NOTE: This is an expanded version of a piece published by Middle East Eye recently.
Though Pres. Trump’s Middle East “deal of the century” hasn’t been publicly announced, elements of the plan have dribbled out via leaks in the media and from Palestinian leaders. In the latest bit of Chinese water torture, Pres. Mahmoud Abbas told a visiting Israeli Peace Now delegation that when he met with Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, they asked him if he would consider creating a confederation with Jordan.
In doing this, Abbas showed Trump’s hand in terms of what he was offering the Palestinians. Though there have been suggestions that the U.S. was proposing a Palestinian “statelet”—with its capital in Abu Dis, a suburb of East Jerusalem–on West Bank lands not controlled by Israel;, the confederation proposal offers even less. Palestine would not be a state at all. Rather, it would be subdivision of the Jordanian state. Any rights or powers it had would derive from what would be offered by King Abdullah. As the majority of Jordanian citizens are already Palestinian in origin, the King would clearly want to keep a very tight rein on this new Palestinian entity. That certainly doesn’t bode well for Palestinians, who expected a state of their own.
After Abbas leaked the story, Jordan itself shot down the proposal. It wanted nothing to do with solving Israel’s problems by relieving it of responsibility for addressing the issue of Palestinian self-determination.
The “beauty” of this proposal from the U.S.-Israel perspective is that they could then turn around and label Gaza as Palestine. That kills the “two birds” of the West Bank and Gaza with one stone. But the proposal would not offer Gaza full statehood. It too would be associated in some undefined way with Egypt, rather than truly independent. To sweeten the offer, the peace plan reportedly calls for building a new airport and seaport. Not in Gaza itself, but rather in the Egyptian Sinai. This would further Gazan dependence on Egypt. Not to mention offering the Egyptian junta another gold mine to rob in its ongoing kleptocratic enterprise.
Since such proposals have been floated before by Israel and presumably U.S. interlocutors, Abbas was likely not surprised or blindsided by the Kushner offer. The PA leader replied that he would be interested if the confederation included Israel. This was the kiss of death to the proposal, since Israel would never agree to such a concept. Its leaders have never agreed to any limitations on Israeli sovereignty and would never do so.
Kushner’s Plan to Destroy International Consensus Over Palestine
Kushner understands that the Palestinians and some of its supporters in the Arab world reject his proposals outright. He understands that there isn’t a chance in hell that they will agree to them since they offer the Palestinians virtually nothing of what they’ve sought for decades.
Instead of taking the approach of former U.S. administrations in attempting to sweeten the pot by adding incentives that might interest the Palestinians, he’s taking the exact opposite tack. He’s offering the Palestinians literally nothing and telling them that if they say No, he’ll offer even less than nothing (if that’s even possible).
That’s why Pres. Trump announced last week that he was cancelling a $200-million payment to support the PA. It’s also why he declared the U.S. was ending financial support for UNWRA, the international relief agency supporting Palestinian refugees, which amounted to $350-million, nearly one-quarter of the agency’s budget. This is a deliberate attempt to destroy the main international body founded to tend to the humanitarian needs of nearly 5-million Palestinian refugees spread over five nations.
Further, the U.S. has announced that it rejects the entire concept of Palestinian refugee status. It does this on behalf of Israel, which seeks to solve the issue of the Right of Return by magically disappearing over 4-million Palestinians who are not living survivors of the Nakba, but rather descendants of such survivors. Indeed, an Israeli report indicated that none other than Bibi Netanyahu himself was the instigator of this proposal. He sold it to Trump, who incorporated it into his own political agenda. Thus it is Netanyahu who is wagging the tail of the dog, Donald Trump.
Contrary to false claims by Israeli and U.S. leaders, international refugee protocols recognize not only those individuals who themselves were directly expelled from their home; it also recognizes their offspring as refugees. In other words, this is an attempt to destroy the decades-old international consensus around refugee status.
Doing so would reduce the number of Palestinian refugees to 750,000 and thereby solve a major Israeli problem. Israel is petrified that the 5-million Palestinian refugees (or some portion of them) might someday win the right to resettle in their former ancestral homes inside Israel. This, of course, would destroy the concept of a Jewish state, since Israel would become a majority Palestinian state.
If Israel reduces the number to less than a million and they are all funneled to a Palestinian entity in the West Bank or Gaza, this resolves numerous inconveniences for Israel: no more refugees, no more UNWRA, no more Right of Return. Neve Gordon writes in Al Jazeera that such a plan involves nothing less than the “erasure of the Palestinian people.”
