Trump Unveils Middle East Plan

President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan at the White House Tuesday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side. The plan includes redrawing the map of the West Bank to favor Israel while offering Palestinians a conditional pathway to statehood. Palestinians have rejected the plan and called on Arab neighbors to boycott. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara speaks with Al-Shabaka policy fellow Halah Ahmad.

Watch at the link below.

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Palestinians skeptical of Trump’s Middle East peace plan

Palestinians are skeptical of the Trump administration’s long-anticipated Middle East peace plan, calling it the ‘steal of the century,’ after President Trump unveiled the complete proposal Tuesday.

The plan, dubbed the ‘Deal of the Century’ by Trump, aims to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan includes a two-state solution – creating a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel – and a four-year freeze of Israeli development in area eyed for the future Palestinian state.

Palestinian political analyst Zaha Hassan said the plan is “essentially a call for Palestinians to surrender their legal rights and their history and claims to the land.”

“The purpose of the ‘deal of the century’ is to ensure that Israel may annex the maximum amount of land with the minimal amount of Palestinians and get US support in legitimizing what will amount to what many refer to as the ‘steal of the century,’” said Hassan in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Palestinian leadership have outright rejected the plan, accusing Trump of pro-Israel bias, and a series of protests are planned in both the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Trump administration’s plan is likely already underway, according to Palestinian expert Dr. Yara Hawari.

“In many ways, I predict that a lot of things in the plan are already underway. So in that sense, it has succeeded, but how much can a plan succeed if it doesn’t have the Palestinian leadership on board?” Hawari, a senior policy fellow at Al Shabaka- the Palestinian Policy Network, said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Calling the 80-page plan a “historic opportunity” for the Palestinians to achieve an independent state, Trump said Palestinians “deserve a far better life.”

“Palestinians are in poverty and violence, exploited by those seeking to use them as pawns to advance terrorism and extremism,” Trump said in a speech from Washington.

The announcement of the plan comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House on what he said was a “historic mission to design the permanent borders of Israel and ensure our security for decades to come.”

“Israel has now agreed to terms for a future Palestinian State,” the White House said in a statement.

Under Trump’s plan, the Palestinian state would be double the size of land that Palestinians currently control and would be connected by roads, bridges and tunnels, according to US officials.

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What to expect from Trump’s Middle East peace plan

The Trump administration is announcing parts of its much-anticipated Middle East peace plan at 17:00 GMT (21:00 Dubai time) today.

Dubbed by the administration as the “deal of the century,” the plan aims to provide a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The economic side of the plan was revealed back in June 2019, but greeted with widespread disappointment by Palestinians.

The plan is widely seen as pro-Israel. US President Donald Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz to Washington for talks ahead of the reveal.

Analysts told Al Arabiya English that the plan is likely to favor Israel on all the key issues, including settlements, the right of return, and the status of Jerusalem – a plan that is likely to be rejected by Palestinians.

An exclusive source also added that the plan is likely to include a two-state solution, creating a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

But what is the two-state solution, and will it be in the plan? What else should we expect from the peace plan announcement later? And are the plans feasible?

Here is an explainer addressing all you need to know.

The “deal of the century”

US President Donald Trump has promoted the so-called “deal of the century” in his attempt to solve the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

The economic side of the deal was announced back in June 2019. The “Peace to Prosperity workshop” presented in Bahrain was led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt.

While the conference set out to address economic growth, human capital, and governance, no concrete progress came from the workshop as the conference failed to garner support from Israel and Palestinians.

While Israel sent business men and journalists, no formal delegation attended.

In response to the event, senior Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said in a statement that Palestinians’ “full economic potential can only be achieved by ending the Israeli occupation, respecting international law and UN resolutions.”

What will be announced today?

President Trump is set to announce the political side of the deal today.

Details of the plan remain scant, with available information based on leaks.

According to Ryan Bohl, Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor, the plan is likely to be 60 pages long – and will favor Israel, authorize Israel to build settlements, and allow Israel to annex the Jordan River – assuming the leaks are correct.

On the key issues, Bohl said it is likely that the plan will endorse Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, state that 70 percent of the West Bank will remain under Palestinian Authority control, and deny Palestinian refugees the right to return.

Previously, the right of return was set to be decided through negotiation but it is likely the Trump administration will make a unilateral decision on the issue, added Bohl.

An exclusive source familiar with the plan told Al Arabiya that the plan will remain committed to the two-state solution, at least in name. The plan will also maintain the current and special status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem under the supervision of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, according to the source.

