The ways Palestinians are contesting the Trump plan for peace and how the Trump deal caters only to extremists on the Israeli and American right.
Former Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Alkidwa analyzes the Trump presidency’s initiatives in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in an exclusive Q&A interview with Senior Editor Sean David Hobbs of the Cairo Review of Global Affairs (Posted on March 5,2020).
Nasser Alkidwa, 66, is the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Yasser Arafat Foundation and a member of the Central Committee of Fatah. He served as foreign affairs minister of Palestine and in 2012 was appointed as the Deputy Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria.
A well-known and vocal leader of the Palestinian cause since the 1970s, Alkidwa is the nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He has held numerous prominent positions, including the Arab League’s Special Envoy to Libya and Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations from 1991 through 2005.
Alkidwa champions the two–state solution as the way toward the realization of the national rights of the Palestinian people and the final establishment of the state of Palestine.
Cairo Review Senior Editor Sean David Hobbs spoke with Alkidwa shortly before the March 2 Israeli elections.
Cairo Review: Does the Trump vision signal a departure in terms of the United States being an impartial mediator in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict?
Nasser Alkidwa: I hope not. This is obviously the intention of the Israeli extreme right and at least some of the Evangelicals and supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump. It is probably also the intention of the team behind the so-called vision and this document. The Trump administration clearly wants to take us to a different phase. A phase that does not recognize the existence of the Palestinian people and their national rights, does not recognize Palestinian land, and obviously wants to push for upholding the existing situation as created through illegal Israeli actions, especially in relation to Jerusalem and settlements.
Supporters of the Trump plan also want to push for the mad ideological vision of a greater Israel, and this is one of the main reasons why the Palestinian people do not accept the Trump vision. If you deal with something like this—this kind of theoretical structure—you are actually paving the road for further Israeli illegal measures and even Israeli attempts to get rid of parts of the Palestinian people living inside the state of Palestine, inside the occupied Palestinian territory.
CR: Given the present state of events, is the two-state solution workable anymore?
NA: Absolutely, and probably in a different way than what is usually understood. The way many understand the idea of a “two-state solution” is that such a concept is created by diplomatic means, which were set up only a few years ago. It is meant to be a way for reaching a solution, negotiating a solution between the two sides.
To Palestinians, however, the issue is the existence of the state of Palestine is a political fact. This is something that cannot be negated. Let’s also remember that the Palestinian people are the indigenous people, are the owners of the land. We do accept the concept of the division of the Mandated Palestine. This attempt was of course the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, or UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (on 29 November, 1947). So again, the state of Palestine does exist because of the historic and national rights of the Palestinian people, because of the international legitimacy including General Assembly Resolution 181, and because of the recognition of the state of Palestine by most of nations in the world.
Actually, more states recognize Palestine than Israel. And the state of Palestine is linked with the national existence and the national identity of the Palestinian people. After knowing all this one can reach but one conclusion: the existence of the state of Palestine is not negotiable. It is the embodiment of Palestinian national rights, and we struggle for the independence of that state and frankly not for the two-state solution.
The two-state solution again is a political formula, if you wish. But our job is to achieve national independence, achieve independence in the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. And that again is not going to go away. It does not matter whether we have the Trump vision or not, whether annexation occurs or not; that is not the decisive element. The adoption of the Trump plan will make things of course much harder and it will make our struggle a bit longer. Yet, if we are determined and if we unite, then I think it is inevitable, one way or another, that the state of Palestine will be fully achieved.
CR: What would be the Palestinian reaction if Israel proceeds to annex those parts of the West Bank that have clearly been designated within the Trump plan as belonging to Israel?
NA: Listen, first of all let me say that we need to confront the so-called Trump vision and we need to diffuse it and diffuse any dealings with it. This diffusion process should also be done with a clear strategy. One that is focused on improving the internal Palestinian situation and getting ourselves ready to make sure that this Trump vision does not see the light of day and make sure that its repercussions are contained.
So, we have some serious work to do, whether there is annexation or not. And that of course includes achieving reunification and it also includes re-examining the situation of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) itself and maybe restructuring the PA, making it a service-oriented authority. Another goal would be to take another deep look at the security apparatus. Many necessary changes to the PA include a new doctrine and new tasks and roles to be played, basically in service to the Palestinian people. So, all this is necessary and should be done and should be done immediately, and I hope that this will be the case.