If Trump’s deal of the century fails, as seem likely, it will have meant the failure of his own plan, but also the two-state solution, which has been the basis of U.S. policy for the past 30 years. That leaves only one viable solution: a single state incorporating all the Israelis and Palestinians between the Jordan and Mediterranean.
There is a growing (but still disputed) consensus that a one-state solution is the only remaining plan that can fully resolve the outstanding claims by both parties and bring a measure of justice as well. However, very few if any have tried to outline what such a single state might look like: how would it be governed, how would power be shared?
Former Israeli Knesset speaker, Avrum Burg, has presented such a proposal in a new article in The Prospect Magazine. He bases his single-state plan on a federal model. In other words, just as the United States has federal and state governments which share power, so Israel-Palestine would have a federal level and two cantons (or as he calls them, “nations”) of Palestinians and Jews. Here is his outline of how it would work:
Think of our political structure as a building with three levels. The first storey—the foundation—of the new building contains the principles upon which the entire future state will be built. Every person between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is entitled to the same equal rights—personal, political, economic and social…Regardless of your citizenship, Israeli or Palestinian, you will be bound by the same constitutional framework and principles and entitled to the same fundamental liberties, without discrimination based on ethnicity, faith or national affiliation.
The middle level of our building will be divided between the tenants: an agreed-upon, logical division and separation between the two self-identifying collective groups in the form of two self-governing polities. There will be different ways of splitting things up—with, say, more or less devolution to individual regions or cities, and more or less regard paid to where Arabs and Jews actually live, as opposed to the historic green line. But all of this is second order, and should be soluble, once the principle of self-government built atop of shared and universal rights of citizenship is agreed.
Each self-governing community (or “nation”) will express the respective aspirations and values of the Israelis and the Palestinians, in its own allotted space and as it sees fit in accordance with its own traditions. Like individual American states or the Scottish nation within the UK, each community will be free to pursue its own domestic social policy…[and] will have some room to conduct its own relations with the rest of the world.
But we cannot stop building there. Because the hostilities and violent frictions of the past could return at any time, constant co-ordination between the tenants is essential. And so a third storey will have to be constructed for that purpose—a superstructure, joining both our polities in a federation. The federation of Israel and Palestine will direct its attention both inward and outward. Using the powers accorded to it by the twin communities of Israel and Palestine, the government of the central federation will also have the muscle to be the back-stop enforcer of the constitutional system…
In some ways, this model takes us all the way back to the bi-national state proposals of Martin Buber and Judah Magnes’ Brit Shalom, first offered over a century ago. Ben Gurion, a wily politician, successfully smothered this idealistic project under his vision of Israel as a sovereign state of the Jewish people. This in turn, set up the impossible contradiction of a state reserved for a single religion, but shared with peoples of many religions, and calling itself a democracy.
There is another single state model: a state structured more or less as the current Israeli state is. A unitary state in which all ethnic and religious groups are represented within a single governing structure. Of course, such a state would be far different from the current one since Palestinians would likely be a majority and Jews a minority. It’s likely that neither community would be politically homogeneous. There would be more than one party representing each community. Thus, they would have to create governing coalitions that crossed religious boundaries.
Given the fears of Israeli Jews becoming a minority in their own land, one understands why Burg proposes a federal/bi-national model. It guarantees a significant level of autonomy to what would become the Jewish minority. It grants them self-governing powers which would permit them to codify their own religious, ethnic, cultural and political protocols. It would protect these from encroachment by the state (federal level). This would assuage fears of Jews being overwhelmed in this new political system. They would not lose their uniqueness nor would they lose their political voice.
Of course, this is still a huge remove from the status quo, which most Israelis find tremendously comfortable. For some of us, it may be hard to see what could shake Israel out of such complacency. But remember that citizens of East German and the Soviet Union probably felt the same way before their own political systems crumbled. Those states probably seemed permanent and immovable to their citizens and much of the world.
The only thing that’s certain is that nations whose societies are based on profound injustice tend to disintegrate over time due to the internal tensions and conflict involved in maintaining such contradictions. When they disintegrate they don’t dissolve into thin air. Rather, they transform into some new form, not necessarily perfect, but presumably a more stable and just one. The same will happen to Israel eventually.