Although the two-state solution has long been advocated by the UN and most of the international community, recent moves by the Israeli government and the Trump administration have been seen as putting it under threat.

Since Trump came to office in 2016, the US has made significant moves in favor of the Israelis, noticeably moving the US Embassy to Jerusalemrecognizing the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, contrary to international law, and cutting off nearly a quarter billion dollars in aid to Palestinians.

“I don’t think that the plan will be along the lines of a two-state solution. I think it will be even further capitulation for the Palestinian people. I don’t think Palestinian sovereignty or statehood along the borders of the 1967 armistice lines is in the cards at all,” said Dr. Yara Hawari, senior policy fellow at al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

What are the chances of the peace plan succeeding?

Trump said on Tuesday that he is still optimistic for the plan, despite Palestinian leaders rejecting it before it had even been published.

“We’re going to show a plan. It’s been worked on by everybody, and we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does that would be great, and if it doesn’t, we can live with it too. But I think it might have a chance,” he said.

Israel’s Gantz also endorsed the plan and pledged to implement it should he succeed in his challenge to replace incumbent Netanyahu as prime minister.

“Immediately after the elections, I will work toward implementing it from within a stable functioning Israeli government, in tandem with the other countries in our region.”

Given that Netanyahu is close to the Trump administration and has also voiced his support for the plan, the Israeli government is likely to attempt to implement it.

But the Palestinian leadership has already rejected the plan, and Palestinians are unlikely to accept what is seen by many as a capitulation.

“We reject it, and we demand the international community not be a partner to it because it contradicts the basics of international law and inalienable Palestinian rights,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, adding “It is nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.”

Without the consent of Palestinian leaders, it seems the plan would have to be imposed by Israel, unless there is a radical change in circumstances.

There are also different ways of measuring the plan’s success. Hawari said that as she expects the plan will be a continuation of developments which are already underway, such as the settlement project, it is likely to succeed – but not in a way that will be accepted by Palestinians.

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Why Trump’s Mideast splash is causing barely a ripple in Arab world

The Palestinian cause has been the lifeblood of Arab leaders, inspired countless poems and songs, been the subject of entire school textbooks, and was a factor in three regional wars.

It once united peoples from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula more than even the Arabic language itself.

Yet as the Trump administration is set to unveil a one-sided peace deal potentially legitimizing the Israeli annexation of lands Arabs across the region once vowed to die for, something has happened to Arab support for Palestinian nationalism.

A change in calculations and priorities by Arab leaders, coupled with the wariness with which young Arabs view their own governments, has muddled the message on Palestinian statehood.

Just as startling as the suddenness of announcing President Donald Trump’s long-promised peace plan, the details of which he is expected to release Tuesday, is the collective shoulder shrug in the Arab world.

Gulf Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have emerged over the past decade as the leading political and economic forces in the region, have been silent. So too Egypt, whose battles for Palestinian statehood in the 1960s and ’70s defined its post-independence identity.

Perhaps tellingly, as Palestinians braced over the weekend, the two largest regional satellite networks, Qatar’s Al Jazeera and the Saudi Al Arabiya, focused their coverage on the Jeff Bezos phone hacking scandal – with Qatar pushing the story implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Al Arabiya exonerating him.

Shift in the Gulf

It is part of a trend as Gulf states, which once offered their own peace initiative in 2002, are now more consumed with maintaining their autocratic rule at home and countering any potential democratic Arab movements abroad. In so doing, Gulf leaders are putting aside a Palestinian cause they have deemed energy-intensive and low-reward.

Another factor is their rivalry with Iran, strategically aligning them with Israel and making them ever more dependent on the Trump administration and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.

Gulf insiders say leaders have stayed silent to keep a “neutral stance” – not throwing their full weight to pressure Palestinians to accept an unpopular deal, while not vocally denouncing unilateral announcements by Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu.

Yet Gulf leaders insist they are not abandoning the Palestinians, just humoring the Trump administration.

“Gulf countries just want to smile and nod for Mr. Trump and walk away, hoping that the administration forgets about the whole peace deal in a couple of days,” says one Gulf insider close to decision-makers.

Observers point to the failure of the Trump administration’s peace efforts to produce tangible results, including the much-ballyhooed, first-phase Bahrain economic peace conference last June, which fizzled without a single project pledged.

“What has happened since Bahrain? Absolutely nothing; it was a bunch of nice Power Point presentations,” says Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian analyst and writer.

