In an op-ed published on January 30 in The Daily Star, former Associate Editor Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan (Retd) described Washington's Middle East "Peace" Plan as a "recipe for further conflict". He backed his point with facts, exercising his liberty as a journalist to be totally candid. To put it more diplomatically, the plan, if not anything else, is unworkable.
The so called "peace" plan, as it stands today, guarantees anything but peace for the region and beyond. The situation in Palestine has, over time, taken the shape of the world's longest standing instance of injustice. The plan, launched by President Donald Trump and crafted by his son-in-law and Special Representative for the Middle East Jared Kushner, effectively seeks to validate the illegal occupation of Palestinian and Arab territory by Israel since 1967 and, at the same time, deny even a semblance of Palestinian sovereignty over whatever would be left of it. Not surprisingly, it has been summarily rejected in unison by not just the Palestinians, but by the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the African Union (AU). Even Washington's strong ally, the European Union, in a statement by its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said that Trump's plan departs from "internationally agreed parameters". Borrell added that the issues of the borders of a Palestinian state and the final status of Jerusalem were among those still in dispute, and steps by Israel to annex Palestinian territory, "if implemented, could not pass unchallenged". Such a rejection from the EU, all of whose members have strong diplomatic relations with Israel but maintain a studied position on the Palestinian question as a bloc, must have surprised Washington. The EU has earlier condemned Trump's decision in 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying Washington had compromised its position as a mediator for peace.
Reactions to the proposal from other corners have been equally negative. Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 pointed out that the deal doesn't offer Palestinians a state but a "21st century Bantustan in the Middle East. The Palestinian statelet envisioned by the American plan would be scattered archipelagos of non-contiguous territory completely surrounded by Israel, with no external borders, no control over its airspace, no right to a military to defend its security, no geographic basis for a viable economy, no freedom of movement and with no ability to complain to international judicial forums against Israel or the United States". Al-Haq, a Palestinian NGO that has special consultative status with the UN, noted that the proposal "rewards Israel for its illegal colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territory by allowing Israel to annex more territory, in flagrant violation of international law," and it "reaffirms the United States unlawful recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel… [and] unilaterally strips Palestinians of their claims to sovereignty."
B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation, also said that under this scheme, "Palestinians will not be able to exercise their right to self-determination and will continue to be completely dependent on Israel's goodwill for their daily life, with no political rights and no way to influence their future. They will continue to be at the mercy of Israel's draconian permit regime and need its consent for any construction or development. In this sense, not only does the plan fail to improve their predicament in any way, but, in fact, it leaves them worse off as it perpetuates the situation and gives it recognition".
Scholars and those who have followed the Palestine-Israeli issue for long in the United States have always argued that for Washington to be seen as an honest broker, it is imperative for it to be objective and fair. This means that the fundamental issues of illegal occupation and annexation of Palestinian and other Arab territories by Israel, Palestinian sovereignty on areas that would constitute the eventual Palestine state, and the final status of Jerusalem would need to be central to any peace process. Anything less would not work.
The Camp David Egypt-Israel Peace pact of 1978, moderated by President Jimmy Carter, largely worked despite initial rejection by an overwhelming majority of OIC members. This was mainly because it succeeded in achieving two major objectives: end of military conflict between Egypt and Israel and the withdrawal from all Egyptian territories captured by Israel in 1967. However, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—who signed the Oslo Accords in Washington with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat—by a Jewish fanatic youth in 1995, was reflective of the rabid anti-Oslo fervour amongst the Israelis, thereby burying whatever chance of peace Oslo offered.
Avraham Avi Shlaim, an Israeli historian, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University and fellow of the British Academy, said, "For all their shortcomings and ambiguities, the (Oslo) accords constituted a historic breakthrough in the century-long conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. It was the first peace agreement between the two principal parties to the conflict." He added that, "both sides agreed to resolve their outstanding differences by peaceful means. Mutual recognition replaced mutual rejection. In short, this promised at least the beginning of a reconciliation between two bitterly antagonistic national movements." He went on to explain that the return of the rightwing Likud party to power in Israel under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996, and his dependence on far right political forces for continuation in office, signalled the end of the Oslo peace process. Netanyahu made no effort to conceal his deep antagonism to the Oslo process, denouncing it as "incompatible with Israel's right to security and with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel".
President Trump's "peace" plan offers far less. Unlike Camp David of 1978 and the Oslo process of 1993, the latest plan was not preceded by any negotiations between the key stakeholders. It is not surprising, therefore, that the plan has met with widespread rejection. If genuine and lasting peace is to be ensured, it is imperative for all to go back to the drawing board and come up with fresh workable plans that feature a universally recognised and realistic two-state solution that guarantees peace and security for all sides. Sadly, given the current mood among the protagonists, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, Netanyahu's policy of expanding Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian lands, mostly in the West Bank, illegal annexation of territories and the killing of Palestinians continue unabated, and with impunity.
Shamsher M. Chowdhury, BB is a Former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.