Now to answer your question directly, what should be done if Israel takes the additional crazy step of annexing any part of the Occupied Territories?
And by the way, whether they use the word “annex” or use the words “applying the Israeli law” or any other word combinations, it is the same thing. Such actions are meant to create a reality on the ground. In my mind, any step of this kind would obviously be encouraged by the Trump vision and is tantamount to an Israeli official announcement of ending the negotiated settlement.
From our side, our national program remains the same: achieving independence in the state of Palestine that should already exist, on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, yet without a negotiated settlement. We would ask that the whole international community provide the necessary support for the Palestinian struggle precisely to achieve the goal of independence with or without a negotiated settlement. Of course, if the Israelis change their minds and come back to their senses and announce compliance with international law and international legitimacy, we would obviously be ready to come back to the idea of a negotiated settlement.
CR: Do the Palestinians or does the Palestinian leadership have a viable alternative to U.S. mediation of the Palestinian–Israeli peace process, as it appears right now that the administration in power in Washington is choosing one side over the other?
NA: In reality, the United States has never been an honest broker. It has always been a biased state in favor of Israel and Israeli policies. Nevertheless, successive administrations were kind of contemporary, they believed in international law, at least at face value. They understood the rules of the game and the rules of the multilateral values-based international system and the necessity of preserving it.
Now, we have a different administration that is not only biased, but that is actually doing the work of the Israeli extreme right, the Israeli settlers. The Trump administration allows itself to be governed, at least in terms of Middle East policy, by the extreme Evangelical base in the United States. And as such, it is totally out of line and out of time, and definitely this administration cannot be the mediator of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It cannot be the sponsor of the peace process. That is number one.
Number two, let me say that normally, in our world, conflicts are dealt with in a multilateral forum. It is actually the job of the UN Security Council, for instance, to deal with conflicts that threaten international peace and security.
And the UN fights for conflict resolution, except when it comes to the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. The Americans and the Israelis invented the concept that it is up to the parties, meaning giving the upper hand to the stronger party, which in this case means giving the upper hand to Israel.
This allows Israel to escape international rules, international law, and the will of the international community.
I think we need to revisit this concept as a whole; negotiations at some point are necessary, but provided that the two sides want a political settlement and accept each other’s national existence. But even then, there should be a meeting between negotiations—the idea of negotiations and the idea of international legitimacy and international law, the law of the Security Council.
I would expect that the role of the United States will be smaller, will be less prominent, to the benefit of everybody frankly. So in this way we will be closer to normal methods of solving conflicts and reaching political resolutions. But under no circumstances should this Trump administration play the role of the sponsor of the peace process.
CR: How much does the upcoming United States’ presidential election in November play into the peace process and the implementation of this plan?
NA: You know, all elections are important. Let’s first see the result of Israeli elections and whether Mr. Netanyahu will leave the political scene. I certainly hope Netanyahu will be out of power, in the interests of all peoples of the region. It is important to see what the form of the next Israeli government will be and who will lead the Israeli government.
Obviously, the U.S. elections also will be important. No, I cannot imagine any new president in the United States would be able to claim the same role played by this administration in harming the Palestinian interests and the Palestinian rights.
But we’ll see.
A Democratic president would have different policies regarding Israel and Palestine. If President Trump is re-elected, it is logical to expect more of the same from him. Nevertheless, you never know. I mean, presidents in their second terms are not the same presidents as they are in their first terms.
Especially with regard to the influence and the impact of certain political groups. That is, groups and their pressure and influence on that administration. So in any case the American election, I think, will bring with it some kind of breathing space for peace.
CR: What is your perspective on, for example, the plan of a Palestinian capital in Abu Dis? Would such a movement of the capital satisfy Palestinian demands for an independent nation with East Jerusalem as its capital?
