The role of the U.S. in the Palestine-Israel issue has been debated for a long time. Until 2017, the U.S. has shown care in following a balanced policy at least on a discourse level between the parties. But, no matter whether the U.S president was a democrat or republican, a chief priority for the U.S. in designing its Middle East policies was to ensure Israel’s security whereas any remark regarding Palestinians was avoided, which has been evaluated as a relatively partial attitude.
Since the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the U.S. has always intervened in the developments concerning Israel. The role of Washington in motivating particularly the Arabs during both Arab-Israeli wars and the peace agreements Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan after the wars cannot be denied. Besides, the U.S. has precluded decisions made against Israel in the United Nations (UN) and other international platforms but it also has respected the principle decisions of the UN regarding the Israel-Palestine issue. The country has also been attentive to the coherence between UN decisions and official statements of the U.S. Department of State and White House.
In contrast to the conventional U.S. policy regarding the Israel-Palestine issue, Trump gave signals of his pro-Israel stance from the first days of his presidency.
It must also be noted that the Oslo Accords that created the present status quo in the Israel-Palestine issue were also carried into effect with the efforts of the U.S. But the atmosphere of convergence between the parties thanks to the agreements was disturbed after the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords, as a result of rising conservative tendencies in Israel. Several attempts by different parties remained inconclusive. Eventually, with Donald Trump’s inauguration as the U.S. President on 20 January, 2017, the U.S. has ended its somehow balanced policies on the Israel-Palestine issue. In contrast to conventional U.S. policies, Trump gave signals of his pro-Israel stance from the first days of his presidency.
Trump’s pro-Israel policy
Before his election as the U.S. president, Trump opened a campaign office in the Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron located nearby Nablus governorate in the West Bank and donated to the organizations in the settlement by saying that the Jewish settlers would not impede a possible peace. But at that time, the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which was taken since the U.S. did not use its veto power, ruled that all kinds of Jewish settlements are forbidden and the existing ones are required to be evacuated urgently in reference to previous decisions. Despite the ruling, Trump did not find it risky to disregard international law. As one of the most highlighted promises of Trump was to solve the Israel-Palestine issue, he took his first steps in this regard as soon as he came to office.
The appointment of Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman by Donald Trump shows that left the so-called peace process to the hands of solely pro-Israel figures.
Trump firstly appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as his senior advisor and assigned him to solve the Israel-Palestine issue. He also appointed his former chief legal officer Jason Greenblatt as a negotiator. Lastly, he assigned David Friedman, a conservative Jewish, as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, thus handing the so-called peace process to a team solely of pro-Israel figures. Even Israel was surprised by the appointment of Friedman as ambassador since it was thought that a person who has organic ties with the Jewish settlements would not be an ambassador as a requirement of the conventional U.S. policy. Naturally, Palestine does not expect this team to treat both sides equally and to offer a fair formula for peace. However, the developments over the past two years went far beyond this expectation and came to the point of annihilating the Palestinian administration and people.
The most important development in this context is undoubtedly Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. The U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with a law enacted in 1995, but all the presidents coming to office as of that date delayed its enforcement on the grounds of security concerns until Trump. Similarly, Trump continued his predecessors’ policy of signing a six-month waiver overriding the law when he came to power but added the note that he would review the situation. After the end of the six-month period, Trump did not sign another waiver and announced that the U.S. officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Then, the proceedings to transfer the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem were completed on 14 May, 2018, within a short span of time contrary to the estimations.
The opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem with a ceremony on 14 May, 2018, resembled a religious ritual rather than a formal ceremony.
Following a quick restoration, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem was opened as the U.S. Embassy with a ceremony on 14 May, 2018, that resembled a religious ritual rather than a formal ceremony. Meanwhile, around 60 Palestinian civilians who gathered at the Israel-Gaza border to protest were killed by Israeli soldiers who fired into the crowd. The U.S. held Hamas accountable for the fatalities by arguing that the Israeli soldiers used their right of self-defense as Hamas sent civilians to the region, which clearly displayed the stance of the U.S. So, despite all the UN decisions in force, warnings issued by the countries in the region, and the calls of the EU and other international organizations for common sense; the U.S. ignored the current status of East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian territory, and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Imbued with the narrative of the Israeli administration, Washington firstly limited and then stopped all economic and social aid to the Palestinian administration on the pretext that the funds were paid to families of individuals imprisoned for or killed while allegedly committing attacks against Israel. Subsequently, the U.S. stopped providing aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides basic health, education, relief and social services to around 5 million Palestinian refugees in camps located in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria alongside Gaza and occupied Palestinian territory. This move cut off another life vein of Palestinian people.
