Conflicts, negotiations, agreements, failures: will Trump’s plan overcome this cycle?

Conflicts, negotiations, agreements, failures: will Trump’s plan overcome this cycle?

The deal of the century highlights once again the crucial role covered by the US in the definition of the Middle East. The rumors about the plan that the Trump administration is preparing are very different and according the last statements, it will be published, following the Ramadan (a month fasting in Islamic tradition).

Therefore, the aim of this article is to clarify the main actors that are involved in the issue, trying to draw a fil rouge connecting the historical conflict steps and some new issues on the table.

The first paragraph will be a historical framework with a focus on the conflicts that marked the territory and the region, since the birth of the Israeli State. In the second part, the focus will be on the two main peace processes, considering the importance of the mediator and a good environment in both leaderships. The third section will be an analysis of the “Deal of the Century”, which in contrast to previous peace initiatives, can be seen as more predictable.

Conflicts timeline

The conflict that characterizes the Middle East since the beginning of the XX century has known different phases due to the results of the Second World War and contextually the Cold War logics.

Moreover, to understand how the situation escalated to what it is today, it is important to consider the facts and events from the end of the Great War (1914-1918).[1]

Historical Palestine is a region situated on the East coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in a land comprised between Lebanon at north, Syria at north-east, Jordan at East, and Egypt at south. The history of the nation-state determination in the Middle East region derives from the dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, in the aftermath of the Great War and the collapse of the Ottomans, the European Colonial powers, such as the  United Kingdom and France, started to wink at local authorities to implement their influence over the region. [2]

This geo-political operation is mainly known as the Sykes-Picot secret agreement, which established the division of the sphere of influence among the two European colonial countries. The division, as shown, in the fig.1, gives to the British the direct control of the lands from Bagdad to Bassora (red zone), and an influence on a land from Amman to Kirkouk. The French gained Lebanon, Syrian coasts, Cilicia (blue zone), and a sphere of influence from Alep to Mosul.[3]

The Palestinian land, within the agreement, was considered as an international zone, because France was claiming the protection over Christian holy places, such as Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In the meantime, the Russian Church also claimed the protection over the orthodox population in the same areas.

In this context of “no man’s land”, the British were solving the problem of the Jews’ promised land claim with the Balfour Declaration in November 1917. The declaration affirms that the Crown supports the establishment of Jewish national home over the Palestinian land, but with a simultaneous recognition of the civil and religious rights of the indigenous population -mainly Arab. 

[4]

The Arab population, at the time, constituted 90% of the Palestinian population. with the British permit for the Jews national home, they saw their own self-determination rights denied, despite the fact that also US President Wilson supported strongly this right.

Consequently, the Balfour Declaration installed the chaos in the Arab world which was already weakened by the wars against the Ottomans.

In 1920, the newborn League of Nation attributed the complete mandate of the land to the British.

During the Second World War, it seemed that the Middle-East issue was hanging there but suffering from “collateral damages” of a war fought far away. First, the tragedy of the holocaust generated huge Jewish migration to the promise land and second, the weakening of the British Empire after the war, gave birth to the first UN resolution over a dispute land. In fact the UN General Assembly in November 1947 adopted the 181 Resolution which foreseen the partition of the Palestinian territory in two States, one for the Jews and the other for the Arabs. The Arabic population rejected the plan. The 15 May 1948, the United Kingdom claimed the end of his mandate over the land, and at the sunrise the Jewish State was proclaimed. The Arab States (Egypt and Jordan) organized an offensive plan which resulted in a failed military intervention due to lack of communication and coordination between them. The uncoordinated offensive was even worst when the “Muslim Brotherhood” entered the conflict. It was in January 1949 that Israel won the conflict gaining the 77% of remaining land. Transjordan annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem East. Only the Gaza strip remain independent. [5]

For the Palestinian population this represented the catastrophic “Nakba”, not only because they lost the possibility to have an independent state, but also because a huge number of Palestinians (around 750000) left their territory and fled in other neighboring countries where they took the refugees status.

The Arab States signed an armistice with Israel in order to bring back the normality, however this did not mean the recognition of the Jewish state.  The condition imposed for the recognition of the Jewish state was the establishment of “the right to return” for the displaced Palestinians.