“One reason we are not seeing a larger Arab response is that people don’t think the Americans are serious about anything. They think all of this is a show and election-year politics because Trump wants Bibi in office,” says Mr. Kuttab, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “But you have to be careful, because today’s politics can become policy.”

Palestinian apathy

The reaction has also been muted in the Palestinian territories themselves, where Mr. Trump has boasted that doomsayers’ warnings of violence or instability did not materialize after he moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Palestinians are not shocked by the ‘Deal of the Century’ or the slow creep of annexation because they are living with it and have seen these types of policies in action for decades,” says Yara Hawari, senior fellow at the Al Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network in the West Bank.

Popular Palestinian action has also been limited by the violence previous protests have been met with, most recently in the Gaza Strip.

“We have very clear examples of what happens when Palestinians do mobilize – with Gaza being the most recent manifestation of this – which is violent suppression. It is a very high cost,” Ms. Hawari says.

Politically, the largest political actors, Fatah and Hamas, have been divided, while support for each movement has dwindled.

Activists and residents say there has been encroaching autocratic rule by each group in the West Bank and Gaza that has been intolerant to criticism, muzzled the press, and cracked down on any political opposition.

Human Rights Watch has reported Palestinian Authority security services arresting dozens of journalists, protesters, and even private citizens for “writing a critical article or Facebook post” or “belonging to the wrong student group.”

“Palestinians must focus on political reconciliation among themselves and demand a legitimate leadership that goes back to the discourse of liberation,” says Ms. Hawari.

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Palestinian activists seek climate justice under occupation

“People talk about climate a lot here,” said Awdah Hathaleen, an activist from the West Bank. “They’re scared. When we hear there is a winter storm coming, we don’t sleep. When there is wind, our houses shake.”

Hathaleen told Al-Monitor that in recent years climate change has exacerbated the situation in the West Bank. “We get hotter summers and colder winters. Every year it gets worse and worse,” he added.

Hathaleen lives in Umm al-Khair, a Bedouin village in the south Hebron Hills that was established in 1948, with 160 people currently living there. The village lies next to Carmel, an Israeli settlement built in 1982, separated from Umm al-Khair by a fence. “A lot of houses here are tents because of the occupation and we are not allowed to fix them for winter,” Hathaleen said. Snow used to come every five years, he noted, but it is increasingly frequent and last time there was a big snowfall, eight tents collapsed.

Umm al-Khair is located in Area C, which is under Israeli control and represents about 60% of West Bank lands.

Asked whether Israel allows them to build houses, Hathaleen said, “If we do anything, they [Israeli authorities] will give us a stop working order or demolition order immediately.”

The hotter summers pose new threats for the village, too. “There is no water network allowed here,” he said. “We get seven hours a week to collect water.” Members of the community suffer increasingly from a lack of water and so does the environment around them, Hathaleen noted. “Trees don’t have enough water and they die. The village is attacked by the weather, we have no green.”

According to a paper published last year by Palestine’s Environment Quality Authority, Palestine can expect to be one degree Celcius hotter in five years, and up to 4 degrees hotter by 2090. The authority also estimates that rainfall could decrease by up to 90% by 2090.

“This will reflect negatively on all aspects of life in Palestine, including health, water, biodiversity, agriculture and energy,” Othman Sharkas, a geography professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor. The authority’s report anticipates extreme water shortages, desertification and an increase in public health issues stemming from dehydration and cholera outbreaks.

“Despite the effects of climate change being broadly similar across the region, the Palestinians are more vulnerable, and this is directly to do with the political situation,” Zena Agha, a researcher at Al-Shabaka research center, told Al-Monitor. The Israeli occupation is the biggest nonenvironmental threat facing the Palestinians, and one that compounds the environmental situation, Agha said.

“Restrictions on the free movement of people and goods, the apartheid wall [the wall separating Israel from the West Bank], land grabs, settlement expansion and settler violence, and poor governance all threaten Palestinian food and water security, which increases climate change vulnerability,” she noted.

Agha pointed out the peculiar role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) — the governing body in the West Bank — in relation to climate change. “It has no sovereign jurisdiction over natural resources or large swathes of territory and wields no independent political will over how to mitigate climate risks,” she said. “Yet bizarrely, it is tasked with addressing climate change.”

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Maps, Technology, and Decolonial Spatial Practices in Palestine

The practice of mapping in Palestine-Israel has long been an exercise in power, imperialism, and dispossession. From the British Mandate to the present day, Zionist (later Israeli) cartographers have used maps to obfuscate and eradicate physical, geographic, and social markers of Palestinians’ connections to, and possession of, the land. 

