Palestinians are right to worry about the White House peace plan

There are strong indications that US proposals will drop the two-state solution

AMMAN, JORDAN - MARCH 28: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY  MANDATORY CREDIT - "PALESTINIAN PRESIDENCY / THAER GHANAIM / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with US President Donald Trump's Assistant and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt (R) as part of the 28th Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan on March 28, 2017.  

  (Photo by Palestinian Presidency / Thaer Ghanaim / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The Middle East peace plan, we are told, will be released next month. We have heard this before but, finally, the long-awaited proposals of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt seem imminent.

Even some of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Israel-Palestine conflict believe the US plan will only worsen the situation, so deep are the divisions.

Sadly, there is more reason to believe them than the authors of what Mr Trump has pre-emptively described as the “deal of the century”.

A battle of perceptions on the outcome – and who will take the blame for failure – is speeding up. The White House has so far said nothing of substance about the report but its officials have been briefing on it for months.

In the past week, the Palestinians have belatedly started to counter the US's drip drip approach and are using their biggest forum – the UN – to do so.

The UN is where nations, large and small, are supposed to come together in diplomacy. It did not feel that way when the subject of Middle East peace was discussed on Thursday.

But the cynicism that surrounds the US plan – Palestine's foreign minister said American policy had been hijacked by Israel – has been of Washington's making, not the Palestinians'.

Speaking in New York, Mr Greenblatt added to the perception that the forthcoming proposals will avoid mentioning a two-state solution – a red line for Palestinians. It was a compassionless performance.

Having moments earlier watched a video on a giant screen that showed Israeli security forces evicting a Palestinian family from their home, he could have started by saying such scenes are unacceptable. He could have used the undisputed incident to illustrate why peace is necessary.

Instead, Mr Greenblatt, a lawyer, switched on his microphone and congratulated Israel's leaders on almost 71 years of the US officially recognising it as a state, the classification that Palestinians long for.

He then criticised the UN and the “tired old talking points” of its members on Middle East peace.

If, as Mr Greenblatt said, the US plan will allow the world to see “what peace could look like” then the White House effort will have been worth waiting for.

But low expectations are the result of decisions already taken: the US designation of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the cutting of funding for Palestinian refugees, the shuttering of the Palestinian Mission in Washington and the classification of the Golan Heights as being under Israeli sovereignty.

The Palestinians walked away, believing the US had lost its status as an honest broker and that the peace plan would favour Israel. The cosiness of its authors with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and decisions already taken make it hard to believe otherwise.

The unfortunate reality is that the current US administration has failed to exercise fairness in the world's most protracted conflict of the past century.

Mr Greenblatt did not mention that Israel's decades of settlement building – the topic of Thursday's discussion at the UN – is illegal under international law. Fortunately, other countries did. How will the 14 members of the UN Security Council who oppose the US position on Palestine react when the US peace plan comes out? If the two-state solution is sidelined, France's representative said, then the proposals are “doomed to failure”.

Since the late 1970s, Israel's settlements have grown from 50,000 to more than 600,000 today. It is not a coincidence that the pace has quickened since Mr Trump entered the White House.

Mr Greenblatt, the White House envoy on Middle East peace, could have answered the claims made in the video. Instead, he described it as shameful propaganda.

“Let’s stop pretending that settlements are what is keeping the sides from a negotiated peaceful solution. This farce and obsessive focus on one aspect of this complicated conflict helps no one,” he said.

If results are what past actions are judged on then Mr Greenblatt is right. The Security Council, of which the US is a permanent member, has failed.

But the current disillusionment is not born of dislike of Mr Greenblatt's aims, but rather the way he and Mr Kushner have gone about their business.

Yes, the Palestinians walked away in December 2017 but they had their reasons. A proper peace plan would still have found a way to ensure the likes of President Mahmoud Abbas were listened to over the past 18 months.

Instead, the White House conducted a one-way conversation with Israel.