Alkidwa’s Presentation on the “Middle East Policy of the U.S. Administration and its Future Plan” 5/5/2019

Middle East Policy of the U.S. Administration and its Future Plan

I would, first, like to highlight the Israeli aggression on Gaza, reaffirm that we stand with our people there, and call on the whole world to help stop the aggression.

Regarding the topic [of this address], note that I do not use phrases such as “the deal of the century” as that would be incorrect in principal. 

The reason for this presentation is that with the increase in discussions about the subject are even more attempts at whitewashing and deception. 

Let us begin with all of the positions and measures taken by the U.S. Administration regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict:

1.  Refusal to commit to or support the two-state solution:  beginning with Trump’s statement, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” and consistently rejecting to support that solution by officials in the Administration.  

This shows not only a retreat from the two-state solution as the basis for a political solution, but also a retreat from acknowledging Palestinian national rights, including the right to self-determination and existence of the State of Palestine. 

2.  Refusal to affirm its opposition to settlements – either as a general position or in reaction to Israeli construction and expansion.  In substance, the rejection of the illegality of settlements or even the acknowledgment of the damage caused by settlements to the situation on the ground and the prospects for achieving peace.  In practice, no positions were expressed that object to or even criticize any additional Israeli construction projects.  Israel considered this fact as the Administration’s de facto approval to continue to carry out its settler colonialism. 

3.  Refusal to confirm the legal status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as occupied territory (the U.S. State Department’s annual global human rights report omitted this customary description of the West Bank and Golan Heights) and later refused to affirm this position in responding to direct questions from the media. 

This was accompanied by a war using diplomatic tools at the United Nations against the international positions on all aspects of the conflict and Palestinian measures there; relentless attempts to neutralize the international organization as well as international law (attacking the Obama Administration over UN resolution 2334 and intervention to prevent its adoption even before the new administration assumed its responsibilities).

 4.  Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiating the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (Trump’s proclamation in December 2017), followed by moving the Embassy in the legal sense (ambassador’s office and other departments), procuring land on which to build the embassy, and its official relocation (in May 2018).  Further, ending the existence of the U.S. Consulate General that, since 1876, was headquartered in Jerusalem and handles all relations with the Palestinian side.  This closed the door to even the idea of international arrangements and the international importance of Jerusalem. 

Moreover, the U.S. Administration pressured other countries to take the same step and repeatedly announced that the issue of Jerusalem is off the table. 

5.  Decision to stop funding UNRWA, demanding the dissolution of the agency and taking hostile measures against it – a brutal opening position to end the refugee issue.  (There have been talks, within the framework of the U.S. plan, suggesting providing compensation to the host countries.)

6.  Cessation of any funding or assistance to the Palestinian Authority, through USAID and other organizations.  I do not have the exact amount, but it seems to be approximately $300 million dollars.

* Parallel with the Administration, the U.S. Congress also played a hostile role, at times harking back to old laws and other times with new legislations.
* The Palestinian representative office in Washington, DC was closed (the Administration and the Congress bear responsibility for this).  Legislation to place any recipients of U.S. aid under the jurisdiction of the local courts led to the cessation of aid even to the [Palestinian] security apparatuses that were excluded from the original position of the Administration.

7.  The process of drafting the so-called “peace plan” – or “the deal of the century” – has been overseen by a tripartite team that has no expertise – none are neutral, and at least one is in all practicality an opponent (Ambassador Friedman).  There was no real contribution to the plan (except, perhaps, an attempt to market some of its elements) from either the Palestinian side or the Arab side – Jordan, and Egypt was not far. 

What Does This All Mean?

This means that the positions and measures taken by the U.S. Administration on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict constitute a policy that departs from the positions of successive previous U.S. administrations; constitute a flagrant violation of international law; deny the national rights of the Palestinian people (the existence of the State of Palestine), attempt to undermine international consensus on the basis of the negotiable political solution, and shifts the conflict into a new situation or a different level.  This policy represents a mixture of the wishes of Christian Zionists and those of the Israeli colonizers and the Israeli extreme right wing – an alliance having been formed between them and the right wing of the Republican Party.  

The objective is to enable Israel to continue its expansionist designs through legitimizing settlements as well as its illegal measures on Jerusalem (along with the Golan) and denying the national rights of the Palestinian people (note the interrelationship between the two).

Prior to addressing the American plan, I would also like to point out another U.S. Administration policy:  to promote that Israel is not the main threat in the region, but rather Iran.  It pushes for change in the situation and alliances there – and even builds an alliance against Iran, whether that includes Israel or Arab NATO (Arabs and Americans).  The problem here is with the term “main” – not the presence of threat that some countries in the region feel is coming from Iran.  We have problems with Iranian policy in the region and agree that those policies must be confronted first politically and perhaps even by other means – as long as it does not diverge from the centrality of the Israeli threat in the region and that Israel is prevented from participating in the confrontation. 

Why Is Israel the Main Threat? 