During the British Mandate, the colonial forces produced an array of detailed surveys for military, political, social, and economic planning. The geographic distribution and activity of Palestine’s indigenous Arab inhabitants were rarely depicted on the maps. However, the geographic language was almost entirely comprised of transliterated Arabic names.

In the wake of the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 and the first Aliyah, or wave of European Jewish immigration from 1881 to 1903, Zionist maps began to proliferate, many featuring topographic and religious markers designed to redraw the map in the image of a proposed Zionist state.

After the Nakba of 1948, the new state of Israel set out to transform the national map from Arabic to Hebrew as a way of Zionist nation-building. The Hebrew map continues to be an exercise in state formation, a living document of Zionist colonization where Zionist ideology is folded into the spatial practices of the Israeli state.

Today, legislation such as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA), which restricts the availability of high-resolution satellite imagery by preventing US satellite operators and retailers from selling or disseminating images of Palestine-Israel at a resolution higher than that available on the non-US market, as well as the complicity of technology firms in privileging Israeli spatial control at the expense of Palestinians – such as how Google Maps routes are designed for Israelis and illegal Israeli settlers – represent a missed opportunity to use technological advancements to democratize mapping.

However, technology can serve as a tool to tangibly imagine the right of return. Detailed historical maps and uncensored, high-resolution images, for instance, allow Palestinians to catalogue the remnants of villages and towns destroyed during the Nakba. Such images not only provide substantial proof of the ongoing colonial encroachment into Palestinian land, but allow Palestinians to actively imagine an alternative reality. 

For Palestinians living under martial law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory or under siege in the Gaza Strip, despite technology creating an opening for democratizing spatial practices, mainstream mapping applications fail to account for the walled-off reality on the ground and the restrictions and repercussions it has on Palestinian movement. Yet Palestinians and allies continue to subvert and resist colonial maps through counter-maps. 

There are some other concrete steps forward: 

  1. As recommended by 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, Palestine should be named properly on Google Maps, in line with the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 2012. 
  2. According to Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly, the international status of Jerusalem should be correctly displayed on Google Maps. Google must also identify and correctly label illegal Israeli settlements on occupied land, according to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 55 of the Hague Regulations.
  3. Google should clearly distinguish areas A, B, and C in the West Bank and account for all movement restrictions and restricted streets.
  4. Google should locate “unrecognized” Palestinian villages within Israel as well as Palestinian villages in Area C. 
  5. The United States should dispose of the KBA, leveling the commercial playing field between US and non-US imagery providers. This would allow satellite operators to share high-resolution images of Palestine-Israel on widely-used open-access platforms. It would also enable archaeologists, researchers, and humanitarians to accurately document changes on the ground and allow for better accountability of the Israeli occupation.
  6. Palestinian civil society should encourage and promote the active use of counter-maps as an alternative to incomplete contemporary maps. Simultaneously, Palestinian civil society and allies should focus their efforts on pressuring (a) the US government to abolish the KBA and (b) Google to make the changes outlined above.

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The Growing Gap between Jordan and Israel, After 25 Years of “Peace”

Several recent incidents underscore the cooling in Jordanian-Israeli relations 25 years after the two signed the Wadi ‘Araba peace agreement. Israel’s imprisonment without charge of two Jordanian nationals of Palestinian origin during the summer led to Jordan’s withdrawal of its ambassador “for consultations” until their release last month after repeated protests. While the Jordanians languished in Israeli prison, Jordan arrested an Israeli infiltrator and, instead of turning a blind eye as had frequently happened with such incidents in the past, sent him to trial at the state security court. Nor have earlier incidents been forgotten, such as the killing of two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman in 2017 and the killing of a Jordanian judge at the crossing between Jordan and Israel in 2014.

Most significant, however, was Jordan’s decision last year not to renew the 25-year lease on Baqoura and Ghumar, two enclaves it had allowed Israel to continue to farm as part of the Wadi ‘Araba agreement. The enclaves were returned to Jordan in November despite Israel’s clear desire to extend the agreement. To get a fuller picture of the issues behind the deterioration of Jordan’s relations with Israel and their implications for Jordanian-Palestinian relations, Al-Shabaka spoke to Oraib Rantawi, the founder and director general of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies and an Al-Shabaka policy analyst.