In 1964, Abdel Nasser -the Egyptian President- promoted the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which aimed at unifying the leadership of all clandestine Palestinian resistance movements. The first situation in which the POL was directly involved was the Six-Day War in 1967. After this moment, the PLO started to be internationally recognized. In 1967, Syria and Egypt attacked Israel that demonstrated a strong defensive force and further established Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, while drove Jordanian Forces from the West Bank.[6]

The year 1973 marked an important step for the development of the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the Israeli Holy Day of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria coordinated another military offensive. In contrast to previous wars and attacks, this, orchestrated by the Arabs, was  better coordinated and shown an unexpected warfare strategy. Nevertheless, the Israeli army needed few military operations to win again. Consequently, Egypt first and Syria later signed a cease-fire agreement, which became later a peace agreement.[7]

In 1979, under the Camp David Accords, the Egyptian government recognized the State of Israel after Israel gave the Sinai penninsula back to Egypt. In 1982, several weeks after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, tensions with the Palestinians emerged again. Simultaneously, the Israeli started to bomb Beirut, a city known for its Palestinian refugees. Meanwhile Israel started bombing the Lebanese borders. Israel invaded the south of Lebanon and the PLO moved under international protection away from the country. Three years later, in 1985, the Israeli army withdrawn entirely from the country.[8]

In 2006, Hezbollah[9] started a military action against Israel who responded with a stronger action. The war lasted 34 days, causing thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people. This initiative from Hezbollah was heavily criticized by the Arab League. [10]

It is clear that the complexity of the Palestinian and Israeli situation cannot be explained simply with a short sequence of conflict over 60 years, but it is necessary to have a frame in which contextualize all the future development of the issue.

[11]

The Peace processes

In this section, two different moments of the peace process will be analyzed in order to compare the similarities and to try to understand why most of the peace initiatives can be considered as a failure. The first one is the Oslo Agreement in 1993 and the second is the Annapolis Conference in 2007. It seems evident that these two elements will not be enough to understand the complexity of the situation and the power dynamics, but it can be a good starting point to analyze Trump’s future plan to reach the peace in the region.

1.The Oslo Accord

When analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian history, a breaking point is the Oslo Accords.  In 1993,  the US President Bill Clinton was the mediator between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, during the first official negotiation aiming at recognizing the two antagonist side. These accords initiated in Norway, aimed to set several initiative for the construction of peaceful climate among the two states. The main principle was to lead the OLP through an institutional development towards the construction of an internationally recognized state.[12]

The Oslo Accords were the results of a change in the international atmosphere: the disruption of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War; the US coalition won in the first Gulf War; Yasser Arafat was in crisis even if his popularity was at its top; and the main shift onto Israeli leadership with the moderate Rabin in 1992. [13]

In a letter written by Arafat to Rabin, he said that he was ready to recognize Israel as a State having the rights to live in peace and in security, to accept the United Nation Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, renouncing to use violence and to stop terrorist attacks on Israeli territory.

From his part, Rabin claimed the recognition of the PLO as the representative government of the Palestinian people and the will to start a peace process investing all the Middle East.

He noted was the first time in the history that these two nations started to talk, recognizing each other. The core issue during this negotiation process, was the partition of the land and the fully recognition of the right to live on the land. [14]

As shown in the previous paragraph, we can notice that the conflict has a regional dimension from the begin (1948-49), illustrated by the Jewish State fighting with its neighborhoods (Egypt, Jordan and Syria) which in turn were driven more by national interests than the will to defend the Palestinians.

Therefore, the Oslo Accord, not only tried to regulate and normalize the issue within the historical Palestinian land, but had a spillover effect granting a kind of normalization also with other Arab States.[15] In a certain point of view, the Oslo agreement, that basically was signed by the PLO and the Israeli government, had a much more important impact on the Israeli external relations than a radical change in the Palestinian way of life. The diplomatic ties with other Arab States such as Tunisia and Saudi Arabia started to become more intense.[16]

Analyzing the issue from the Palestinian side, this accord was strongly opposed by the Hamas political party that during the negotiations caused several clashes in Israel. Rabin decided to deport the authors of the violent actions (almost 400) to Lebanon. This decision was held in order to have a dialogue only with the moderated Palestinian leadership, but this caused a shift in popularity in favor of resistance movements and Hamas at the PLO expenses.[17]

The informal negotiations done before the official Oslo Accord did not touch the main important issues of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. The debate avoided the issue of the right to return for all the Palestinians obliged to leave their land during the 1948 war; the border of the future Palestinian State; the management of the Israeli settlements within the West Bank territory; the status of Jerusalem.[18]

It seems to be clear that the only way to reach any agreement, is to avoid the main important issues that are cause of division between the two groups. In addition, the Israeli Prime Minister was not really favorable for the creation of Palestinian State, but he appreciated more the idea of an extension of a Jordan State.[19]

The Oslo Accords, even if they gained some popularity among Palestinian society, split the leadership among those who were strongly in their favor and those against.

