The Twin Threats to Palestine: Covid-19 and Trump’s “Deal”
The Palestinian people are facing two deadly threats – the Covid-19 outbreak and US President Trump’s ill-named “Deal of the Century”.
Today, the Palestinian people are facing two deadly threats – the Covid-19 outbreak and US President Trump’s ill-named “Deal of the Century”. The urgency of the virus is immediate with outbreaks in both Gaza and the West Bank. No less pressing is the threat by the new Israeli coalition government to implement, on July 1st, the Deal’s proposal to annex the Jordan Valley and parts of the West Bank.
Covid-19 in Palestine and Israel
As of 4th May, according to the West Bank Ministry of Health 522 cases have been reported in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with 2 deaths. 17 of the cases have been in Gaza, with no deaths. Palestinian refugees in the diaspora have registered 1266 cases with 67 deaths.
The outbreak in Israel has had a big impact upon Palestine. The Israeli out-break has been very serious. As of 4th May, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 16152 cases have been reported, with 227 deaths. The seriousness of the outbreak has been masked by a low fatality rate, thanks to Israel’s modern and well supported health service. On a per capita basis, the Israeli outbreak is larger than Iran, although Iran has a much higher mortality rate.
Israeli Government Response
Israeli outbreak has been so extensive. In early March the first cases were detected. But it took until March 25th before synagogues were closed. Israel’s health authorities suggest that mass prayers and Megillah readings during the 10th and 11th March Purim holidays may be responsible for the virus’s extension. The Israeli government limited gatherings to 2000 on March 10th, 100 indoors on March 11th, and 100 in open spaces on March 12th, and finally all gatherings of more than 10 on March 14th. It had shut down entertainment, leisure, restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, malls and stopped public transport.
The Israeli response has been led by the security apparatus. Mossad chief, Yorsi Cohen, leads the multi-agency team. 400 Israeli Defence Force (IDF) intelligence experts and analysts working at the Shebna Medical Centre have been tracking developments. The Signal Intelligence Unit 8200 has been monitoring testing.
Presumably, the government believes this emphasis on the security apparatus is the most effective response to the health emergency. It has, however, prompted opposition amongst Israeli citizens. Demonstrations have taken place in Tel Aviv, where protestors have observed social distancing. The opposition represents different sections of Israeli society. Their demands centre on Netanyahu’s role in the crisis, opposition to the security services (Shin Bet) collating cell phone data, and claims of economic abandonment by government. The Israeli Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition to suspend the surveillance programme to track citizens suspected of having the virus. This challenge was from the Adaleh Center, a Palestinian NGO in Israel.
Pressure to lift elements of the lockdown is growing as the economic impact is being felt. Part of the momentum for the protests comes from the economic slowdown. According to a Bank Yisrael report, before the virus unemployment was between 4-5%. By April 21st, unemployment rose to 1,125,000 that is 27% of the workforce. The majority of the new unemployed are salaried employees on unpaid leave, receiving unemployment pay worth only 70% of their regular wage.
Some sectors are hit even harder. Independent contractors receive small grants, and low interest loans. Cultural and artistic workers are all unemployed. The independent contractors’ organisations held demos at the Prime Minister’s office. Cultural workers, and journalists, joined the Tel Aviv demonstrations.
Despite this, the government and security apparatus are being much more severe upon the Palestinians. As the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem stated “While millions of people in Israel and the West Bank are under lockdown, state backed settler violence continues unabated. Israeli settlers are attacking Palestinian shepherds on pastureland, entering villages, attacking residents and destroying their property...Despite the coronavirus crisis, the rise in violent acts continues in recent weeks”.
Inside Israel Palestinians citizens are subjected to over 60 laws which treat them differently to Jewish citizens. There has been no lessening of institutionalised discrimination. Twenty percent of the population are thus treated as second class citizens. This is especially galling for Palestinians working in the Israeli health service – the medical profession has a substantial presence of Palestinians. Good enough to save lives, but not good enough to share the same rights as most of their patients.
Nor has the Israeli government acted to defend the lives of prisoners. Other countries, including Iran, have released large number of prisoners to reduce the dangers of infection amongst a crowded, vulnerable group of people. There are over 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention. 700 of these already require medical attention for ailments. The Israeli authorities are adding to this, since the start of the outbreak in March a further 300 Palestinians have been arrested, including 48 children. The WHO/UN has called for prisoners to be released. 500 criminals have been released, but not Palestinians. In the time of the virus, imprisonment can be a death sentence.
