As Benjamin Netanyahu returns from Washington to Jerusalem determined to keep his seat as Israel’s prime minister, it is clear that the Final Status issues — those pesky issues between Israel and the Palestinians that Israel never wants to discuss – are being eliminated one by one in a regional scheme that is titled Deal of the Century. This so-called “Deal” will be the final undoing of Palestinian hopes for justice, self-determination and return.
From the reckless declaration by President Donald Trump that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, to his more recent proclamation that the United States recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, it is becoming clear what the Deal of the Century will entail: disregard of the Palestinians and recognition of Israeli rights to all of Palestine.
The purpose of the declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights at this particular moment is twofold: It is an enormous contribution to Netanyahu’s campaign for re-election on April 9, a clear signal that Trump favors Netanyahu; and, what is even more troubling, it is a precursor to what we may soon see happen with Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank.
Four elements are likely to dominate the Deal of the Century: Palestinian self-determination; refugees; Jerusalem; and the future of what was formerly known as the West Bank and has been named by Israel Judea and Samaria. We have already been given a preview of what is to come with the first three:
- Jerusalem, with the Trump declaration of December 6, 2017 recognizing the city as the capital of Israel;
- Recognition of Palestinian right to self-determination was de-facto reversed when in September 2018, on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the Trump administration closed down the PLO mission in Washington;
- The refugee issue received an almost fatal blow when in August of 2018 the State Department announced that it will no longer provide funds for UNRWA , the United Nations agency created to take care of Palestinian refugees. Even more than financial significance, the $350 million cut to the UNRWA budget was a blow to the very existence of refugee issue. Trump, serving Netanyahu’s agenda, is attempting to eliminate the refugee issue altogether by questioning the right of the Palestinians to aid and by questioning the right of the descendants of the 1948 refugees to refugee status.
The refugees must cease to exist
The Deal of the Century is likely to include an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian refugee issue. In a statement he made in Hebrew to the Israeli cabinet, in July 2018, Netanyahu called the Palestinian refugee issue “fictitious.” He claimed that the sole purpose of UNRWA was to keep the Palestinian refugee issue alive forever and thus to threaten the state of Israel by perpetuating the notion of a right of return. Trump, for his part, is currently claiming that only the people who had actually lived in Mandatory Palestine before the 1948 ethnic cleansing — people who are now 70 years old or older — can be considered refugees; their descendants cannot.
Netanyahu’s problem is that when you ask Palestinians in the diaspora where they are from, they say Yaffa, Haifa, Ramle, and so on. When you ask Israelis where they are from, they say, Poland, Russia, Morocco, Yemen, and so on.
When you ask Jews around the world they say the same thing Israelis do. So, while the grandchildren of the 1948 refugees can tell you the name of the town or village from which their family came, even though the village has been destroyed, no Israelis — or Jewish people, for that matter — can trace their roots back to the ancient kingdom of Judea.
It is important to note and remind both Trump and Netanyahu that, according to international law, even refugees who were not born in Palestine but in the diaspora are refugees and have a right to return. This is because, under international human rights law, neither local integration nor resettlement forecloses the possibility of refugee return to their country of origin. Furthermore, after a large-scale displacement, such as the one that took place in Palestine in 1948, restitution may cover both public and private property.
Not only people
It is not only the return of the people, but it is also the rightful claim to restitution, which will surely be made, that Israel dreads.
The extent of abandoned property that Israel has taken over as a result of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine is enormous. Palestinians were expelled from entire cities including Jaffa, Ramleh, Haifa and all of west Jerusalem. In addition to that, there are vast tracts of agricultural land that were taken. After the population was expelled, profit-making orchards of citrus, olive and other agricultural products were handed over by the newly established state to Jewish agricultural settlements.
Netanyahu and the entire Zionist establishment are aware of all this and they fear the day when they will be held accountable for this theft of property. Restitution of Palestinian property has received little discussion, largely because of Israel’s refusal to engage and pressure by Zionist groups to keep this subject off the table. The Deal of the Century is likely to try to make it disappear for good.
Judea and Samaria is next
Israeli annexation of the West Bank used to be a far-fetched idea. That is no longer the case. The West Bank is now, and has been for many years, “Judea and Samaria.” It has cities and counties; it includes industry and a bureaucracy with its own police force. There is a highway system in place and shopping centers — all built exclusively for Jews. Official annexation of the area to Israel today — much like recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — would be merely a formality, albeit one that contravenes international law.
It is realistic to expect that, as part of the Deal of the Century, the U.S. will, before long, recognize Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. This will mean officially creating one state over all of Palestine with exclusive rights for the minority Israeli Jews. While this may seem like a win for Israel, it will also give rise to serious problems for the Zionist state.
Israel controls the lives of 2 million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, 2.2 million Palestinians locked up in the Gaza Strip and about 3 million Palestinians in what used to be the West Bank. That is a total of 7 million Palestinians living without rights in a state where about 6 million Israeli Jews have exclusive rights.
Careful what you wish for
Today, perhaps more than ever, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is being dictated by Israel and specifically by Benjamin Netanyahu. It is executed by Jared Kushner through his father-in-law, the president of the United States. Though the Deal of the Century will try to eliminate the Palestinian issue for good, what the architects of the “Deal” in their arrogance fail to see is that this so-called “Deal” is nothing more than an irresponsible, impractical and precarious plan that will fall just as soon as it is raised.
Top photo | President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. Susan Walsh | AP
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”