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A changing Middle East: Why the deal of the century will fail

May 14, 2019 at 11:50 pm

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner (C-R), US President’s daughter Ivanka Trump (3rd R), US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (R) and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin (2nd R) attend the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May 2018 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty]

Some are being misled to believe that the soon-to-be-announced deal of the century is a US-sponsored peace initiative aimed at resolving the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

However, such a perception is erroneous, not only because the US is not interested in achieving a just peace in the region, but because the US plot is much closer to its previous regional hegemonic initiatives than to the defunct ‘peace process’.

The Palestine-Israel component of the initiative is clearly designed to fail. For example, details leaked to Israel Hayom newspaper that the ‘deal of the century’ proposes the establishment of a ‘New Palestine’ in the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel annexes all illegal settlement, is a non-starter.

If the Palestinian Authority (PA) refuses to sign the deal, according to the report, the US is set to cancel all financial support received by the Palestinians. If the PA accepts the deal, but Hamas and the Islamic Jihad reject it, the leaders of the groups will be targeted by Israel with the backing of the US.

READ: Netanyahu announces site of Trump Settlement in Golan Heights

The reality is that this is utterly reprehensible. Israeli killings of Palestinian leaders in the past have always received the total support of Washington, and cutting off money to the PA has been in motion for months.

But these unrealistic terms are only a distraction from the much larger and more consequential arrangement underway in the Middle East as a whole.

The deal of the century is not a peace plan, nor was it ever intended to be. It is a last-ditch American effort, aimed at maintaining its hegemony in the Middle East. It is a massive, colonial undertaking that is driven by the same misguided notion that for the US to maintain a semblance of relevance, let alone leadership in the region, Israel must remain the regional hegemon, and Iran must be contained and eventually, totally subdued.

Trump's Deal - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Trump’s Deal – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

But more importantly, it is a regional plot that aims at refashioning a new Arab leadership that operates based on an entirely different agenda. If the deal of the century is to succeed, Iran will become the new common enemy facing both Arab regimes and Israel. The centre of Arab power would continue to shift eastward, and Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states would normalise relations with Israel – a process that has, in fact, already begun.

Those who dared to reject the ‘new normal’ in the Middle East would face the dire consequences of political isolation, destabilisation and worse. Those who agreed to play along would be welcomed to the new alliance of Middle East ‘moderates’.

READ: ‘Deal of century’ is ‘deal of surrender for Palestinians’

This new American plan for the region is not open for negotiation and would be determined entirely by Tel Aviv and Washington whose political symbiosis has never been as synced as it is now, especially as both regimes are more empowered than ever before.

The fact that US President, Donald Trump, has survived the consequences of the Mueller Report – which looked into possible collusion between his administration and Russia – has breathed new life into his embattled leadership. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also been emboldened, emerging from the April 9 legislative elections unscathed, if not even stronger.

Trump and Netanyahu are now ready to lay down and enforce the law, and Palestinians and Arabs are expected to obey or pay the price for any possible resistance. The series of US financial sanctions and withholding of funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) starting in September 2018, is a case in point.

The new American-Israeli approach is the antithesis of Washington’s ‘soft power diplomacy’ – a progressive, long term approach to achieving political ends based on enticing and co-opting rather than forcing and coercing. Evidence of that approach has been demonstrated in both words and action. For example, the US decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December 2017, the carrying out of that decision in May 2018 and the declaration that Jerusalem is altogether “off the table” as far as any future political arrangement is concerned.

These measures were accompanied with the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, massive financial cuts of American aid to the PA, and the defunding of organisations that provide direct support to Palestinian refugees, including the UN Palestinian Refugees’ Agency (UNRWA).

School children in an UNRWA institute fly kites carrying the hashtag 'dignity is priceless' to highlight the dire situation in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

School children in an UNRWA institute fly kites carrying the hashtag ‘dignity is priceless’ to highlight the dire situation in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The same pattern is underway regarding the Israel-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. These dramatic events, a significant American departure from decades of Middle East diplomacy, have empowered Netanyahu to declare his intentions to annex Jewish settlements – colonies that are built illegally in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Indeed, while Trump is changing the rules of the game on a regional level, Israeli right-wing extremists, now defining mainstream Israeli society, are hoping to translate the bold American policy into territorial and political gains in Palestine.

Long gone are the days of shuttle diplomacy, ‘painful compromises’ and the presence of US pressure on Israel. Trump is now an American genie, and the Israeli wish list is growing.

The deal of the century proposes a new approach to the Middle East that differs from all others. Unlike previous US doctrines, this one doesn’t aim to solve a conflict, but rather to sort it out through cordial arrangements between Arab rulers and Israel. While the US spent billions trying to fund its failed past doctrines, the deal of the century is likely to be financed by Arab-owned oil largess.

READ: The ‘deal of the century’ as a means to punish the Palestinians

The advent of Trump – an impulsive, erratic and opportunistic president – presented the perfect opportunity for the understated Saudi-Israeli anti-Iran alliance to take shape. His visit to Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017, and astronomical financial military deals signed with the Kingdom (totalling $350 bn) as well as other Gulf monarchies was the price required for the US to re-engage with the region. This time not driven by any particular American priorities or illusions, but by the stated desire to recreate a Middle East region where Israel, Saudi Arabia and their allies are the centres of power.

In this new paradigm, Palestine is set to lose any claim of relevance to its old status of being a cause celebre in the Arab world, Egypt is to be pushed further from the centre of Arab politics and Jordan is set to lose its historical ties to Occupied East Jerusalem. All the keys are to fall in Saudi hands, and behind it, other Gulf states. Those who disagree, per Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader, Mohammad bin Salman, can either “put up or shut up.

It could be argued that this latest American design will also fail, since, after all, the US no longer holds all the cards. The Middle East region and the entire world is changing, and rapidly so.

Iran which once braced itself for a US invasion after the US occupation of Iraq is now a force to be reckoned with, with its presence and influence felt throughout the region, especially in Iraq and war-stricken Syria. Its power is mainly highlighted, if juxtaposed, by the demise of once relatively powerful Arab countries. Egypt is no longer a regional force and is, at best, an American-Israeli-Saudi lackey; Libya is a failed state, lying in ruins amid a seemingly perpetual war. And the rest of the Arab world is undergoing unpreceded suffering, war, revolts and political instability.

READ: Saudi Arabia offers Abbas $10bn to accept US peace plan

Russia has once again managed to insert itself as a relevant party in the Middle East after a prolonged absence starting with the calamitous collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin is the go-to address of Netanyahu as far as the future of Syria, and its impact on Israel’s strategic and security interests are concerned. In fact, on February 11, feuding Palestinian factions met in Moscow to sort out their differences. Unsurprisingly, they failed, but the event that their conference was even held at all under Russian auspices is telling of the future role that Russia envisages for itself.

If all previous US initiatives have failed, what chance does Trump’s deal of the century have now that the US has grown much weaker and less important in the Middle East since the Iraq invasion in 2003? At best, the deal of the century will provide some cover for a few Arab countries to openly normalise with Israel in the name of uniting in the face of Iran – an extreme gamble that is likely to expose further Washington’s weakness in a region that is no longer US-dominated.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.