Neither has the outbreak in Gaza resulted in the Israeli government lifting the siege to ensure all medical supplies can be received. According to the Gazan Ministry of Social Development, 70% of the population are food insecure. In the summer of 2019, Gaza’s Ministry of Health declared an “unprecedented” shortage of essential medicines, a situation not yet alleviated. Yet the Israeli government has made no moves to lessen its siege of Gaza.
There are also reports of Israeli disruption of Palestinian initiatives to address the outbreak. Israeli soldiers confiscated tents being used to establish clinics in the Jordan Valley. Palestinian volunteers disinfecting parts of east Jerusalem have been stopped by Israeli soldiers. Even in the face of a common threat from the virus, the occupying power acts against Palestinian self-organisation.
Regardless, the Israeli state remains dependent, in part, upon Palestinian workers’ labour power. In normal times, 120,000 Palestinians with work permits enter Israel every day to work. Tens of thousands enter without permits, tolerated for economic reasons. With the closure of much of the economy in Israel, many of these are no longer required. But the Israeli government has acted to allow 30,000 day labourers to stay in Israel for an extended period. In the construction industry these are two month permits, and in agriculture one month. This is unprecedented since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. For the Palestinians taking the risk, the dangerous practice at least offers some help with family finances. But in all likelihood, these “essential workers” contribution will not be honoured after the crisis. It also threatens to bring into the West Bank, the higher levels of infections experienced in the Israeli state.
Palestinian People’s Response
For their part, the Palestinian leadership have been energetic in their response to the outbreak. President Abbas declared a state of emergency on March 13, when there were 35 cases in the West Bank. Generally, the lock down in the West Bank has been very hard. Lacking the facilities of the Israeli health service, the possibility of a high percentage of fatalities had to be addressed. Equally, the high levels of population density in East Jerusalem and elsewhere creates the threat of higher levels of infection.
The Palestinians are very familiar with the conditions of curfew. Their resilience is also, in part, a product of the mutual aid amongst an oppressed people in dealing with the daily indignities of occupation. Hence the Palestinians response to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) imposition of lockdown has been supportive. This has also resulted in a more positive attitude to the PA in surveys conducted amongst Palestinians. But the lockdown does have a serious impact upon the economy in the West Bank.
Usually, on a daily basis, the labourers crossing into Israel bring back around sixty million shekels, worth around $20 million. This, coupled with losses of economic activity inside the West Bank, will hit the Palestinians hard. A three month shut-down from March to May is expected to lead to a 14% fall in the economy there.
Inside East Jerusalem, Palestinians have established the “Jerusalem Alliance”, made up of 82 institutions and clubs working on the ground to raise awareness of the virus. This has been in response to the failure of the Israelis to act. They have been involved in disinfecting shops, etc. They have started their own quarantine facilities, which is vital as the city is very overcrowded. Fund raising is underway to purchase more ventilators, etc. There is a shortage of hospital beds, with only 40 suitable for Covid-19 patients – this to serve 360,000 Palestinians.
In Gaza, to date, all cases have been from people returning, none from people who stayed. The lockdown has been strict. After the initial patients had been quarantined, no new entrants were allowed in until a new 1000 bed quarantine area was built. Amongst those prevented from entering were senior figures from Hamas. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. An uncontrolled epidemic amongst 2 million largely impoverished people would be catastrophic. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, they have 78 intensive care units (ICUs) and 63 ventilators – they need 140 ICUs and 108 ventilators. The discipline created in fourteen years of siege is valuable in these circumstances.
Inevitably, the determination and ingenuity of the besieged population has been put to good use. A home-made ventilator is being tested by the Health Ministry for wider production. There are a number of sewing factories, some newly operating and some converting to protective personal equipment (PPE) production. The Bahaa garment company produced one million masks in three weeks, all for the Israeli market. The Glia project is now producing medical shields using 3D printers. Previously the project had been producing tourniquets for first responders in the “Great March” demonstrations, and stethoscopes. Mohammad Attar, of the Glia Team, said “Because of global shortages, we are trying to provide a resupply with alternatives from the local market”.
It is extraordinary how Palestinians can put aside bitterness, and behave generously despite the continuing siege. The Unipal 2000 factory employs 800 workers across two shifts. It is producing 150,000 pieces of PPE a day. Some of this is going to Israel. Bashir Bawab, the owner of Unipal 2000, told “The New Arab” website, “Despite the siege of Gaza, we export these masks and protective clothes for the whole world without exception. We feel we are doing a humanitarian duty”.
But life in Gaza remains unbelievably bad. Unemployment is currently 50%. The workers in sewing factories, mostly women, can earn as little as $8 a day. To rent a two-bedroom apartment in Gaza costs around $250 a month. The Gaza municipality council, on 27th April, announced that they would reduce services offered to citizens. This would be gradual, as they wish to avoid a complete collapse of services. The cause of this was twofold – there has been a decline in bill-paying as more people lose earnings; and the existing budget has been exhausted by the unforeseen cost of sterilising public spaces.
