“The Palestinian people have grown distrustful after years of unfulfilled promises – so true – yet I know they are ready to escape their tragic past and realise a great destiny”. That was one statement that no one could disagree with that US President Donald Trump made on Tuesday night as he unveiled hi “deal of the century”. Palestinians have had a tragic past and deserve a better future. And yet such a future can only be realised with the right to self-determination. A viable Palestinian state is not only a demand of the Palestinians, but a necessity for the future and prosperity of the entire region.
The deal proposed by Mr Trump and cheered on by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers Palestine a chance at formalising its status as a state – at least, in the eyes of the US and Israel. It could control its own ports, though it cannot take any steps to secure them. Palestine can even have a fully contiguous, albeit greatly reduced, territory – if a network of bridges and tunnels connecting otherwise enclaved Palestinian land qualifies as “contiguous”.
In what has been charitably referred to as a “land swap”, Israel would cede two, largely empty plots of land in the Negev Desert. The reality is that what has been proposed alone cannot lead to a viable Palestinian state, without which there can be no two-state solution. East Jerusalem must be Palestine’s capital. The meeting point for the three Abrahamic Faiths, Jerusalem is the key to peace and bringing people together.
Mr Trump’s deal is, in many places, incomplete. Despite statements about creating economic opportunities for the Palestinians, the core issues of citizenship and refugees are not properly addressed. The proposal also falls short of granting Palestinians basic rights and offers no solution for more than five million of their compatriots displaced in neighbouring countries, who have been rendered stateless for generations and would not be allowed a right of return. Two million Palestinians are registered as refugees in neighbouring Jordan and half a million are still languishing in camps across Lebanon, where they are treated as second-class citizens. Another half a million who sought refuge in Syria are now trapped in the country’s bloody civil war. While Mr Trump’s plan states the right of return is not recognised by the United States, they are rights that are rightly enshrined by international law and United Nations resolutions. A durable solution for generations of displaced Palestinians must be found.
The American plan is undoubtedly favourable to Israel. And yet a thousand no’s as expressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not in themselves lead to any real solution. Three years of waiting for the Trump administration’s proposal are now over. While the United States has finally unveiled its vision of how an end-state could look like, the 180-page document does not by any means represent a done deal. Palestinians and those who support a two-state solution must find a path back to negotiations. Peace deals are always difficult to negotiate and this is certainly the most difficult after a half-century of occupation. The challenge is to channel energy towards a renewed negotiation process that can bring peace, true stability and prosperity to the people of the region.