NA: Not only does it not satisfy Palestinian plans; it actually is proof that the owners of this idea do not understand anything with regard to history. Half of the history of this region was written because of the fight over Jerusalem. So, if anyone thinks that Jerusalem, the city, can belong to one party just like that, then he or she is very stupid. This city does not accept a monopoly on ownership. It should remain open for all faiths. It should respect the national aspirations of both sides. And it should respect also the conditions and the status and the future of Jerusalemites. We are talking here about hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. They cannot be left in limbo.
So, they have to be part of any state of Palestine that is independent and free. Definitely all of East Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine. I believe also that includes the Old City. Nevertheless, I think we all understand that there needs to be some kind of arrangement that takes into consideration certain facts and certain interests of all parties involved and all parties interested.
CR: In terms of Israel and the Trump plan, does the Trump plan ask that Israel give anything up, in terms of the peace process?
NA: It is not a plan to start with. It is definitely not a peace plan. The Trump vision is a recitation of positions of the Israeli extreme right, settlers and the like. And honestly, I personally cannot believe that it was written by American professionals.
If you look at the language and if you look at gaps and if you look at repetitions and if you look at stupidities and if you look at ideological impact, the Trump plan is something that was surely written by some extreme rabbis, some extreme settlers, or at the very least it is a document that is heavily influenced by those people. As such, it does not require Israel to do anything. The Trump vision begins with the hypothesis that all of the land is Israeli, and that the Palestinians, as a people with national rights, do not exist. What is worse than that?
CR: Some have posited that the Trump plan has dismissed the Oslo agreements and treaties. Does this plan seek to dismiss Oslo and return all sides to a post-Camp David, post-1979 state? Or is the Trump vision worse? Does it seek to create South African-like Bantustans in Palestine?
NA: The plan is dismissive of Oslo. It is basically what the French call mauvaise foi in presenting ideas and texts. For instance, the plan quotes Yitzhak Rabin with regard to Oslo. But it quotes him out of context. It does not aggregate the collective positions of Yitzhak Rabin on this issue. The plan does not mention that Rabin was assassinated.
I mean, this is crazy. This is absolutely crazy. I mean, someone said that this is the first peace plan in history that suggests that one party assumes a worse position than the group’s current position. What more do you want?
I mean, if you just look at how the Trump vision discusses security for instance—the plan’s security arrangements—it is not Oslo in structure. It is not even the current situation. It is worse. The Trump plan makes Palestinians into security slaves for the Israelis. Early warning stations are set to be established inside Palestinian territory. I mean, there is no limit to the craziness of this plan. The ideological motivations are apparent. This plan attempts to deny the national existence of the Palestinian people, national rights, and their right to their land and their state.
CR: How successful has the Palestinian leadership from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority been in opposing the Trump plan?
NA: The Palestinian position, the position of the Palestinian leadership, has been very clear. The Trump vision—by the way I do not think this is a “plan” in the real sense of the word—went too far in violating international law and in departing from the established consensus regarding the Palestinian–Israeli peace process. The Trump vision went so far that it has created political sides.
For instance, there is Palestinian unanimity in rejecting this plan. There is also Arab consensus—something that has been doubted in recent years when it came to the peace process. Let me tell you that I feel that the team behind that document lied heavily to some Arab leaders. And when these leaders started to discover the reality about the text of the Trump vision, they realized they had been lied to.
So now that Arab leaders have understood the reality of the Trump vision, of course no one will support it. Not one Arab leader can accept that Israel will take and have sovereignty over all of Jerusalem with its Christian and Muslim holy sites. The text of the Trump vision says, for instance, that it will keep the status quo in al-Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. And it immediately then says that the Trump vision will divide al-Haram al-Sharif in terms of time and place, which would destroy the status quo. I mean, again, this idea is something that cannot be accepted by any Arab leader or Muslim leader.
So in a way, Trump and his advisors, by creating such a plan, helped create Arab solidarity. The extreme nature of this document helped in mobilizing positions against it. So, we have now clear Palestinian unanimity, Arab consensus, Islamic unity, and African unity, and hopefully we will manage to get the same support in the UN Security Council. We have Europe supporting the Palestinian position.
Looking forward, we hope that the international community will take a united stance against not only undermining and attempting to destroy Palestinian national rights, but also against an assault on international law and decent conduct of states. Ultimately, there are certain things in the Trump peace plan that are extremely dangerous for everyone worldwide.