There is some loosening of the lockdown. Restaurants and cafes reopened on 27th April, whilst maintain social distancing. It is anticipated this will allows two and a half thousand people to return to work.
In comparison, if all adaptions are made for difference in resources, it seems that the Palestinians are dealing with the outbreak more effectively than the Israelis. The seriousness of the outbreak in Israel is prompting a familiar response. The US and British governments are challenging the Chinese figures, in order to distract attention from their catastrophic failure to protect the population. The Israeli government has a low mortality rate, but it has had an unnecessarily large outbreak. Is it then a surprise to learn that Mossad’s director has claimed that the number of infections reported in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Iran are fraudulent? The more serious outbreaks emerging amongst regimes in the Gulf get overlooked, perhaps because these are regimes seeking to “normalise” relations with the Israeli state.
Trump’s Plan – The Threat of Implementation
Battling the virus is not the only defence the Palestinians need to mount. There is an immediate threat of the Israeli government annexing the settlements in the West Bank, and the Jordan Valley. These are internationally recognised as the territory of the Palestinians. At the time of writing, it appears that an agreement on a unity government for Israel has been reached between the Likud dominated bloc of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Blue and White bloc, led by Benny Gantz. The agreement is constitutionally remarkable, in so far as it involves a breach in seventy years of precedents. Both blocs will wield a veto, both leaders will take turns as Prime Minister, and ministers will rotate.
These novelties are such that there may be too much internal opposition to sustain such an accord. But significantly, there is one issue where there is no veto – that is on the proposed annexations where a date has been set for implementation, July 1st. Gantz has got Netanyahu to agree that the bill going to the Knesset will only be tabled if the US government agrees to the annexation, but Gantz has accepted Netanyahu proceeding with it subsequently. At a meeting with US Christian Evangelicals on April 27th, Netanyahu stated “The option of presenting an Israeli annexation bill is anchored in the coalition agreement”. He also stated that “Three months ago, the Trump peace plan recognised Israel’s rights to all of Judea and Samaria [The West Bank]. President Trump pledged to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Jewish communities there and in the Jordan Valley. In a couple of months from now, I’m confident that pledge will be honoured”. In December 2017, Trump broke with UN resolutions and international law to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On 25th March 2019, Trump again broke with UN resolutions and international law to recognise Israel’s annexation of Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. No wonder Netanyahu is confident.
To assess the threat it is necessary to examine the whole of Trump’s “Deal”.
The main outlines of the Deal
The Deal has been drawn up by the Trump administration, under the direction of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law. Kushner is strongly pro-Israel, having taken part in a kibbutz, and having made donations to settlement funds.
The Deal, “Peace to Prosperity”, has two parts, a political framework and an economic framework. The latter is less significant, and will be looked at in less detail. The political framework claims to resolve the whole Israel/Palestine conflict, and thus create the framework for a broader peace in the region. Given its parentage from a highly belligerent administration, it does no such thing. What it does do is outline terms for the Palestinians to surrender their national rights and become part of a new regional order, whereby there might be some amelioration of their poverty, if not their dispossession.
A Realistic Two State Solution?
The political framework commences with an assessment that the Oslo peace accords failed because they didn’t “create an effective path for neutralizing the kinds of crisis that emerged during the implementation of Oslo, including waves of terror and violence”. There are a number of references in the Plan to “terrorism” and “violence”. None of them appear to refer to the actions of the Israeli state. This despite the number of wars waged by the Israeli state since Oslo. All actions by Israel are posed as legitimate defence of its security, those by Palestinians as illegitimate and indefensible. Hence the failure of Oslo is supposedly a Palestinian failure.
The dual standards inherent in the document are evident. “A realistic solution would give the Palestinians all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel”. Imagine if the two nationalities were reversed in this statement! Apparently, Israel’s security is non-negotiable, but that of the Palestinians is not even an issue. As we will learn later, Israel is to be the guarantor of Palestine’s security.
“This vision creates a realistic two-state solution in which a secure and prosperous State of Palestine is living peacefully alongside a secure and prosperous State of Israel in a secure and prosperous region.” The Plan suggests it has this “vision” of all round splendour, which should sweep aside our justifiable scepticism of the actual measures the Plan contains. Yet there is absolutely no guarantee in the plan for the Palestinians to secure a state recognised by the US and Israel. This is an omission which did not prevent Boris Johnson from welcoming the plan as a “two-state solution”.