Almost 26 years later, there are several factors defining the reality in the territory supposed to be Palestinian independent state: we assist to an annexation of the West Bank territory; discrimination regime perpetrated by Israel on the occupied Palestinian territory; the fragmentation of Palestinian society.[20]

According to some scholars[21], there are three key factors because the Accord let the possibility for Israel to act unilaterally without take into consideration the PLO’s willingness. First, from a judicial point of view, the Accords gave to Israel the full control of most of the West Bank territory in a transitional period (until the peace is fully achieved). Secondly, the Accords are vague about a crucial point, such as which and where is the amount of territory that the Palestinian will reach; how many Palestinian prisoners will be released; how to regulate the jurisdictional case of the settlement inside the West Bank during the transitional period.[22]

The Oslo Accords started the way for an Israeli and Palestinian peace talks, the last one in which both of them were directly involved was the Annapolis Conference in 2007.

2. Annapolis Conference 2007

In the Joint Understanding on Negotiation 27 November 2007, the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Chairman of the PLO Mahmoud Abbas claimed their willingness to reach an agreement aiming to ensure peace and stability for the two peoples.

These are the goals in the Joint Understanding:

  • We agree to immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception, as specified in previous agreements.
  • We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.
  • For this purpose, a steering committee, led jointly by the head of the delegation of each party, will meet continuously, as agreed.
  • The steering committee will develop a joint work plan and establish and oversee the work of negotiations teams to address all issues, to be headed by one lead representative from each party.
  • The first session of the steering committee will be held on 12 December 2007.
  • President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will continue to meet on a bi-weekly basis to follow up the negotiations in order to offer all necessary assistance for their advancement[23].

At the beginning of this peace process, there were several elements that let though about positive outcomes for the regulation of the issue. First, a deep commitment shown by US President George W. Bush to achieve a peace agreement; the unprecedented engagement of an Israeli Prime Minister, Olmert; the most collaborative Palestinian negotiators. [24]

Therefore, this negotiation process, once again, did not led to a stable and shared plan for the future of these two nations.

The whole structure of the agreement was fragile because of the premises they were agreed upon. The hardest point asked to the Israeli was the stop of all settlement activities beyond the 1967 borders, as well as to stop the attacks against Palestinians and their property, to respect the Jerusalem institutions and other internal closure.[25]

On the other hand, the Palestinian had to stop all the violent actions against Israel, within the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside the Israeli territory.

In the aftermath of the Annapolis conference, the outcome started to be sobering because of two main internal factors. First, the fragmentation of the Palestinian political goals, and second, the instability of the Olmert government.

The cleavage of the political party (mainly Hamas and Fatah[26]) in the Palestinian landscape became stronger and focused on the “Yes peace process” with the Israeli and “No peace process”. Starting with the Oslo Accord, Fatah leadership (Arafat, Abbas) was favorable of a peace agreement and the two states solution. Moreover, it seemed that since this moment, Fatah started to lose his popularity in favor of the Hamas’ increase in consensus.

The breaking point was in 2007, when the Hamas officially won the general elections in Gaza Strip, defining the geographical rupture, that was not anymore only political.[27]

A second factor was the instability of the Olemrt government, that had to enlarge the coalition within Knesset in order to continue the peace process, that obliged the Prime Minister to have a weaker position.

The outcomes that emerged comparing these two peace processes are that in order to have a long-lasting and sustainable peace talk, there are important internal factors as well as external mediators to consider:

  1. It needs inside the Israeli political leadership, to have actors who believe in the necessity to have peaceful ties with the Palestinians (with Rabin in Oslo and Olemrt in Annapolis);
  2. On the Palestinian side, the most important element is the cohesion between all the different forces, otherwise all the requests on the negotiation table with the counterpart will lose the efficacy (the divergence between Fatah leaders, Hamas and civil society);
  3. It is absolutely necessary to have an outsider and “super partes” mediator who strongly desires to achieve the peace in the region (no matter if it is the way or the objective). In this story, this role has been always played by the US.

So, more interest having influence in the region, higher could be the results of the negotiations.

“The deal of the century”

The plan on which Trump and his entourage are working on remains a secret although there are some rumors that published on the main international newspaper that can be interpreted.

According to the Israel Hayom and reported by the Middle East Monitor, the agreement will be directed to three parties: the Israel government, the PLO and the Hamas. The main point is the creation of a state, called “New Palestine” which will be set on actual West Bank and Gaza Strip, exception done by the territory occupied by the Israeli settlements, which would formally be included onto Israel State. The Israeli should release the Palestinian prisoners in a period of three years after the signature of the agreement. The other “red cow”, the Jerusalem issue will be solved with a general control left in the Israeli hands, but the Palestinians will be citizens of the “New Palestine”. The possibility to buy Palestinian houses and lands will be forbidden to the Israelis.[28]

Apparently other international actors will be involved in this huge peace process: Egypt will give land close to the Gaza Strip; China will pay for the infrastructures to connect Gaza and the West Bank, with the economic help of South Korea, Australia, Canada, US and EU.