To restrict the political representation of Palestinians, the U.S. shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, annulled the U.S. Embassy in East Jerusalem and forced the proceedings here to be conducted by the U.S. Embassy in West Jerusalem. Imposing sanctions on the international organizations and institutions including Palestine as a member, the U.S. administration left the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC) on the grounds that they engage in anti-Israel behaviors. In addition, it imposed sanctions on the judges of the International Criminal Court that conducted ex-officio investigations on the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010, violations during the 2014 Gaza attack, the restrictions regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque, the extortion of Palestinian lands and properties, and the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli military against those joining the Great March of Return. All these steps demonstrate that the U.S. has been going any length to back Israel.
Despite all the UN decisions in force, warnings by regional governments, and the calls of the EU & international organizations for common sense, the U.S. ignored the current status of East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian territory.
As a consequence of all these incidents, the U.S. administration has lost its role as a mediator and turned into a biased actor that only prioritizes Israel’s interests and disregards international law and practices along with its own values to that end. Although he claims that his prior missions include solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, Trump seemingly wishes to design the region in line with Israel’s demands by using force when necessary rather than offering a fair solution to the issue. This is proven by the information leaked about the so-called “deal of the century”, which is trying to be completed by engaging in consultations only with Israel and several Arab states in the region without including Palestine in the process.
The myth of peace between Israel and Palestine
Israel Hayom, a daily newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson who is known for his close ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, published a news report attributed to unnamed authorities from Israel’s foreign ministry. The report included a text that was alleged to comprise several articles of the so-called peace accord. Although this content is not accepted as an official document, it is thought that Trump and his team intentionally leaked the text. Since Kushner, who managed the process until that time, had previously stated that the plan would be announced after the month of Ramadan, it is believed that the published content might be relevant due to its timing and some revisions might be made according to the responses.
The news report read that the agreement consists of ten articles. According to the first article, the agreement will enter into force upon its ratification by Israel, PLO and Hamas. The document read that a Palestinian state called "New Palestine" will be established in West Bank and Gaza, with the exception of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The new Palestine will not be allowed to create an army. The only weapons it will be allowed to possess will be light weapons for the police. The Israeli army will take on the defense of Palestine and Palestine will pay Israel in return. Hamas will deposit all its weapons and receive salaries. Jerusalem will not be divided or shared between Israel and New Palestine and will be the capital of both Israel and New Palestine. The parties will not be allowed to buy property from each other. The Israeli Jerusalem municipality will be responsible for all areas of the city except for education, which will be dealt with by the new Palestinian government. Taxes will be collected from Palestinians to pay for the services provided by the municipality. The present status of the holy sites will continue. Democratic elections will be held in Palestine within one year. One year after the elections and establishment of the government, Palestinians held in Israeli prisons will be released gradually over the course of three years.
The U.S.’ longstanding pro-Israel stance has turned into a gradually intensifying oppression mechanism over the past two years, which has stalemated Palestine in economic and social terms.
For Palestinians’ freedom of travel, a seaport and airport will be established in New Palestine within five years. Until then, Palestinians will use airports and seaports in Israel. These areas will be under Israeli control for security concerns. The Jewish settlements in the Area C of the West Bank, which constitutes around 65 percent of the West Bank, will remain the same and new roads will be built in certain spots to connect these settlements. In addition to the lands in Gaza, Egypt will lease new land to Palestine for use other than residence. The leasing price will be determined subsequently. A highway connecting the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be established. China will pay 50% of its cost, while South Korea, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and the EU will each pay 10%. The Jordan Valley will remain under Israeli control. The road in this area will be widened to connect Palestine and Jordan. The border between Palestine and Jordan will be under Palestinian control.
The U.S. will pay 20% of the cost for all these infrastructure and development projects and the EU 10%, while Gulf states will fund 70% as they are the most direct beneficiaries of the deal.
The last part regarding the stages of implementation reads that if Hamas or the PLO refuses to sign the deal, the U.S. will cancel all financial support to the Palestinians, and if the PLO signs the deal but Hamas or Islamic Jihad refuses, the leaders of these two movements will be considered responsible. In a new war between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the U.S. will back Israel in targeting these leaders. It also adds that If Israel refuses to sign the deal, the U.S. will cease all financial support.
As can be seen, the deal that has been shaped by the U.S administration protects the present gains of Israel while failing to meet the demands of Palestinians on the subjects such as the 1967 borders, the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and return rights of Palestinian refugees stated in the UN resolutions. Since Israel has developed closer ties with the Sunni Arab states in the region with the support of the U.S. within the recent period, the possibility of these countries supporting Palestine has been ruled out. Contrarily, they started pressing on Palestinians to make them accept the above-mentioned deal. These states try to dodge the issue by paying the amounts stated in the deal instead of paying regard to the rights and demands of Palestinian people.
The U.S.’ longstanding pro-Israel stance has turned into a gradually intensifying oppression mechanism over the past two years, which has stalemated Palestine in economic and social terms. Although accepting the deal seems like the only viable way to survive for the Palestinians, this so-called peace deal, which does not offer any noteworthy gain to Palestine despite all concessions, is likely to turn into a subjugation agreement that might cause the complete annihilation of Palestine.