There is pretence of balance throughout the Plan, obviously important as the Palestinians were not involved in its drafting. Thus we read “It is inevitable that each side will support and oppose aspects of this Vision”. The Palestinians have rejected the Plan in its entirety, while Netanyahu’s government has supported it in its entirety. That really was “inevitable”.
“This Vision aims to achieve mutual recognition of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the State of Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, in each case with equal civil rights for all citizens within each state.” This is certainly not true of the Israeli State. There are no proposals in the Plan to alter the Israeli Nationality Law which defines citizenship as essentially Jewish, reinforcing 65 other laws which discriminate against Palestinian citizens in Israel, whether they be Muslim, Christian or any other faith. These laws are summarised on the Discriminatory Laws Database of Adalah, the independent human rights organisation and legal centre.
The Privacy of Security
“No government should be asked to compromise the safety and security of its citizens.” Unless it is the Palestinian government, which is exactly expected to outsource the security of Palestinians to the protection of the Israeli state. “This is especially true for the State of Israel, a country that since its establishment has faced, and continues to face, enemies that call for its annihilation”. If “regime change” is not synonymous with the destruction of a state, then the statement does not apply to Israel. The dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people has indeed created enemies of the Israeli state. Serious peace proposals either endorse its continuation alongside a genuine Palestinian state (based on 1967 borders), or envisage a state which includes the Palestinians as equal citizens (e.g. “democratic and secular state”). Any proposals based on dispossession and inequality will not bring peace to either party.
“Israel has also had the bitter experience of withdrawing from territories that were then used to launch attacks against it.” In the Plan it is only Israelis who have bitter experiences. It suggests the Palestinians have experiences of promoting terrorism, corruption, a lack of accountability and “a culture of incitement”. In reality, it is the Palestinians who have the experience of being driven from their homes, to then have the “bitter experience” of being bombed in their refugee camps. All territories the Palestinians have lost are then used to further exclude them.
Territory, Self-determination and Sovereignty
“Withdrawing from territory captured in a defensive war is a historical rarity. It must be recognised that the State of Israel has already withdrawn from at least 88% of the territory it captured in 1967.” If the war was defensive for the Israelis, then it was also that for the Palestinians, whose homes and communities were at stake. Nor is it so unusual to have withdrawal from conquered territory – the whole of the 20th century saw the withdrawal of colonising powers from territories they acquired. Israel’s supposed nemesis, Iran, withdrew from Iraqi territory at the end of the war despite having been invaded by Iraq.
The “withdrawal” after 67 is hardly convincing. Israeli continues to act as an occupying power in both West Bank and Gaza. Gaza may no longer have Israeli settlers, but it is under siege by land, sea and air. The West Bank may have semi-tolerated autonomy, but it is riven with Israeli occupation forces, and constantly being colonised by Israeli settlers.
“This Vision provides for the transfer of sizeable territory by the State of Israel – territory to which Israel has asserted valid legal and historical claims, and which are part of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people – which must be considered a significant concession.” No wonder Netanyahu insists that Trump has recognised Israel‘s right to “Judea and Samaria”. The “valid legal and historical claims” are claims in the terms of the old dictum “for a land without people, for a people without land”. This is Palestinian territory, and recognised to be so in international law and diplomacy. How is it a concession to “give” the Palestinians that which they own?
“Peace should not demand the uprooting of people – Arab or Jew – from their homes”. But apparently it does demand that they should not be able to return if they are Palestinian. Jewish people will be able to take up Israeli citizenship from across the world. It is only one party which is to remain uprooted and expropriated.
If there is no “uprooting” in the Plan, there is certainly a transfer of a type never raised in previous rounds of peace negotiations. There are 350,000 Palestinians in the “Triangle” region of Israel’s north. These are to be transferred to a future Palestinian territory. They will lose their Israeli citizenship, but still effectively be under Israeli control.
“Self-determination is the hallmark of a nation. This Vision is intended to maximise self-determination, while taking all relevant factors into account.” Self-determination is a qualitative right, you have it or not. For a nation to have this right it has to have the right to establish a separate state. This “Vision” statement confirms the continued dependency of the Palestinians. The Israeli nation has the right to self-determination, de facto and de jure. The Palestinians are to have an indefinite promise based on the US and Israeli governments assessment of Palestinian behaviour.
“Sovereignty is an amorphous concept that has evolved over time...The notion that sovereignty is a static and consistently defined term has been an unnecessary stumbling block in past negotiations. Pragmatic and operational concerns that effect security and prosperity are what is most important.” Again, this applies to no-one but the Palestinians. The sovereign character of the US or Israeli people is neither amorphous nor challenged. It is sustained in both cases by state apparatuses of considerable power, including the possession of nuclear weapons. Such sovereignty has not been a “stumbling block” in previous negotiations. Only the assertion of Palestinian sovereignty has tripped up those who refuse to recognise it.
