Written by Prathit Singh
Research Associate at Law & Order
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
"Congratulations Trump, Mohammed Bin Zayed, and Netanyahu. I think you killed the two-state solution, I think you killed any possibility of negotiations and I think you destroyed the Palestinian moderate camp; Palestinians who wanted peace, prosperity, human rights, women's rights, the rule of law, accountability."
Dr. Saeb Erekat to Sky News (Sky News, 2020).
The Israel-Palestinian Conflict saw a new turn of events on August 13, 2020, when Donald Trump, the President of the United States declared a new agreement. The United States brokered an agreement between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed under which both the countries agreed to normalize their diplomatic relations after 49 years of absence. The agreement which is soon to be signed by the two leaders at the White House is to be named the ‘Abraham Accords’ (Remarks by President Trump Announcing the Normalization of Relations Between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, 2020). In compliance with this Accord, the UAE seeks to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel in return for the suspension of Israeli plans of the annexation of occupied territories of Gaza, the West Bank, and the Jordan Valley.
The United States under President Trump has been showing far fetched interest in the Middle East, particularly in the dispute between Israel and Palestine. In January 2020, President Trump unveiled the ‘West Asia Peace Plan’ that popularly came to be known as the ‘Trump Peace Plan’ wherein the United States provided a roadmap to peace between Israel and Palestine. The plan was seen as a reflection of how the United States envisioned the two-state solution— a beneficiary state of Israel with its extended sovereignty to most parts of the West Bank and Gaza and a neighboring Palestinian ‘state’ with East Jerusalem as its capital and a leftover territory of Gaza. Besides the plan does not guarantee a right of return to the Palestinian citizens, until a formal creation of a Palestinian state.
Notwithstanding the West Asia Peace Plan’s widespread criticism and opposition, including its rejection by the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself, the vision was seen as a catastrophe since a green-light to the plan would mean empowering Israel to freely annex territories vital to the formation of the Palestinian state (Fayyad, 2020).
The declaration of this vision was soon followed by Israeli Legislative Elections in March 2020 and the notion of the annexation of Palestinian territories which was now approved by the United States did find a place in promises to win votes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to Israeli people an annexation campaign of Palestinian territories if he was voted to power again (Voice of America, 2019). The promise certainly had an impact on bringing Netanyahu back as the Prime Minister of Israel with a set plan to proceed to annex 30% of the West Bank (as mandated by the peace plan) with approval from the US.
But Israel’s beloved Netanyahu was soon to step back on his promise of annexation which he was to start from July 1, 2020. The United States now had a different plan in mind and so Israel was bound to change its own. Just before the annexation, the Ambassador of the UAE wrote an op-ed for Israel’s largest daily newspaper ‘Yedioth Ahronoth.’ He stated how the annexation could worsen Israel’s relation with Arab countries while exploring the prospect (and setting an indicative pretext) of how relations between the UAE and Israel could normalize if Netanyahu backed down on his plan on annexation (Cook, 2020). Two months after the publication of the op-ed, both the countries agreed to sign the ‘Abraham Accords,’ for a complete normalization of relations between the two countries only on the grounds that Israel would stall its annexation plans.
The deal is seen as a game-changer in West Asia among the scholars, perceiving it as perhaps the United States’ biggest diplomatic win in the region (Saab, 2020). Simultaneously, there are several downsides to it. Primarily, the United States has welcomed other Arab states to join the agreement which would mean a pro-active US Diplomacy in West Asia to persuade its allies to be a part of the deal.
If Saudi Arabia participates in the deal, then the creation of a Palestinian state might be a lost hope for the Palestinian people and the world. Since Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Arab bloc, its decision remains critical to the Palestinian cause as is its support for the creation of Palestine.
However, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal has responded harshly to President Trump’s call for other Arab states to join the agreement. He said, "any Arab state that is considering following the UAE should demand in return a price, and it should be an expensive price," and "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set a price for concluding peace between Israel and the Arabs — it is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as capital, as provided for by the initiative of the late King Abdullah." (Al Jazeera, 2020) The likeliness of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to this stance would be difficult to predict considering the predictions of Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s ascendance to the royal throne of Saudi Arabia by the end of this year (Asia Times, 2020). Prince Salman’s affinity with President Donald Trump and his ambitions aren’t unknown to the Middle-East. In 2017, Prince Salman promised Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to and son-in-law of President Trump, that he could bring the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table on Trump’s terms. He then summoned Abbas to Riyadh and told him to accept Kushner’s ideas in exchange for USD 10 billion in Saudi funding. Abbas refused and promptly leaked the details of the exchange, causing a furor in the Arab world (Indyk, 2019). Another instance of Prince Salman being bias towards President Trump was when he also promised Kushner that Saudi Arabia would acquiesce in Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and reassured him that any negative reaction on the Arab street would die down in a couple of months. That was enough for President Trump to dismiss all objections and announce his decision at the end of 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy there. Prince Salam was right about the reaction in the Arab street; it was hardly noticeable. But he had failed to warn Kushner of the other consequences. The fact that Prince Salman was yet a Prince and a mere in-charge of day-to-day affairs and that the final authority yet rested with King Salman was not thought through by Jared Kushner. The action was condemned by King Salman who summoned other Arab leaders from West Asia to a meeting, the following April to denounce it collectively. King Salman has repeatedly stated that Saudi Arabia will not support any settlement that does not provide for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital (Indyk, 2019).
Perhaps upon succession to the Saudi throne by Prince Salman, Saudi Arabia’s complete support for the US even in the peace process might be explicit which may eventually lead to Saudi Arabia’s entry into the peace agreement.
If that happens, Palestine would be forced to lose its last hope which currently rests with the Arab world headed by Saudi Arabia who has defended its statehood for long. For now, the smaller Arab states like the UAE have taken a lead in ignoring the cause of Palestinian statehood for the sake of their development and cooperation and states like Oman and Bahrain likely are to follow.
The lives of the Palestinian people living upon the last string of hope of support by Arab countries yet remains undetermined. Whatever the outcome may be, a ‘home’ for the Palestinians is still a far fetched dream.
1. Al Jazeera. (August 21, 2020). Saudi prince: Palestinian state before Israel ties normalize. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/saudi-prince-palestinian-state-israel-ties-normalise-200821100424469.html
2. Bredemeier, K. Netanyahu Promises More West Bank Annexations, If He Wins Re-election. (September 16, 2019). Voice of America. Retrieved from https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/netanyahu-promises-more-west-bank-annexations-if-he-wins-re-election
3. Cook, S. A. (August 17, 2020). What’s Behind the New Israel-UAE Peace Deal?. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/whats-behind-new-israel-uae-peace-deal
4. Fayyad, S. (February 21, 2020). Trump’s Middle East peace plan: What’s there to be upset about?. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/02/21/trumps-middle-east-peace-plan-whats-there-to-be-upset-about/
5. Indyk, M. (2019). Disaster in the Desert. Foreign Affairs.Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2019-10-15/disaster-desert
6. Meuse, A.T. (July 21, 2020). MBS expected to be Saudi king by year’s end. Asia Times.Retrieved from https://asiatimes.com/2020/07/mbs-expected-to-be-saudi-king-by-years-end/
7. Oval Office, the White House. Remarks by President Trump Announcing the Normalization of Relations Between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-announcing-normalization-relations-israel-united-arab-emirates/
8. Saab, B. Y. (2020, August 13). In Historic Deal With the UAE, Israel Is the Biggest Winner. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/13/in-historic-deal-with-the-uae-israel-is-the-biggest-winner/
9. Stone, M. (August 19, 2020). 'You killed two-state solution': Top Palestinian says Israeli deal with UAE destroys peace hopes. Sky News. Retrieved from https://news.sky.com/story/you-killed-two-state-solution-top-palestinian-says-israeli-deal-with-uae-destroys-peace-hopes-12052430