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To Deal or Not to Deal: Is That the Question?
If the truth be told, it all started fairly well! Given the grave doubts that Palestinians had harboured about the presidency of Donald J Trump, the initial indications were that the 42nd president of the USA might be willing to lend at least a listening ear to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He even visited Bethlehem in May 2017, met with President Mahmoud Abbas and praised him even for his peace-seeking efforts.

28 June   |   2018   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

That was just over a year ago. Today, there is a meltdown in Palestinian-American official relations, and it seems to most observers that the US Administration is lock, stock and barrel on the Israeli side of this political conflict.

So is there a ‘deal of the century’ or an ‘ultimate deal’ in the American diplomatic bag that would address the well-known core issues and lead to a legitimate resolution of this decades-long conflict? And by that, I ask whether this deal that has been brewing at the White House for the best part of one year can in fact deliver a Palestinian sovereign and contiguous independent state? Can Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt put together a ‘deal’ that is acceptable to both sides?

If I were to believe the copious tittle-tattle circulating not only in the USA but also in the corridors of the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, I find scant reassurance. Let me highlight only three points being mooted loudly:

  • With the recent transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it seems that the eastern (occupied) part of this city is no longer viewed by the current US Administration as the future capital of a future Palestinian state - or at least as one of the key negotiating items. Rumours suggest that the village of Abu Deis is being considered as a symbolic capital for Palestinians. Also circulating are speculations about pumping a lot of money (largely from some Gulf countries) into Gaza and making this Strip a fulcrum for the new state.
  • The matter of the return of Palestinian refugees - even as a longstanding legal principle, and in symbolic terms - will not be broached in this ‘deal’ and refugees will either settle in the “new” Palestine or elsewhere.
  • Most settlements will remain untouched, and the Jordan Valley will be a demilitarised zone under Israeli control for long years. So in essence, 60% of Areas A, B and C will become a new Palestinian state. This would compute in historical terms to less than 15% of what was Palestine under the British Mandate.

There are also suggestions that some Arab countries are willing to support this ‘deal’ in return for US support against Iran. With the absence of Iraq, Syria and even Egypt as erstwhile defenders of the Palestinian cause, Jordan and the Palestinians are both under enormous pressure to accept this deal. Failure to do so will result in further punitive financial measures - as has been witnessed by the financial cuts to Palestinian institutions, to the UNRWA and to Jordan.

I have argued that this deal is a non-starter, legally, politically and also practically, and any Palestinian leader who signs on the dotted line will be viewed as a Quisling by the Palestinian people. So it really depends today on how long Palestinians can hold out, and how much international support they receive from the UN, the EU and some Arab states. As the geopolitics of the whole region are being shuffled, at times in rudderless ways, what defines as wisdom today?

In medical bioethics, there is a sacrosanct principle, primum non nocere, that translates best as “first, to do no harm”. Another way to state it is that, given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, rather than to risk causing more harm than good. It reminds physicians to consider the possible harm that any intervention might do, and this maxim is invoked when debating for instance the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit. Can this approach also apply today to this long-festering political conflict?

Starting with the 1990’s, Israelis and Palestinians have both bungled many irenic attempts to resolve this conflict. However, a number of principles have willy-nilly become the norms or benchmarks of international legitimacy. In International law, lawyers tend to view those as Customary International Law. I can for instance mention the UNSC and UNGA Resolutions, the Madrid Conference of 1991, the Clinton parameters as a Camp David / Oslo by-product in 1991, the Arab Initiative of 2002, or the Olmert-Abbas discussions in 2007. Although none of them have managed to find the Holy Grail, they have nonetheless clarified the contours of a possible settlement. But with this latest skewed ‘deal’ as it is being portrayed, the dice have been recast and the Palestinians are being asked to give up their rights, let alone their dreams and any vestiges of hope left in their psyches for the sake of a few measly crumbs.

Justice can be twisted, tweaked and re-interpreted, but it cannot be disassembled with so much political maleficence!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2018   |   28 June


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