The Trump impeachment trial and the China coronavirus pandemic seems to have diverted the public eye from another important development. The US President Donald Trump, with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his side, unveiled a peace plan for the Middle East which the latter called the ‘deal of the century’. Trump, on the back foot after damning revelations by former National Security Advisor John Bolton potentially hurting his defence in the impeachment trial, held a crowded press conference in the White House on Tuesday, saying this was the last opportunity for the birth of a Palestinian State. However Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejecting the plan, called it the ‘fraud of the century.’ Notably, ambassadors of three Arab States, namely, UAE, Oman and Bahrain, endorsed the plan with their presence at the Trump press conference. With the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a Jew himself, involved closely in the peace process,
Trump called the plan ‘the last opportunity’ for lasting peace in the Middle East. However, the plan is so one-sided that its rejection by the Palestinian leadership is not surprising. It calls for a two-State solution but only in name while giving away Israel large parts of the West Bank it now occupies illegally. Besides, Israel is given undivided control of Jerusalem as its capital. Security control of Israel over the entire Jordan Valley, West Bank and Jerusalem will be absolute. While Palestinians will have to wait four years for the contours of the promised separate State to emerge, Israel is set to begin annexing the West Bank settlements from next week itself. Palestinians might get for their independent state only if they comply with other provisions in the plan in the next four years. There was no direct or indirect contact between Israel and Palestinians before the unveiling of the ‘deal of the century’. That conversation between the two bitterest of adversaries is supposed to begin only after Israel has gained control over the disputed lands. With Trump already shifting the US Embassy to Jerusalem a few months ago, Israel’s total control over the undivided holy city under the peace plan is not surprising. The unveiling of the plan was clearly meant to bolster both Trump in his hour of crisis as also help Netanyahu, facing a tough poll, after the last two polls which both times threw up hung Parliaments. Facing corruption charges, Netanyahu would hope that voters are suitably impressed by the peace plan he had got the US to endorse to give him a clear majority. Doubtless, the Trump plan strengthens the Israeli position all the way while emasculating the Palestinian ambition for a strong, separate and sovereign State with control over its own destiny. There were somewhat muted protests against it in Gaza and other places. But this may change should major Arab powers protest Israel’s annexation of West Bank and the Jordan Valley, endangering Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan. It will be hard to stop a gung-ho Netanyahu, however, from going ahead with the annexation of the disputed lands ahead of the March election. Without getting Palestinians on board, Trump was wrong to believe that his ‘deal of the century’ stood any chance of success. The chances of the Trump plan proving to be dead on arrival are greater than its survival in the current form.