Three Main Factors Behind Jordan’s Fears 

Jordanian policymakers believe that Israel’s rightward trajectory is leading it in the direction of destroying the two-state solution along with the Wadi ‘Araba agreement, leaving Jordan to deal with the fallout. First and foremost, Jordan is worried about the repercussions related to the Palestinian refugees:

  • It fears it will be left alone to handle the Palestinian refugee file – a massive issue for the small, resource-scarce country to address. While the number of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin is believed to be three million, it is estimated that another 1 to 1.3 million hold identity papers, travel documents, or no papers at all (see fuller discussion here). That figure is greater than the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria combined. It includes Palestinians from Gaza as well as Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem who lost their Jordanian citizenship when Jordan ceded sovereignty over those Israeli-occupied territories in the wake of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)  declaration of Palestinian independence in 1988. 
  • It is alarmed by the efforts by Israel and the United States to redefine who is a refugee. Jordan is ready to show some flexibility on the refugee question if there is a Palestinian state as well as recognition of the right of return and compensation. Otherwise it will make every effort to hold the line against US-Israeli plans to liquidate the right of return. 

Jordanian policymakers believe that Israel’s rightward trajectory is destroying the two-state solution, leaving Jordan to deal with the fallout
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  • The talk of dismantling UNRWA is also alarming. The loss of the benefits and services provided by UNRWA – including education, health care, and food subsidies – as well as the jobs lost by Palestinians would impose major costs on Jordan.
  • Another burning question is what will become of the five million Palestinians whose homes and lands are in the West Bank and East Jerusalem if Israel successfully prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state? Would there be an effort to impose a federal or confederal state on Jordan with the remnants of the West Bank? Such an outcome would be rejected equally strongly by Jordan and the PLO.  

In the second place, the Netanyahu government has repeatedly challenged the status quo cemented by the Wadi ‘Araba agreement regarding Jordan’s custodianship of the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem. There are now almost daily Israeli incursions into the compound as well as attacks on the Jordanian staff serving there as part of Israel’s effort to control and change the face of both the Muslim and Christian holy sites in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.   

In the third place, Jordan believes that Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing cohorts are much more interested in developing direct relations with the Gulf states. Israel has made it clear that it no longer needs Jordan as a buffer zone or an intermediary to the Gulf states. Indeed, both Jordan and Egypt feel they have been left out in the cold, a point driven home by Jared Kushner’s discourse on the so-called deal of the century, where much of the focus is on the Gulf and very little on Jordan or Egypt.

Jordan’s coolness toward Israel is also a reflection of the government’s need to secure popular support amidst severe popular discontent with economic conditions as well as the fear that the uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon could spread. 

Core Issues Remain Unchanged

Jordan is sending a clear message that the relationship with Israel is not one way – and not irreversible – and that Jordan cannot be excluded from regional relationships. And yet core economic and security links between the two countries are unchanged. There is still full-scale security coordination; the Israeli-Jordanian gas agreement – which is highly unpopular and which undercuts Jordan’s effort to achieve energy independence (see further background here)  – is soon going on stream; and the free trade zone between the two sides is still fully operational. 

Jordan’s coolness toward Israel is a reflection of the government’s need to secure domestic popular support
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Yet it is likely that we will see further degradation in relations. If, for example, Israel annexes some or all of the West Bank, that could be a near-terminal blow to the relationship. Apart from the fears expressed above, such an Israeli move would, among other things, erase the land that remains as a border between Jordan and Palestine, something that is unacceptable to both. At the same time, much as Jordan might like to have a severe a response, it has to take into consideration its heavy reliance on the US, which is its biggest donor to the tune of $1.6 billion annually, and also a source of political support. Similarly, aid from some of the key the Gulf states could (and is) being used to pressure Jordan to stay in line. 

Implications for Jordanian-Palestinian Relations

Jordan and Palestine are acutely aware that the danger threatens them both, and are both coming under similar economic and political pressures from the same set of actors. The Palestinian Authority (PA) currently sees Jordan as its closest ally in the region. Egypt is focused on Gaza and on securing “calm” between Hamas and Israel that could translate into a more permanent ceasefire. The Gulf states are facing their own set of issues, and Lebanon and Iraq are tackling severe crises. 

Jordan as well as the PLO/PA need to develop a plan B to counter Israel’s moves
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This leaves Jordanian and Palestinian officialdom more closely aligned and there is now daily coordination between the two. Recently, Jordan has for the first time included Palestinians from Jerusalem (including members of the Fatah Party) in the council governing the Al-Aqsa compound. Both sides should build on this to expand the effort to protect the holy sites. In another sign of increasing closeness, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh signed three memoranda of understanding with Jordan during his July 2019 visit, his first stop on an Arab tour as part of his effort to disengage the Palestinian economy from Israel’s. Ways need to be found to prevent Israel from blocking the implementation of these agreements, perhaps drawing on the backing of the European Union and its member states. 

