Deal of the century another Nakba for Palestinians

ALI ABO REZEG
Published

The deal of the century will not end the years-long conflict between Palestine and Israel but instead trigger another crisis like the Nakba

The first official usage for the term "deal of the century" in this specific context dates back to last April when Egyptian coup leader and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said during a press conference in Washington alongside U.S. President Donald Trump that "we are totally ready to give a helping hand to President Trump to accomplish the deal of the century."

Since then, the deal of the century has been in circulation in dozens of Arab and Israeli media outlets, but they have yet to reveal what it exactly contains. Instead, the outlets just keep on confirming, based on leaks, that it would be a comprehensive regional peace process aimed at ending the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict – a peace process that would bring Saudi, Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders together to the negotiating table.

In a surprise move, Egypt took the lead during the last few months and supervised intensified talks convened between the two Palestinian rivals, Hamas and Fatah, in Cairo before the Egyptian move culminated in signing a landmark reconciliation deal to end a decade-long rift between Gaza and Ramallah.

Following the agreement, Egypt vowed to spare no effort to make it succeed and decided to send a delegation of observers to the coastal enclave to watch the Ramallah-based unity government assume its responsibilities in Gaza, which had been living under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for around a decade.

Nothing changed in the Egyptian leadership, which came to power after the 2013 coup – it is the same leadership that tightened the siege imposed on Gaza days after it assumed power, the same leadership that shut tunnels established for humanitarian reasons to allow the entry of food and medicine from underground, the same leadership that did not care about the supposedly big regional role for Egypt and stood by, watching and doing nothing during the 50-day Israeli assault carried out against innocent civilians in Gaza. It is the same regime that is still jailing people over charges of cooperation with Hamas, which, since 2013, has been classified as a terrorist group in Egyptian courts.

The Egyptian move toward Palestinian reconciliation, which was preceded by improving relations with Hamas, was not a lucid Egyptian move at all, it was a move made following a request, most importantly, at the behest of the U.S. leadership, which was secretly keen to accomplish the deal of the century. Hence, this move came with a view to neutralize Hamas's probable rejection of the deal or at least to empower the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas to seize control of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which would somehow strengthen the Palestinian position at the negotiating table. Additionally, such an effort from Egypt could be read as an attempt by Sissi to escape domestic economic and political setbacks by making a symbolic achievement in the Arab world.

But why would such a peace process, the so-called deal of the century, constitute another Nakba for Palestinians? What are the dynamics that could make Palestinians the biggest losers in any upcoming deal or peace agreement?

It is firstly, and most importantly, due to the weakness, and even the absence of joint Arab action and the failure of a unified Arab political situation. The Arab peace plan from 2002 conditioned normalization with Israel by finding a just solution for Palestinian refugees who have been languishing in refugee camps since 1948. However, now we see a Saudi-led Arab stream dropping this condition in exchange for coaxing Israeli satisfaction with a view to lobbying against Iran or contributing to burnish the image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman among U.S. decision makers as the most appropriate future king from the Saudi ruling family.

Secondly, discussing such peace process coincides with the presence of a right-wing extremist Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, since this government is not ready under any condition, to relinquish anything for Palestinians. The ministers of the Netanyahu government have agreed on different occasions over their rejection of any state with the 1967 borders and confirm that any Palestinian state should be non-sovereign and settlements should continue. Therefore, this deal would bring no Palestinian state, but a group of scattered cantons connected by Israeli checkpoints and barriers.

Thirdly, Palestinians have bad experiences with the U.S. as a sponsor of talks between them and Israel. The U.S. was totally biased in favor of Israel during the Camp David talks in July 2000, and applied no pressure on the Israeli delegation, which angered the late President Yasser Arafat, and was one of substantial dynamics behind the outbreak of the second intifada. The same U.S. position was present at the Annapolis peace conference in 2007, and at the peace talks held in Washington in 2010. U.S. President Donald Trump also showed no impartiality when addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Most notably, he keeps reaffirming his intention to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

Fourthly, it is true that Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas had signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo, but that does not mean that Palestinians currently have a unified and firm political position. The Palestinian leadership has yet to agree on a political plan by which they can strengthen their side in any negotiation round, and I believe that the Egypt-sponsored agreement is very fragile, as it did not tackle the future of Hamas's arms, the issue that may derail the agreement, as Abbas pointed recently by saying: "We don't want to repeat another militia model in Gaza." This issue, if not solved quickly, may turn the long-awaited agreement upside down, and that would undermine any solid Palestinian confrontation against any unjust peace initiative.

* Ph.D. student in Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations

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