Is Saudi throwing Palestine under the bus? Leaked details of new MidEast peace deal outrage allies
As Prince Mohamed Bin Salman attempts to consolidate his power on the Saudi Arabian throne and bring about a more progressive approach to politics in the country, his inexperience at brokering deals is beginning to show.
The middle east has always been a melting pot of complicated regional issues and politics which have contributed massively to its instability in recent times. The debacle that was the Iraq invasion and the subsequent rise of ISIS added further fuel into the fire, and now, the forceful nature of Mohamed Bin Salman's ascendancy to the Saudi Arabian throne and his supposedly progressive approach have left a lot to desire.
The prince has recently been in the headlines quite a bit because of his eye-opening policies that seem to steer away from the nation's super-conservative, orthodox approaches, but his lack of foreign policy experience is now beginning to show; especially when it concerns with dealing with the metaphorical black sheep of the region: Israel.
Israel has long proved to be a contentious issue for the Arab world, from its conception following the conclusion of World War II to the still hotly-debated issue of its occupation of the West Bank; a territory Palestine believes should be under its control and governance. Saudi Arabia's stance concerning Israel has primarily been a neutral one, but according to various sources, that is now set to change in favor of the nation.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had recently traveled to Saudi for consultations with the crown prince and was reportedly presented a peace deal that was heavily skewed in favor of Israel. If accepted - which it most definitely will not be - it will see Palestine get its own state but only certain portions of the contentious West Bank, as well as limited sovereignty. Furthermore, Israeli settlements on the West Bank would remain, East Jerusalem would not be given as the country's capital, and there would be no return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The Saudis also put forward the notion of compensating the Palestinians for the loss of their self-proclaimed West Bank territory by adding territory to the Gaza Strip from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a majorly desert area that has recently been susceptible to terrorist attacks. That proposal was immediately rejected by Egypt.
As details of the proposal spread, they were met with incredulity and disbelief from Palestinian officials from Abbas' ruling Fatah party as well as it's rival, Hamas, who said they found the plan insulting and unacceptable. Hassen Yousef, a senior Hamas leader had said: "If the Palestinian leadership were to accept any of the above, the Palestinian people would not let them remain."
Unfortunately, it seems like that might be the case even if the deal is rejected. According to those briefed on the matter, the prince informed Abbas that if he did not accept the terms within two months, then he would be pressed into resignation to make way for a replacement. To pacify the Palestinians and to soften the hammer blow, the prince had apparently offered vastly increased financial support and even direct payment to Abbas, but that had been rejected as well.
Saudi was quick to quell these rumors, with the Saudi ambassador Prince Khalid saying that Saudi Arabia 'fully supported the Palestinian leadership under President Abbas' and 'has not and will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. He also wrote in an email that "the Kingdom remains committed to a settlement based on the Arab peace initiative of 2002, including East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. To suggest otherwise is false."
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Abbas's spokesman termed these tales as 'fake news' that 'does not exist' and that the Palestinians were still waiting for a legitimate, formal proposal from the U.S. Another member of Hamas said that there was unease because Abbas and his aides had not publicly revealed and denounced the Prince's suggestions, saying: "As long as they remain quiet about this, we do have fear of something like this happening."
The White House has also subsequently denied that this was its plan and that it was still months away from finalizing a blueprint for peace. Joshua Raffel, a White House spokesman, said: "There is constant speculation and guessing about what we are working on, and this report is more of the same. It is not reflective of the current state of the plan we are working on or the conversations we have had with regional players."
Despite assurances from all sides that these suggestions were nothing more than 'hearsay', it has still worried some of the US's closest allies who themselves have their own vested interests and concerns in the region. An adviser to France president Emmanuel Macron told The New York Times that French officials had heard a version of the Saudi proposals that it sounded startlingly similar to Israel's opening bid.
The fears amongst Palestinian officials, as well as other officials from the middle east, is that Prince Mohamed had put forward the plan as a way to garner favor with America and Trump. Donald Trump had put his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of brokering the 'ultimate peace deal' and following almost a year of listening tours and deliberations, a plan is said to be taking shape. The fact that Prince Mohamed's inconspicuous meeting with Abbas took place less than two weeks after Kushner visited him in Riyadh will only raise further suspicion that the half-cooked deal was indeed the doing of the U.S.
The hurry to push any deal over the line may be because Saudi Arabia has made clear that its top priority in the region is not the Palestine-Israel issue but confronting Iran. Analysts feel the Israel-favored deal is a poorly-disguised attempt at sealing Israeli cooperation against Iran, which is currently not entirely guaranteed because of the Palestine issue plaguing the region. While Saudi has maintained an ostensibly neutral stance so far, it's an open secret that they have cooperated with the Israelis for years regarding security concerns.
The rumors swirling might have already done considerable damage to relations, but they will pale in comparison to the damage caused by president Trump if he goes forward with his speech on Wednesday where he will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Though the US is one of Israel's staunchest supporters, doing so would practically eliminate its status as a neutral broker, and undo decades of consensus among international peacemakers that any change in Jerusalem’s status must come as part of a negotiated deal.
Israel has constantly claimed that Jerusalem is its eternal, indivisible capital, but Palestinians have always wanted East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state. Palestinian officials have warned that US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would threaten the chance of a two-state solution, fuel tensions and provoke an uprising across the Arab world.
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