US Secretary of State John Kerry's current visit to Palestine was foreshadowed by a familiar dark cloud; every such high-level American visit results in more pressure on the Palestinian Authority. This one will be no exception. Washington is desperate to placate Israeli anger over its deal with Iran. As has happened so many times in the past, Palestinian rights will be sacrificed for Israel's security wish-list. Freedom and justice will remain illusions in Kerry's new-old package.
Israel wants to remain in full control of the occupied Jordan Valley and maintain a permanent military presence there. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are insisting that the Jordan Valley should remain Palestine's natural border with Jordan and that they should have sovereign control over it. Their ability to negotiate this outcome seems as unlikely as ever if the scandalous reports that Jordan has endorsed the Israeli plan are true.
While the Americans have acknowledged that their latest plan includes long-term security arrangements for the West Bank and includes the Jordan Valley, chief Palestinian negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat has denied any knowledge of any such proposals.
During an earlier round of negotiations in October, Israeli negotiators offered to transfer sovereignty of the Jordan Valley to the Palestinian Authority, which would then lease it to Israel. To their credit, the Palestinian representatives rejected the idea. The picture has now changed dramatically amid reports that Israel intends to build a security wall 200 kilometres long down the Jordan River in the north to the Dead Sea in the south.
The dilemma now confronting the PA is entirely one of its own making. It was those now running the authority who secretly negotiated and agreed to the Oslo Accords, which divided the West Bank into three administrative areas: A, B and C. They conceded to Israel that it should remain in control of Area C, which is not only illegally occupied territory but also constitutes 61 per cent of the West Bank.
According to the accords, Palestinians are not allowed to build in Area C without a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration and, as is the case in so many other parts of the occupied territories, that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, at the best of times. However, the "understanding" was that Israel would hand over the territory to the PA gradually as part of a final agreement, except for parts mutually agreed upon. By seeking to keep those parts of Area C along the Jordan Valley apologists for Israel argue that it is simply acting according to the letter, though not the spirit, of the agreement.
Sadly for them, the entire Jordan Valley constitutes 30 per cent of the West Bank and is home to at least 56,000 Palestinians. Its naturally irrigated land is very fertile and has the potential to be developed into a virtual bread basket and source of vital revenue for the future Palestinian state.
Although it has been publicised as an American proposal, Mr Kerry's blueprint has all the hallmarks of something cobbled together by the Israeli military. In fact, the US initially held the view that an international force should be stationed along the valley. It has clearly now caved in, yet again, to Israeli demands. If accepted in its entirety, the plan would see Israel also having total control over the air space of a demilitarised Palestinian state and the right to establish early warning posts in strategic zones within it.
In order to appear fair and committed to a just peace, Israel is offering the Palestinians 1 per cent of Area C to establish a few agricultural projects. According to Maariv newspaper these will be funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). To add insult to injury, Israeli military officials have made it clear that even though the land set aside for such projects would be allocated to the PA, it would remain under Israel's sovereignty.
The gradual transfer of Area C promised under Oslo never took place and, in the meantime, access to the area for most kinds of Palestinian economic activity has been severely limited. On the other hand, Israel has more than 400,000 illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.
Area C is vitally important for the economy of any future Palestinian state. Apart from its vast agricultural potential, there is also scope to engage in mineral exploitation in the Dead Sea, as well as mining and quarrying, construction, tourism, telecommunications and cosmetics. For the moment, such development potential is all academic.
The current proposal delivered by Secretary of State Kerry represents the American vision of what the status quo would look like after a final agreement with the Palestinians. However, it is nothing but another attempt to corral the Palestinian people into a glorified reservation while the rest of their land and resources are plundered. It is hard to imagine a more humiliating and undignified scenario after two decades of negotiations. The sad reality is that if the PA cannot stop the construction of settlements in Ramallah, the latest of which has just been announced, what chance does it have of exercising sovereign control over the Jordan Valley?
The only tangible result likely to emerge from the this latest US proposal is a reframing of the Oslo Accords. On this occasion "Palestine" will not be called a national authority but a state. In the end, the Palestinian signatories to any such document will merely be confirming their status as the enforcers of Israeli security policies upon their people and the occupation will continue. Freedom and justice will remain illusory.