(L-r) Moderator Hasan Yucel, Mark Perry and Khaled Elgindy. (PHOTO COURTESY SETA FOUNDATION)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2020, pp. 59-60
Prognostication is never exact, but regional experts speaking at Washington, DC think tanks in the days following the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s “peace deal” for Israel and Palestine expressed doubt that the policies set forth in the plan could be undone—especially if the president secures a second term in office.
“They are burning the bridge back to a two-state solution,” Middle East Institute senior fellow Khaled Elgindy said at a Feb. 11 SETA Foundation event. “They’re not only blowing it up, but they’re ensuring that no one can rebuild it. This is a scorched earth policy.”
“If Trump has another four years and Israel starts implementing this on the ground, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that the world and the region will acquiesce to that new reality—and that is precisely what [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [presidential adviser Jared] Kushner are banking on,” Elgindy continued.
Trump’s plan isn’t introducing biased mediation into the conflict, but is rather placing the pro-Israel U.S. position into high gear, he said. “There is precedent for everything that Trump is doing, he’s just simply doing it in its most extreme form,” he commented. “It’s not trying to change the reality on the ground, it is trying to consecrate the reality on the ground as the final solution, as the permanent solution by getting rid of the rules of the game to begin with.”
One major but overlooked facet of the deal is the proposed transfer of villages home to a quarter of a million Palestinian citizens of Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Speaking at the National Interest Foundation’s (NIF) Feb. 12 event, University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami expressed alarm that the U.S. is endorsing a plan to strip people of their citizenship and forcibly transfer their land to another country. “It’s really extraordinary to think that there would be an American plan—the leader of the free world—proposing the transfer of territories with populations to another state mainly because of their ethnicity.”
Palestinian citizens of Israel do not want to surrender their citizenship, Telhami said. “They support a Palestinian state, they want Palestinian freedom, but they don’t want to be transferred under the Palestinian Authority [PA].”
Elgindy accused the PA of failing to effectively counter Trump’s plan. “It’s not at all clear that Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership has a strategy for confronting this very serious challenge other than registering opposition in various international forums,” he said. It appears the PA’s “non-strategy” mostly amounts to waiting out the Trump presidency, he added.
Palestinian journalist Said Arikat told the NIF audience that two things the Palestinians must do is “end their silly [internal] divisions” and cease security coordination with the Israeli occupation. “Security coordination is for one thing, and that is to prevent Palestinians from fighting back, resisting the occupation,” he said.
Independent author and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry argued that the deal makes manifest long-metastasizing divisions within the American Jewish community. “The primary conflict is between Israelis and American Jews,” he said at the SETA event. The majority of U.S. Jews, he added, increasingly see Israel as an “imperialistic and racially-based” society, causing them “to turn away from their previous loyalty to Israel.”
Perry said Israeli officials told him that they “very purposely cultivated their standing inside the evangelical Christian community” as a way to counterbalance growing Jewish disaffection with the state. “I got the sense the Israelis believed that Jewish Americans, because of their progressive values were going to be at some point in the future an inconstant partner of Israel and a critic of what Israel was doing.”