Dr. Saeb Erekat| Published in the New York Times on May 22, 2019
The Trump administration says it has a peace plan for the Middle East. Those behind it claim that they are offering a new approach to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one focused on an “economic vision,” and that it deserves a chance. Yet none of what has been revealed so far has addressed the real issues: the end of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and the preservation of the internationally recognized inalienable rights of the people of Palestine.
Unless the Trump administration’s plan addresses these issues head-on, it is a non-starter for the Palestinians. It should be for the rest of the world, as well. Judging from the statements and actions that have emerged from the administration so far, there is no reason to believe that President Trump’s supposed peace plan will present a departure point for peace. On Sunday, the administration announced it will hold a meeting next month in Bahrain called “Peace to Prosperity,” replacing the historic concept of “land for peace.” Let us be clear: There will be no economic prosperity in Palestine without the end of the occupation. Notably, the Palestinian leadership was not consulted by any party on this meeting.
Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. Palestinians — including me — engaged with the Trump administration for months. Shockingly, the Americans then decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 and the United States’ own avowed commitments to the peace process.
The Trump administration in effect claims it is reinventing international mediation. While the concept of a “biased mediator” has in some negotiations been used to obtain concessions from the party closer to the mediator, that is not what is happening here. The “concessions” that the Trump administration will ask of Israel are marginal. Above all they do not require Israel to end its military control over the land and people of Palestine. What the Trump administration is seeking is not a peace agreement but a Palestinian declaration of surrender.
The members of Mr. Trump’s Middle East team claim that they want to boost the Palestinian economy and improve Palestinian lives, but economic growth can never be a substitute for the right to live in dignity, free from military occupation and oppression, in our homeland. The main obstacle to Palestinian economic growth is clear: the occupation. This has been repeatedly documented in reports by the United Nations and the World Bank. Yet Mr. Trump’s Middle East envoy repeatedly blames the Palestinian government for the economic situation, even as Israel maintains control over our natural resources and borders, including the isolation of occupied East Jerusalem and the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The Trump team has a background in the real-estate business. But the issues at stake are about national liberation, justice and equality. No one can devalue the right of any nation to be free or eliminate its dignity.
Our position is an expression of our national dignity; it is based on international law and United Nations resolutions. Our recognition of Israel on the 1967 border, equivalent to 78 percent of historic Palestine, was a painful compromise. Our support for the two-state solution was reaffirmed by the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world. Israel never formally responded to it. This was also the basis of the peace plan presented by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to the United Nations Security Council in February 2018.
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and one of the architects of the plan, has said the administration does not want to mention the “two-state solution.” It certainly doesn’t want to mention the alternative: one democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens. If the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about a two-state solution on the 1967 border or about one democratic state for everyone, what it is actually talking about is the consolidation of a “one-state reality”: one state, Israel, controlling everything while imposing two different systems, one for Israeli Jews and another for Palestinians. This is known as apartheid.
Is this the Trump administration’s goal? The president said that he had taken Jerusalem off the negotiating table by recognizing it as Israel’s capital. Seemingly, the administration has been trying to do the same with the refugee issue by attacking funding for services for refugees. The administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington and closed the American consulate in Jerusalem, established in 1857. The State Department dropped the term “occupied” from its recent human rights report and appears to have gone as far as recognizing the acquisition of land via the use of force, setting a dangerous precedent not only for Palestine but also for the world.
Amid all of this, there may be some good news. The damage caused by the Trump administration to the cause of peace can still be averted. The international community, including Israel’s primary trading partner, the European Union, can take immediate action — recognizing the state of Palestine and holding Israel accountable for its violations of international law, pushing us both closer to a just and lasting peace. The alternative would be to perpetuate Israel’s occupation and apartheid, condemning the Middle East to more decades of instability and bloodshed.