Why demise of Deal of the Century might be welcomed by all parties

Many Arab countries were spared the consequences of clashing with Washington as bits and pieces of the deal were leaked.
Sunday 23/06/2019
Grudges old and new. A Palestinian woman looks out of the window of a building, damaged by an Israeli air strike, last November. (AFP)
Grudges old and new. A Palestinian woman looks out of the window of a building, damaged by an Israeli air strike, last November. (AFP)

The failure to form a government — intentionally or unintentionally — spared Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the embarrassment of having to take a stand on the so-called “Deal of the Century.” It saved him from having to face right-wing and left-wing voters who opposed him and were waiting for his acceptance of the deal to reveal the extent of what they called his playing with Israel’s security. Netanyahu has often claimed to be committed to Israel’s security and said he would not make concessions to the Palestinians at any cost.

His stratagem of denying his opponents an opportunity to bring him down also succeeded in absorbing US anger. The Israelis told the Americans there was nothing they could do about the situation and that it wasn’t really due to lack of political will.

The result is that we have another postponement of a deal that was not prepared well and was based on dictated decisions and that revealed how ignorant advisers of US President Donald Trump were about the nature of the conditions in the field.

The issue was much more complicated than what the naive enthusiasm of some advisers could take care of and cannot be reduced to an opportunity for a US administration to leave its mark on history, especially when this administration failed to properly decode many regional conflicts.

Some Arab countries expressed reservations since the first moments when White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, the American envoy to the Middle East, travelled to the region and started the auction process about the right tools needed to solve the Palestinian issue.

Arab experts who met with the men said the latter needed years to grasp the dimensions of the conflict before even talking about the means needed for its solution. Both Kushner and Greenblatt seemed drawn to imaginary ideas and wanted to implement them on the ground by force.

Many Arab countries were relieved by the initiative’s qualities because they were sufficient to spoil the whole deal. So those countries were spared the consequences of clashing with Washington as bits and pieces of the deal were leaked.

The Arab regimes were sure the deal was not going to pass easily for Israeli reasons and not Palestinian ones. Israel was lacking another Yitzhak Rabin or a Menachem Begin, who would make sacrifices in exchange for strategic deals. The volatile regional atmosphere and the changing international balance of power were not conducive to accepting a forced unfair settlement.

The manner the US team dealt with the issue was unproductive and contrary to historical experience. There was also the possibility that the decline of the Arab position and the deterioration of the Palestinian unity played an important role in the boldness that led Trump into thinking about the plan, taking advantage of his absolute certainty that it would be possible to pass the arrangements he had prepared without high costs. He apparently believed that his approach as a brilliant salesman capable of selling even rotten goods was sufficient to make everybody swallow the deal.

The Arab side was not thrilled about Trump’s vision for a political settlement. Therefore, Arab countries of influence ignored what transpired of the deal here and there and whatever was leaked. Some of them publicly announced that they knew nothing of this deal and tried to create distance between them and the project or disavow it.

The consultations with some involved parties did not address the heart of the peace process and purposely sought to avoid it by bringing up projects that would create a different reality in the region, where Israel stands to play a central role, and this before dealing with painful legacies.

It looked like there was a plan for the gradual implementation of provisions of the deal but Arab countries have absorbed the lesson. If the conference takes place and is attended by some of them, it does not mean they consent — explicitly or implicitly — to the deal because the first parties concerned with the deal — the Palestinian people — have declared their total rejection of the deal and insisted on exposing the risks involved.

The Trump administration naively assumed that the weakness of the Palestinian side was sufficient to make the latter accept any type of settlement, no matter how shaky.

The administration, however, was surprised to see weakness turn into a moral force and that the state of divisiveness among the Palestinian forces was shrinking and could disappear if the Americans persist in their promotion of the so-called deal.

It is very possible that rejecting the deal would strengthen the Palestinian body. The Palestinians realise that, assuming the Israeli side accepts the terms of the deal, various provisions of this proposal would be disastrous for the Palestinian side. Therefore, no Palestinian force would be able to accept it.

Some Arab circles realised this paradox and did not enter into political arguments of acceptance or rejection and relied on the element of time, which might be sufficient to abort the deal.

When elections are over in Israel, Netanyahu and other rivals will start anew the process of forming a government. By that time, Trump will be getting ready to start his campaign for a second term and will probably not risk to officially introduce the deal. The beginnings of the process and its early results do not bode well; a timing mistake might cost him his political future.

The Deal of the Century is destined to die — to the tremendous relief of the Israelis and the Arabs — because that would give them an opportunity to avoid the responsibility of the deal’s political failure. In that case, the ebb and flow of the Palestinian cause will be starting a new phase.