The suggestion is that Palestinians should not concern themselves with grandiose notions of self-determination, sovereignty, or an independent state. They should recognise that “security and prosperity” are their appropriate priorities. The Israeli state is to provide their “security”, and international capital will provide some “prosperity”, or at least some seed-corn towards prosperity.
Refugees No More
“The Arab-Israeli conflict created both a Palestinian and Jewish refugee problem.” Perfect balance again, yet it is Palestinians exclusively filling the refugee camps. There is no justice for Palestinian refugees in the Plan. Jewish people, refugees or otherwise, will have the “right of return” to Israel. Palestinian refugees will not have an equal right.
The Plan claims that the Palestinian refugees “have collectively been cruelly and cynically held in limbo to keep the conflict alive”. This does not refer to the Israeli government’s refusal to let refugees return to their homes. No, apparently, “Their Arab brothers have the moral responsibility to integrate them into their countries as the Jews were integrated into the State of Israel”. The gendered language seems in keeping with the “vision”. The Plan does not explain why it follows that Palestinians should become Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, etc. Presumably because it is a tidy way to make the refugee problem disappear.
Demands “that the State of Israel agree to take in Palestinian refugees…” or compensation for refugees “have never been realistic and a credible funding source has never been identified”. It is not explained why Palestinian refugees are uniquely entitled to permanent exile from their homes. The obvious answer to the source of funding for refugee compensation is from those who benefitted by their expulsion. But here the compensation issue is raised just to divert attention from Israeli government obligations under United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 194. That resolution, in line with both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Geneva Convention, affirms that the Palestinian refugees have the right of return.
Outstanding issues of Jewish refugees, both compensation to Jewish refugees and compensation to the Israeli state for absorbing Jewish refugees are to be addressed through a separate international mechanism. Doubtless these claims are realistic, and a credible funding source obviously available. This dual standard for refugee claims continues the precedent set when Jewish refugees from Europe at the end of the Second World War had to be dealt with in a different international mechanism from the Palestinian refugees. This was on Israeli insistence, and led to the establishment of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The Plan is very definite in settling the Palestinian refugee claims. There will no right of return, or absorption, of any Palestinian refugee into the state of Israel. Refugees who have “already resettled in a permanent location … will not be eligible for resettlement, and will be eligible only for compensation.” That means refugees in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, etc., will all lose their refugee status without any choice. Except that is for 50,000 whom, over a ten year period, can be absorbed into individual Organisation of Islamic States countries.
There is no clarity on compensation, other than the US will have one of the two trustees, along with a Palestinian, on the forthcoming “Palestine Refugee Trust”. But there is clarity on those refugees living in states characterized as “hostile” towards Israel. Such refugees will only be allowed to enter Palestine if the Israeli government agrees to it. Palestinian refugee rights are further truncated as they lose their international status as refugees.
The Plan makes a complimentary reference to US donations to UNRWA, between 1950 and 2017 the US contributed approximately $6.5 billion to UNRWA. Perhaps this is not so much, given that the US is providing Israel with $3.8 billion of military aid every year? But more importantly, the reference does not take us up to the current US policy on UNRWA. It has withdrawn all funding, throwing the organisation into crisis. It is also lobbying for other governments to cease funding. It is incredible that such an administration can sign off a document accusing others of treating Palestinian refugees as “pawns”.
Nice and neatly, the hated institution of UNRWA will cease to exist with the signing of the agreement. And the refugee problem will disappear under a new interpretation of history by the victors.
Gaza as a Problem
“Gaza … is currently held hostage by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other terrorist organisations committed to Israel’s destruction”. The last free national elections held in Palestine in 2006 resulted in a majority for Hamas. Those elections were declared as fair by international observers, and endorsed by former US President Jimmy Carter. The democratic will of the Palestinian people was rejected by Israel and the US – states who have no right to determine who represents the Palestinian nation.
Of course, imperialism and colonialism have always defended national oppression by defining those who fight for liberation as “terrorists”. The refusal to recognise the need to negotiate with the Palestinians actual leaders is one of the most destructive features of the Plan. It is impossible to conceive of a representative Palestinian leadership which does not include the most popular political party.
There is not one word about the impact of the Israeli government’s 14 years of brutal siege on the people of Gaza.
Hamas are blamed for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There are no references to the human rights violations involved in the Israeli siege. The continuing military assaults upon Gaza, and the large number of deaths and casualties from Israeli snipers shooting peaceful protestors, do not rate a mention. The Plan expects Gaza to be completely disarmed, fully demilitarised and for Hamas to be excluded from any government in control of Gaza. Israel will remain fully armed, and in control of the entrances to Gaza, the water around it, and the air above it. Such a prescription will never be endorsed by the Palestinians. Whether the US government understands this or not is moot. We must assume that the US government believes “facts on the ground”; the mediation of Arab states (especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia), and continued Israeli occupation will solve the Gaza problem. They haven’t in the past and they won’t in the future.
