict between Palestine and Israel was announced earlier this week, but the timing of the announcement merits some scrutiny and attention. Both President Trump and the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu face impeachment trials– one for misuse of power and the other for corruption. The ‘historic ‘ announcement, it was hoped, would relieve pressure on both leaders and help them launch re-election bids with renewed vigour and strength.
Instead, the plan legitimizes Israel’s settlements in the entire West Bank. It seeks to establish a Palestinian state within a timeframe of four years after certain conditions have been met and Israeli security concerns have been addressed. In order to provide complete security to Israel, the entire Jordan valley has also been given to Israeli control. In return, Israel would acquiesce in East Jerusalem becoming part of the Palestinian state.
The plan envisages removing restrictions on movement between the proposed Palestinian state and the expanded Israeli state to facilitate both Arabs and Israelis in travel, jobs and trade etc.
But in effect, the US plan creates only one viable state, not two. The Palestinian territory would be dependent on Israel’s generosity and support for its continued economic survival and political sovereignty.
The plan gives Israel all it has wanted—legalizing the occupation of lands stolen or occupied by Israel, ceding control and ownership over the entire Jordan valley, acceptance of Israel’s occupation of Golan heights and its occupation of Jerusalem plus recognition of the ancient city as its capital.
In return, the Palestinians will have to wait four years to get recognition for their new state and only after all Israeli concerns on security have been satisfied.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan reacted to the announcement of the deal by reiterating its unwavering position on the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders. In other words, Pakistan continues to support the stance that territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war must be vacated.
Pakistan has consistently supported the rights of Palestinians over the lands they have been settled on for centuries. At the same time, Islamabad has also recognized the principle of Arabs and Jews living alongside each other in two separate states. As an important Islamic state, Pakistan has not recognized the state of Israel founded on lands once belonging to the Arabs. In the evolving situation, Pakistan will in all probability closely coordinate its approach to the issue with that of Saudi Arabia, its closest ally in the Middle East. Perhaps it might dawn on Washington after all, after a united reaction from the Islamic world, that if the US plan is not made more compatible with the objective realities of the situation, it will simply fade into history.
Already, Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas lost no time in rejecting the plan and saying it would go straight into the dustbin of history, with protests breaking out on the streets of West Bank and Jerusalem.
As a matter of fact, there was no support or enthusiasm for the plan that was being worked out under the leadership of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and his adviser- a real estate businessman with little experience in diplomacy.
He has only acted to give new shape to existing Israeli perceptions of a secure Jewish state that has been created on the lands of forcibly displaced Arabs. The plan seeks to formalize what is clearly unlawful under international laws. The US has no power or authority to confer legitimacy on illegal settlements. The shifting of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 by Trump was illegal, but the US was able to get away with it because of its power and clout.
The plan will create more problems than it will solve and a new wave of anger will doubtlessly sweep though the Arab Middle east.
In a rare display of unity, the two Palestinian organizations –Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank have decided to act together to coordinate on a joint and sustained reaction or resistance to the plan. Israel’s beleaguered Prime Minister has announced he will impose Israeli laws on West Bank settlements as well as the Jordanian valley within the next week. The idea is to create conditions to overshadow his impeachment trial.
Once again, political leaders facing grave opposition and charges at home have tried to divert attention and instead focus on problems far away in a bid to garner public support. The pursuit of populist policies abroad can be a tool for deception to overcome or neutralize domestic opposition or charges of corruption. But the plan itself will never advance the cause of peace.
(Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.)