With July the 1st come and gone, and with no viable annexation plan in sight, let us presume for a moment that Israel does nothing about extending its sovereignty over some part of the West Bank but puts the whole issue on the back burner.
Israel’s more militant opponents on the issue, among whom one must number both Hamas and Fatah, would doubtless hail it as a great victory, proof that their threats of the dire consequences that would follow on annexation had proved effective. Others, including many of Israel’s friends and allies, would see it as the triumph of good sense over the temptation to rush headlong into ill-considered action. There is no doubt that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would have to face down a fair degree of political opposition at home.
Yet the new situation would not simply be a return to the status quo. The diplomatic kaleidoscope would have been shaken. A new pattern would have emerged, and new opportunities would be presenting themselves. The possibility that Israel might at any time reverse its decision and turn the threat of annexation into fact would be ever-present. As a result, a renewed urgency would have been injected into the moribund peace process.
Indeed, already in this hiatus the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership is renewing its effort, initiated by President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN in February 2020, to promote an alternative peace process based on the Middle East Quartet, a body that has largely fallen into irrelevance. Back in the late 2000s it was led by Britain’s ex-prime minister, Tony Blair, and brought together the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia with genuine hopes of cutting a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Recently PA prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh submitted to the Quartet a counter-proposal to the Trump plan. It envisaged, in his words, the creation of a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized” with “minor modifications of borders where necessary”.
Having gone so far, perhaps the PA might be prepared to sit down at the negotiating table under the auspices of the Quartet, without pre-conditions or pre-conceptions, but shielded by support from fellow Arab nations – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, even Jordan are possibilities. At present the PA position seems to be that it rejects Trump’s “Deal of the Century” because it is carved in stone and is non-negotiable, that it is a case of take it or leave it.
If that is so, it is a misconception. In the words of the document itself: “We hope that the parties will seize the opportunity, embrace this vision, and begin negotiations.”
A Palestinian leadership genuinely committed to reaching an accommodation with Israel would doubtless want to have the traditional “1967 boundaries” on the table – the formula that has failed on numerous occasions – but it could also start with the proposals in the economic leg of the Trump plan, especially as there is so much on offer to the benefit of the Palestinian people. The 40-page Peace to Prosperity: A New Vision for the Palestinian People sets out in considerable detail a scenario under which, with a huge input of funding and economic aid, prospects for the Palestinian people would be immeasurably transformed for the better.
“With the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years,” runs the document, “Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive effort for the Palestinian people to date. It has the ability to fundamentally transform the West Bank and Gaza, and to open a new chapter in Palestinian history – one defined not by adversity and loss, but by freedom and dignity.”
The economic plan, covering all aspects of Palestinian life from education and health care to taxes, roads and railways, is based on three pillars – the economy, the people and the government.
A main goal of the economy pillar – to connect Palestinian-occupied areas to regional and global markets – included integrating Gaza and the West Bank “through an efficient, modern transportation network, including a transportation corridor directly connecting” the two areas. “Billions of dollars of new investment will flow into various sectors of the Palestinian economy,” said the document, which also detailed how “hospitals, schools, homes and businesses will secure access to affordable electricity, clean water and digital services.”
The second pillar aims to “improve the well-being of the Palestinian people” through educational programmes, vocational and technical training, expanding the female labour force, reducing Infant mortality and increasing average life expectancy.
The third pillar proposes a range of reforms in the Palestinian government including reforming the tax structure and increasing exports and direct foreign investment.
With that glittering prize dangling within reach, with Israeli annexation off the table, and with everything else in the plan open to negotiation, second thoughts on the part of the PA would seem to offer much and risk little.
For Israel, such a scenario would present the chance to achieve by negotiation some of the benefits on offer in Trump’s Deal of the Century without antagonizing the rest of the world, to say nothing of large sections of the Jewish diaspora. That would seem a worthy and desirable aspiration.