The Palestinians are offered not a return to pre-1967 territory, in line with UNSC Resolution 242. Rather it is “territory reasonably comparable in size … in the spirit of UNSCR”. So, the Palestinians are to lose the fertile Jordan Valley, and the territory colonised by approximately 700,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In exchange, they will receive two chunks of desert in the Negev, adjacent to the Egyptian border, linked to but separate from Gaza. On one is to be built industrial development, the other to serve as accommodation and agriculture. An estranged and artificial community is offered in place of the lost areas of the West Bank. Overall the Palestinians will lose about a third of their current land, in return they receive about half as much in desert land.
The territory of the Palestinians will be a honeycomb of the West Bank, filled in parts by Israeli settlements with separate roads and constitutionally part of the Israeli state. The West Bank will be linked to Gaza by a tunnel and road. All “enclaves and access routes will be subject to Israeli security responsibility”, least there be doubts as to who has the final control. Israel will “retain sovereignty over territorial waters”, where presumably sovereignty is no longer an “amorphous” concept but one enforced by the cannons of the Israeli navy. The territory offered to the Palestinians is going to be disjointed, and subject to permanent Israeli domination.
Jerusalem – Whose Capital?
“The State of Israel has been a good custodian of Jerusalem ….. it has kept Jerusalem open and secure.” Not for Palestinians, on the contrary, settlements have been sustained by force and closure. Numerous Palestinian homes have been demolished, and Palestinian rights have been curtailed.
“Jerusalem should be a city that unites people and should always remain open to worshippers of all religions.” It is not possible to unite people by ignoring the equal claim of Palestinians to the city as their capital city.
In the Plan the status of Jerusalem is no longer subject to UN resolutions 181 and others. Instead, it is subject to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 of the United States. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6 2017 ends the matter. There will only be one security force in Jerusalem, that of the Israeli state. The separation wall – twice as high as the Berlin Wall and four times as long – will remain in place. The whole of the Jerusalem will be under the Israeli municipality. A token capital for the Palestinians is proposed outside of East Jerusalem proper, which, generously, the Palestinians will be allowed to call Al Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
“Every country spends a very significant sum of money in its defence from external threats. The State of Palestine will not be burdened with such costs, because it will be shouldered by the State of Israel.” Not entirely one sided, as there is also “the aspiration that the Palestinians will be responsible for as much of their internal security as possible, subject to the provisions of the Vision”. The “vision” is the complete disarmament of Gaza, and the Palestinian police force only having access to light weapons. And to avoid any misunderstanding, “The State of Palestine shall be fully demilitarised and remain so”. Under the armed guardianship of people who have dispossessed them, the Palestinians will be defenceless.
Nor will they be able to plan and build freely in their own territory. Zoning and planning in border areas, “will be subject to the State of Israel’s overriding security responsibility”. Given the honeycombed character of their territory, the Israeli state will “border” large numbers of Palestinian communities.
Regulated crossings into the new Palestinian territory will be monitored by the Israeli state. The Israeli state will have veto rights on what enters. As the Palestinians will not be given a similar veto, this means the occupation effectively continues. All that will be lacking is the current legal recognition of occupation.
The Israeli government is to retain large numbers of Palestinian prisoners of war and conscience in Israeli confinement. Excluded from any prisoner swaps are those the Israeli authorities deem to have committed murder, attempted murder, committed conspiracy to commit murder, or are Israeli citizens. For their part Hamas must return all Israeli citizens and remains, unconditionally.
The inequality of power, and hence terminology, defines the outcome. Israelis involved in the murder of Palestinian citizens, through military or police actions, suffer no penalty. Palestinians defending their country, or advancing their freedom struggle, will remain political prisoners in the Israeli state.
Foundations of a Palestinian state?
The US and Israeli governments are given a veto on the establishment of a Palestinian state. Until they believe that the Palestinians shall have complied with all the “terms and conditions of the vision”, recognition will be denied. The same vision imposes no restraints, or measures, upon the present or future behaviour of the Israeli government. And, of course, the Palestinians have no veto anywhere in this process. What is being offered to the Palestinians is a protectorate, not an independent state.
The vision wants the Arab states to “normalise their relations” with the state of Israel. This is not just a matter of peace treaties, like those signed by Egypt and Jordan with Israel. Arab states will be expected to oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Arab states are to disarm Hezbollah, as well as Hamas. And, it expects Arab states to join the war mongering against Iran.
