Sep 17, 2018

Trump's Israeli–Palestinian plan likely to heighten Mideast tensions

A Palestinian man riding a horse and waving a Palestinian flag during a protest along the Israeli fence East of Gaza City. Photo: Nidal ALwaheidi/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This year's UN General Assembly session promises to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to center stage. The Trump administration's recent decisions on Jerusalem and withdrawal of funding for the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, together with a possible announcement at the UN of its "deal of the century," indicate that it is attempting to remove key issues for the Palestinians from the negotiating table.

The big picture: The U.S.’ apparent strategy is to decide a priori the fate of Jerusalem and refugees in Israel's favor, and to force the Palestinians to accept an inferior deal. Whether the U.S. unveils the details of its plan during the UNGA session or not, it’s likely to exacerbate tensions in the region.

The U.S. seems to want to bypass the Palestinian National Authority by forging close ties with other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, in the hopes that they can be relied upon to bring the Palestinians around. This strategy assumes that Arab states would be able to do so, and that they’d be willing to accept a territorial deal that excludes East Jerusalem.

But the fact remains that the parameters of this deal are perceived to be so inferior, indeed insulting, that no Palestinian or Arab leader would accept it. Visits by presidential advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner in recent months have underscored this fact. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently revealed, for example, that both he and the Jordanian leadership rejected a U.S. proposal for a confederation of Palestinian areas.

The international community seems to be ignoring that the majority of the new Palestinian generation have lost hope in the two-state solution and shifted their focus to demanding civic and political rights and raising the costs of the occupation. The most likely outcome is a continuation of the status quo, while the ongoing construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — now home to more than 650,000 settlers — forecloses prospects for a two-state solution.

The bottom line: The international community will have to come to grips with the death of the two-state solution. It is no longer taboo to talk about alternatives, including variations of the one-state solution. That presents a whole new set of problems as the Jewish and Palestinian populations in areas under Israel’s control approach parity.

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former foreign minister of Jordan.

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