I believe that it was Henry Kissinger who described his approach to running Arab-Israeli negotiations as creating the illusion of momentum to compensate for the lack of momentum. The goal was not the outcome. It was to keep everyone involved in the process.
Adhering to this maxim, successive generations of US diplomats have “led” a peace process more for its own sake than for establishing a just and lasting peace. For decades, we had, what the Palestinians would say was “all process, no peace”. President Donald Trump’s administration has, it appears, now taken this approach one step further. Instead of wasting time trying to create the fiction of negotiations between an ideologically intransigent Israeli government and a weakened and dysfunctional Palestinian Authority (PA), the Trump team promised to do the work themselves by putting together “the deal of the century”.
We have been awaiting the unveiling of this “deal” for almost two years and have been told at regular intervals that it would be forthcoming “in a matter of weeks or months”. As I see it, the Kushner, Greenblatt, Friedman team may have found a way to create the reductio ad absurdum of Kissinger’s maxim by creating the illusion of a deal to compensate for the absence of a deal.
During the past two years, in order to keep the suspense growing as to exactly what the deal might include, there have been leaks from “official” (Arab, Israeli, and American) sources. These have, each in turn, been coyly denied by the Trump team with the cautionary note that their effort remained a work in progress and would only be revealed when it was completed and the time was right. Since most of the leaks have suggested proposals that were wholly unacceptable to the Palestinians, the Trump team have accompanied their denials with the warning that the Palestinians should not reject the “deal” until they see it, promising that it would include proposals that would improve their lives. These notes of caution have often come in the form of Tweets from Jason Greenblatt who has, it appears, taken to trolling Palestinian leaders and even low-level operatives with advice and/or rude rebukes.
And so we are left with questions galore as to what is in the deal. The guessing game itself has become an industry of sorts, almost like medieval theological inquiries into the nature of the divine. Articles are written, debates are held and Twitter wars explode. In each instance, the administration denies the guesses and chides those who guess, as the medieval church hierarchy might have done, with the injunction that we should be still and have faith, since the mystery will be revealed at the appropriate time.
I have come to see this “have faith” as nothing more than a cynical ploy to buy time. As a result, I am led to ask, “What if there is no deal of the century?” What if this entire enterprise is, as I suggested, merely “creating an illusion of a deal” in order: to keep the Palestinians quiet; hold the Arab world at bay; and the rest of us guessing?
What fuels my cynicism is the fact that during this same two-year period, while the “deal” was supposedly being concocted, the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government have been quite busy taking steps that make clear their intentions toward the Palestinians.
Trump has, in his words, taken “Jerusalem off the table”, recognising it as the capital of Israel. And by closing the US Consulate and denying US assistance to Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, he has placed this captive Palestinian community wholly under Israeli control. Similarly, the Trump administration has attempted to take the issue of the Palestinian refugees “off the table” by suspending all aid to the UNWRA, and making clear that they do not consider the descendants of those who were forced into exile in 1948 to be refugees.
At the same time, by their silence, the Trump administration has accepted Israeli unilateral actions that have predetermined the future of Palestinian land and rights. Illegal Israeli settlements have expanded, illegal outposts have been legitimated and Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and exploitation of Palestinian resources and land have accelerated at an alarming rate. Add to this the administration’s: suspension of all Palestinian aid, acceptance of Israel’s “Jewish Nation-State Law”, failure to criticise Israel’s refusal to reimburse Palestinian VAT revenues, support for other Israeli acts that have crippled the PA, while fostering divisions between the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, taking action to protect Israel from the International Criminal Court and efforts to criminalise support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, all of which have contributed to furthering Palestinian powerlessness and Israel’s sense of impunity.
With this in mind, I suggest that the guessing game should be over. Even if there is a “deal of the century”, and I am still an agnostic on that question, we can be certain that it will not: end the occupation of the land seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, create true Palestinian sovereignty over and control of their land and resources, give Palestinians the opportunity to freely and independently conduct commerce with the outside world, recognise the rights of Palestinian refugees or do anything to reunite the areas now called “East Jerusalem” to Palestinian control. Finally, the “hint” that the deal will throw money at the Palestinians to “make their lives better” is as insulting as it is pointless. But then, I am not even sure that is real.
My advice is that we stop playing along and let the Trump group have their cruel game of charades to themselves.
James Zogby is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute
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