The Plan proposes closer ties between Israel and the Gulf Co-operation Council. It expects Palestine to join other Arab countries and Israel in a new security organisation in the Middle East. The drive is for a US peace in the region, or more properly, new belligerent conditions under US dominance.
One sign of the future being offered for Palestinians is the action of the Egyptian government which is constructing a steel wall along the 14 kilometres of the border with Gaza. This will be seven metres high, and be equipped with electronic sensors. It will run parallel, 8 metres apart, to the concrete wall already in place there.
Conditions During Negotiations
Given all the foregoing, it seems strange that the Plan sets out conditions to obtain during negotiations. But it does, starting with expecting the Israeli state to restrain their behaviour in areas of the West Bank, “that are not … to be part of the State of Israel”. Supposedly, at least for parts of the West Bank, this would mean no new settlements, no extension of enclaves, and no demolitions of Palestinian homes and properties. Scepticism is possible here. But as new settlements can be made in areas that are to be annexed, there will inevitably be an increase in enclaves. Israel will also be permitted to continue demolishing Palestinian homes and structures if it regards them as illegal, a security risk, of for “acts of terrorism”.
Palestinian behaviour is more heavily circumscribed. They cannot join any international organisations without the permission of Israel. They must abandon all actions against Israel in international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice, etc. They must take no actions against Israeli or US citizens before Interpol, or any other national legal system. They must “immediately terminate” the Prisoner and Martyr Payments. On this last issue, the Israeli state still will continue its pension payments to veteran soldiers and dependents – only one nation’s soldiers and dependents are to be cared for.
The Economic Plan
The economic section of the Plan claims to be ambitious. Within ten years it aims to double Palestinian GDP; create one million jobs; reduce unemployment to “nearly single digits” and reduce Palestinian poverty rates by 50 per cent. All of these are desirable, but the Palestinian economy has been repressed and ruined by the Israeli occupation. The starting point for progress is very low. As Israeli tutelage has created economic stagnation, why will its continuation lead to achieving even the relatively modest goals of the Plan.
The economic plan is a routine template which has been “drawn from private sector proposals, government planning documents, independent analysis, and the work of previous studies for organisations such as the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the Office of the Quartet, and others”. Once again, there is no Palestinian contribution here. The best that can be said is that even if the ideological elements are removed, it promises a moderate series of projects to reduce poverty, in exchange for the Palestinians abandoning their national rights and claim to sovereignty.
Some of the framing is completely ideological. “This vision has been developed to reduce overtime the Palestinians’ dependence on aid from the international community”. The Palestinian’s problem is not national oppression, rather that they have an unhealthy case of welfare dependency. The morality of the “Vision” is that of the nineteenth century – are the Palestinians a deserving or underserving poor?
The outline of the economic plan is $50 billion new investment over 10 years. This will entail some investments to address damaged and under-developed infrastructure. Apparently this will “unleash the economic potential of the Palestinian people”. There will be some educational, vocational, and welfare initiatives which are going to “empower the Palestinian people to realise their ambitions”, which must then be fairly modest. And finally, some standard IMF structural reforms which will “enhance Palestinian governance”.
Free Trade will be encouraged via a facility to be established in Jordan. Gaza will not be allowed a port “for the foreseeable future”. Entry point facilities for Palestine will be established in Haifa and Ashdod, “without prejudice to the State of Israel’s undisputed sovereignty at both these locations”. Port facilities will also be available at Aqaba, Jordan. And five years following the Plan, and “subject to the satisfaction of State of Israel’s security…..”, there may be an artificial island built off the coast of Gaza for trade and an airport for small aircraft. The latter will be in waters under “Israeli sovereignty”.
Even the big number “$50 billion in investment over 10 years” has to be placed in proportion. This is an assumed, not guaranteed, investment. Further, it covers investment in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel as well as Palestine. The average of $5 billion per year for ten years, split between five countries, should be compared with current, depressed, Palestinian GDP which was $14.62 billion in 2018. The economic Plan, were it to be ever implemented, would result in some modest economic increase at the cost of the greater political and economic subordination of Palestine to imperialism.
Deal or No Deal?
The deal has been rejected by all Palestinian organisations and leaders of repute. It has been drawn up entirely without Palestinian involvement. It is not the result of negotiations, nor is it a serious starting point for them. It will bring neither peace nor prosperity to the Palestinians. The launch of the economic proposals, at a workshop in Manama, Bahrain in June 2019 was a shambles. The press launch of the political proposals at the White House on January 28th, this year, had no Palestinian presence.
