By design, rather than any coincidence, as United States President Donald Trump was unveiling his much-awaited Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, the muezzin at Al Aqsa mosque began reading from a chapter of the Quran, with the theme: “Do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites.”
Al Aqsa, in the Old City of Jerusalem, is the third holiest site for Muslims worldwide. The muezzin’s action signalled that the carefully designed peace plan, whose main architect is Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was dead on arrival.
The plan envisages a Palestinian State circumscribed by Israel, which, on the other hand, gets with US approval, much of what it has vainly sought from previous US Presidents, such de jure territorial expansion and inviolable security.
Trump’s Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s subsequent public utterances have ensured that the peace plan has no chance of success: Even if there were any Palestinian groups or leaders, who may have been inclined to look at the plan favourably, Pompeo ensured that this did not happen.
Again, by design perhaps, Pompeo chose Sky News Arabia, which has a viewership in millions in the Arab world, to hurl his barely disguised insults at Palestinians. “The Palestinians have a choice to make. They can do what the plan lays out,” he told the channel.
This is not negotiation. This is dictation.
There was worse to follow. Pompeo would like the Palestinians to jump with joy at the plan. What he wants them to celebrate is: “Hey, these are the things we love. We love the $50 billion (offered as reward for embracing the Kushner proposals.) We love the opportunity to have a state. But boy, we would rather see X, Y, or Z” (changes to the plan during negotiations.)
No self-respecting people can accept such an attitude from an overbearing big power. The Palestinians have shown in the last seven decades that they would rather die than sacrifice their self-respect.
The question is why did Trump unveil a plan which was more one-sided, favouring Israel, than any offered by his predecessors? Also, why is Pompeo behaving as if he is egging Palestinians on to reject the plan?
The answer lies in the recent history of America’s dealings with West Asia, both on the Arab side and with the Persians. Former US President George W Bush went into Baghdad without the faintest idea of what to do with Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. The Americans removed Muammar Gaddafi without any understanding of how the strongman had held together a nation as fractious as Libya.
The consequences of America’s poor understanding of West Asia are there to see in Iraq and Libya, among other states in the region. Iran’s Islamic Republic has survived for 40 years — and has survived better than before after the Bush invasion of Iraq — although Washington has done its best to bring about regime change in Tehran.
As an immediate consequence, what Trump’s ‘grand’ vision for Palestine and Israel has achieved is to unite all Palestinian factions, which have been at each other’s throats for many years. On January 28, leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad sat together to declare: “Trump, Jerusalem is not for sale.” It was not for nothing that the Ambassador of the State of Palestine in New Delhi hurriedly called a press conference after the Trump plan and equally hurriedly cancelled it after the Palestinian factions united. The Embassy of Palestine in New Delhi de facto represents only one Palestinian faction and does not want to appear to be a spoiler.
As for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he wants the plan for now, yet he does not want it in the long run. Netanyahu needs the plan now because the one-sided, all-out-for-Israel US vision will help rally his Right-wing base in the coming election. It will also divert attention from a corruption indictment that was filed against him in court a few days ago.
Netanyahu does not want the plan in the long run because its accompanying map raises the possibility that with the high rate of population growth among Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, Israel may end up one day as an Arab-majority state. Another example of America’s poor understanding of West Asia that would destroy the very idea of Israel as a homeland for Jews.
The Narendra Modi government reiterated its long-held views in support of the Palestinian cause and in favour of a Palestinian State. Most important, India reaffirmed its stand that Jerusalem is a “final status issue”, thus effectively differing with Trump.
Since the context was the Trump peace plan, India “urge(d) the parties to engage with each other, including on the recent proposals put forward by the US.” It is a travesty of truth that the influential and all-pervasive pro-Israel lobby in New Delhi portrayed this statement as support by the Modi government for the Trump peace plan.KP Nayar has been covering West Asia for more than four decades. Views are personal.