[Israel is the main threat] not only due to the Palestinian cause and what it means, but also to the Arab countries threatened by the Israeli expansionist mentality and the desire for political and economic hegemony. 

Why is it not wise to involve Israel in solving our problems with Iran?  Because the Muslim Arab cannot be seen to be allied with Israel against another Muslim. 

The paradox here is that it is becoming more obvious that neither the U.S. nor Israel will wage a war against Iran for the Arabs.  What is happening here is only in terms of political and financial blackmail to open the doors for Israel. 

(The Egyptian position to withdraw from the Arab NATO is very important and undoubtedly changes the equation.)

Regarding the Plan Now… 

Let us first agree that sane people should be convinced that any ideas or plans proposed by the U.S. Administration will follow the U.S. policy that I have previously outlined and that has been implemented and committed to.  Attempts to outsmart others by suggesting, “How can anyone be against a plan that has not been seen?” is absurd and meaningless.  We have not seen the plan but we have seen enough. 

It is logical and reasonable to deduce that any plan will not recognize the national rights of the Palestinian people, will not recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine infers the opposite and will keep settlements in place and attempts to legalize them.  Thus, an objective assessment and judgment of what plan might come should be very clear.

Like the American policy we have seen so far, the plan would constitute a grave violation of international law, deny the national rights of the Palestinian people, and attempt to undermine international consensus on the political solution.  It is therefore impermissible to deal with this plan.  

The issue is not to accept or reject it.  The issue is that dealing with it, in itself, would constitute a violation of international law, denies the national rights of the Palestinian people and would contribute to undermining the basis of the international consensus on the political solution. 

Is there a difference between the policy we have seen and the plan itself?
Only in terms of the aim of the plan to obtain Palestinian and Arab approval, and perhaps that of some other foreign countries (I would almost say Arab first) and to engage with Israel, including normalization of relations with some (or all of the) Arab countries.  Therefore, again, dealing with this plan by Palestinian, Arab or international countries is not permissible. 

It is necessary to form a broad coalition to not only reject the American plan but also to put forward an alternative proposal that is consistent with international law, responds to Palestinian national rights and emphasizes the agreed bases for a political solution (likewise if the plan is not put forward). 

I could end here talking about the plan, but would like to add a few thoughts out of political curiosity. 

A.  The American team says they worked hard and intensively to draft a 50-page plan (Kushner recently named it an in-depth operational framework).  The issue is neither the number of pages nor the length of the plan.  The issue is the basic premises.  If the basic premises are wrong, the results will be wrong. 

Regarding the economic aspect, it remains clear, particularly in light of the Oslo experience, that there is no economic development in the absence of national independence and self-determination.  For the Palestinian people, there can be no acceptance of money in return for their national rights.  In any case, most of the money would be to Israel's benefit. 

B.  Why has the announcement of the plan been repeatedly postponed?  I think part of the reason was simply the internal situation faced by the U.S. Administration.  However, the main reasons were Middle Eastern, chiefly the fact that to attempt to torpedo or change the bases of a just, legal and agreed-upon political solution is very difficult and undoubtedly faced strong opposition. There was a clear and unequivocal Palestinian position, as well as an important European, Russian and Chinese opposition. 

Most importantly, we have witnessed the return of some Arab parties to adopt the agreed- upon Arab position, alongside the persistent opposition of some of the Arab countries from the beginning (Jordan).  In the end, no Arab could accept preposterous positions such as agreeing to give Israel sovereignty over the entire Old City of Jerusalem (including the Holy Places).  Even in Israel, and despite the plan being fully biased towards them, some parties reject it – because they want everything, including the annexation of the West Bank. 

C.  As a result, it seems to me that part of the plan – other than the basics – has been continuously changing, or at least has remained unresolved for certain periods.  It seems to me also that there is a return to the idea of transition – making a starting point and giving the parties time to reach final agreement on some final status issues. 

Overall, I am not sure that there will be a plan in June though there are indications of it. 

D.  The plan will confirm that the U.S. Administration can no longer play the role of mediator and that it has completely lost its neutrality.  

E. The plan would lead to encouraging the next Israeli government to impose Israeli law on settlements, the same formula implemented to annex East Jerusalem (the statements of U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo and Jared Kushner show that this step would not contradict the U.S. plan.)

Accordingly, I think that the Palestinian side has to take the following two basic steps: 

First:  To declare that Israeli actions actually closed the door on a negotiated settlement.  And insist on continuing the struggle to achieve national independence in the Palestinian State on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, without negotiations. 

Second:  Waging a war using nonmilitary means against settler colonialism, in addition to pushing for assistance of punitive measures against settlements, settlers, settlement products … on the basis of international humanitarian law. 

Other steps would include: 

* Put on the table the issue of Palestinian refugees’ ownership, especially land ownership in what became Israel.  
* Counterattack in the United Nations (including raising the human rights situation in Israel itself) and benefit from international consensus against any land annexation.
* Solve our internal difficulties, which should be the basis for everything, including ending division and restoring national unity.