Perhaps most importantly, Jordan as well as the PLO/PA need to develop a plan B to counter Israel’s moves. Jordan is still basing its position on the resolution of the conflict based on a Palestinian state and a just solution to the refugee problem.  While continuing to work for that solution it is imperative that Jordan at least reduce its dependency on Israel, particularly in the water and energy sectors. Efforts to expand relations with Turkey and Qatar are good steps in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to prepare to deal with all eventualities.

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Are Palestinian elections on the horizon?

There is a growing expectation among analysts that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas could soon issue a decree to set up parliamentary and presidential elections in 2020.

A vote was last held for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) – the parliament of the PA in the occupied West Bank and Gaza – in 2006.

Then, Hamas won a majority of seats in a result that influential members of the international community, including the United States and the European Union, sought to undermine on the grounds of Hamas being seen as a “terrorist” organisation.

A bitter conflict between Abbas’s Fatah party, the dominant faction in the PA which administers parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, which seized control of Gaza a year after the 2006 election, has prevented elections taking place ever since.

“Elections should be a real chance for Palestinians to democratically elect their leaders and to rebuild their broken trust in the PA,” Marwa Fatafta, a policy analyst at the Al-Shabaka think-tank, told Al Jazeera, adding, “and not a rubber stamp exercise to entrench power, revive the leadership’s expired legitimacy and recycle the same names and factions.”

In the last few months, a number of developments have potentially set the Palestinians on the road to elections.

In October, Abbas commissioned the chair of the Central Elections Committee (CEC) to begin preparations, and by late November, all Palestinian factions – including Hamas – had given their approval for a vote to take place following meetings with the CEC officials.

A step to end division?

For analysts, however, there is a distinction between procedural advances and political obstacles – and the latter may well prove more critical. In a September poll, only 38 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza said they actually expected elections to take place “in the near future”.

According to Alaa Tartir, a research associate at the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and a colleague of Fatafta at Al-Shabaka, “neither Fatah nor Hamas are serious in their calls for parliamentary and presidential elections”.

“Both parties, after more than a decade of the intra-Palestinian divide, mastered the art of political manoeuvring and are fully aware of the tactics and limits of each other; and therefore, they know how to reinforce each other directly and indirectly,” he told Al Jazeera.

That being said, Tartir added, “it is very likely that Abbas will issue a presidential decree soon”, but that “decree will remain impracticable until Fatah and Hamas agree on the operational aspects of the elections and the political implications”.

The fact that any movement at all has been made towards elections is likely a reflection of external – especially international donor states – and domestic pressure, analysts believe.

“An election could help reducing the pressure Fatah and Hamas receive from the people with regards to their division so they feel they have to respond to this pressure by engaging in what it seems like a step to end division and engage in legitimacy and reconciliation,” Ibrahim Fraihat, an associate professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera.

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Palestinian Elections: Essential or Harmful?

Palestinian general elections in the near future are looking more and more likely. But are they necessary?

In our final policy lab of 2019, Inès Abdel Razek joins host Marwa Fatafta to discuss the significance of elections within the current leadership crisis, foreseen challenges to the democratic process, and potential for new political players to emerge.


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With the Peace Process Dead, What Options Are Open for the Palestinians to Create a State?

A regular survey of experts on matters relating to Middle Eastern and North African politics and security.

Nadia Hijab | Board president of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network

The only option for Palestinians to create a sovereign state—or to secure equal rights and justice in a single state of Palestine-Israel—is to build up their sources of power. The two-state solution has so far failed not just because Israel is so powerful, but also because its unlawful settlement project was not effectively challenged by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which have focused on state-building before achieving liberation.

The PLO-PA has secured important legal and diplomatic wins. These include the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s separation wall, the non-member state status of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, which enabled the PLO to join international organizations such as the International Criminal Court, and passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in 2016, which described Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law. But it has never devised an integrated, consistent, and effective political and diplomatic strategy binding the international community. The PLO-PA also tended to ignore national and international civil society engaged on the issue.

There is another opportunity to act now. A European Court of Justice ruling has just made it law for products from Israeli settlements to be labeled as such in European Union member states. The PLO-PA must get behind a clear plan to ensure that this is carried through, as a first step to saving Palestine.

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