The only Arabs present at the White House that day, when Trump and Netanyahu unveiled their plans were Ambassadors and officials from three Gulf States who were told they were invited to a closed meeting. Nor were there present representatives from the Quartet (except the US). Exclusion and deception are consistent in the deal and its public promotion.
Hanan Ashrawi, PLO Executive Committee member, said “Israel is also exploiting the blind ideological support it has in the White House to quickly reach the point of no return. Israel’s actions are unravelling the practicality and applicability of the two state formula. They are etching a future of perpetual conflict and suffering while also threatening the core and relevance of international law to global peace and security”.
Now, with the declaration of the Israeli government that it intends to impose the Plan’s annexation proposals, it has become the second imminent threat to the Palestinian people, after Covid-19. The question is will there be enough international opposition to thwart the annexations proposed for July 1st?
Generally, the Plan has been rejected by the “international community”, be that defined as the UN, EU, BRICS, etc. UN Special Envoy for Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, said on April 23rd, “...annexation will be a devastating blow to the two state solution … the dangerous proposal of annexation by Israel threatens efforts to advance regional peace”. EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that the EU “…does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank” and that it will “…closely monitor the situation and its broader implications and will act accordingly”. Whether the latter refers to withdrawing from giving Israel favoured economic status is unclear. The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, nearly 50% of Israel’s imports come from the EU, and a third of Israel’s exports go the EU. The German and French governments have both issued statements against annexation. The UK’s mission to the UN has stated that “…any annexation would violate international law and jeopardise the peace process”.
The obvious concern is that this opposition will fold and accept the new “facts on the ground” in Palestine. This is evidently the calculation that Netanyahu appears to be making. That would not be irrational. Last week, Joe Biden, the Democrats nominee for President, stated that he would not reverse the US Embassy move to Jerusalem, despite Trump tearing up international law, and decades of US foreign policy.
A New Opposition?
But the reckless character of the annexation is creating new and very serious opposition. On April 3rd, an organisation “Commanders for Israel’s Security” published ads against the proposed annexation; this was signed by 220 former Israeli Generals and equivalents (security agency officials). Three of these, Ami Ayalon, retired admiral and former director of Shin Bet; Tamir Pardo, former director of Mossad; and Gadi Shamni, former commander of Israeli Defence Force Central Command, published an article in Foreign Policy, on April 23rd. Their argument is that annexation creates a threat against all proposals for a two state solution, and endangers Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. They write, “Risking all that for the annexation of territory over which Israel already has full security control makes no sense. Both Israel and the United States needs to consider the damage done”. They also express concern about the relations between Israel and the PA, “…a Knesset vote on annexation might shred the residual legitimacy of security coordination”.
Similar concerns were raised by 130 US Jewish leaders when they published an open letter on April 6th. 11 members of US Congress issued a public statement on April 8th opposing the move. It is likely that such displays of opposition amongst the Israeli state’s natural supporters will grow significantly before July 1st. If so, there is still a chance the anticipated Israeli coalition government will fall apart.
In the Arab world the most notable opposition is from King Abdullah of Jordan. He is reported to be pressing the Egyptian government to oppose. Their opposition would carry weight, given their treaties with Israel. The Arab League held a meeting on April 30th, and issued a statement of opposition which stated annexation would be a serious violation of international law. “The implementation of plans to annex any part of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 … and the lands on which Israeli settlements are standing represents a new war crime added to the Israeli record full of brutal crimes against the Palestinian people”.
None of these are adequate in themselves, but any increase in such developments will offer some hope for the Palestinian cause. Of course, time is short and Netanyahu is well aware that it is far from inevitable that Trump will be returned to office in November. Pressed at home by three inconclusive elections; a real threat of criminal indictment; and the potential loss of his key US ally, Netanyahu has nothing to lose by going for broke, and everything to gain. If only the “friends” and “allies” of the Palestinians would show such audacity.
It is vital that the anti-war and pro-Palestinian movements in Britain do not slacken their support. If the British government is expressing some reservations now then do not forget that Boris Johnson’s immediate response was to welcome Trump’s proposals. Equally, as reported in the Middle East Monitor, 24th April, a Freedom of Information request revealed that in an email to the Scottish government from the British government there is a redrafting of British government policy. The redraft moves away from recognising Palestine; away from recognising progress made by the PA; lowering the value of the PA being extended over Gaza; and against being a “leading donor to the PA” in future. Clearly the British government, post Brexit, is moving ever closer to US foreign policy goals.
It is entirely conceivable that the Tories will, in due course, “accept” if not “support” the annexation. We must press the Tory government, and the opposition parties, not least Starmer’s Labour, to hold the line against the threatened annexation of Palestinian territory. We can all contribute to common initiatives which create such pressure. The Palestinians need our support, now as much as ever before.