The creation of the “New Palestine” state will be economically supported by the Gulf states, the US and the EU.

Nevertheless, the “New Palestine” cannot have an army, and thus the defense policy will be left in the hands of Israelis.

If the parties of the agreement, will reject it, they will be punished by a cut in the economic aids given by the US and other international donors.

In any case, the deal will be published after the Ramadan celebration and we will be able to better analyses the elements put on the balance for all the parts involved.

Considering the elements at our disposal, we can affirm that comparing with the previous analyzed peace agreements, there are two elements less: the unity of the Palestinian front, and a pro-peace Israeli leadership. Moreover it seems that new elements are on the table: a more international actors involvement, and a concrete ties between the acceptance of the agreement and the monetary/economic sphere.

Giulia Marino

L’image contient peut-être : plein air

[1]Les Arabes, leur destin et le notre, histoire d’une libération, Jean-Pierre Filiu , La Découverte/Poche, 2018

[2]Ibidem

[3]Les Arabes, leur destin et le notre, histoire d’une libération, Jean-Pierre Filiu , La Découverte/Poche, 2018 (pag.59)

[4]Un accord ingombrante: Sykes-Picot, by Giulio Ucciero, 24 march 2017: http://university.it/un-accordo-ancora-ingombrante-sykes-picot

[5]Les Arabes, leur destin et le notre, histoire d’une libération, Jean-Pierre Filiu , La Découverte/Poche, 2018 (pag88)

[6]Arab-Israeli wars, WRITTEN BY: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/event/Arab-Israeli-wars

[7] Ibidem

[8]Ibidem

[9] Political party and militant group emerged after the 1982 Israeli Liban invasion. For

[10]Arab-Israeli wars, WRITTEN BY: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/event/Arab-Israeli-wars

[11]Israel and Palestine, striving for peace in the Holy Land: http://israelandpalestine.org/map-of-israel-and-palestine/

[12]The Oslo Accords Are Dead, but There Is Still a Path to Peace, on the 25th anniversary of the landmark Israeli-Palestinian deal, activists and diplomats should focus on recreating the conditions that made it possible.

BY DANIEL LEVY | SEPTEMBER 13, 2018, Foreign Policy:  https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/13/the-oslo-accords-are-dead-but-there-is-still-a-path-to-peace-israeli-palestinian-arafat-rabin-clinton/

[13]Ibidem

[14]The Oslo Accord, by Avi Shlaim, Institute for Palestine Studies: https://www.palestine-studies.org/jps/fulltext/39986

[15]Ibidem, pag 25

[16]Ibidem, pag, 27

[17]Ibidem, pag 28

[18]Ibidem, pg 34

[19]Ibidem, pag 34

[20]Rethinking Oslo: How Europe can promote peace in Israel-Palestine, Omar Dajani & Hugh Loatt 26th  July, 2017: https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/rethinking_oslo_how_europe_can_promote_peace_in_israel_palestine_7219

[21]Omar Dajani & Hugh Loatt

[22]Rethinking Oslo: How Europe can promote peace in Israel-Palestine, Omar Dajani & Hugh Loatt 26th  July, 2017: https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/rethinking_oslo_how_europe_can_promote_peace_in_israel_palestine_7219

[23]Annapolis Conference joint understanding and statements, Joint Understanding on Negotiations

27 November 2007:  https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/aboutisrael/history/pages/the%20annapolis%20conference%2027-nov-2007.aspx

[24]After Annapolis’ failure: The chances of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

23/03/2009 | by Baliani, Diego: https://www.ict.org.il/Article.aspx?ID=1059#gsc.tab=0

[25]Iidem

[26]Led by Mahmoud Abbas

[27]After Annapolis’ failure: The chances of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

23/03/2009 | by Baliani, Diego: https://www.ict.org.il/Article.aspx?ID=1059#gsc.tab=0

[28]Isreal newspaper publishes terms of “deal of century”, Middle East Monitor, May 8, 2019: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190508-israeli-newspaper-publishes-terms-of-deal-of-century/

Giulia Marino

J'ai 23 ans et je fréquent la deuxième année du Master en Études Européennes à l'université de Florence. J'ai obtenu le BAC en Sciences Internationaux et Diplomatique, dans lesquels j'ai déroulé une période d'étude à l'université SciecesPo d'Aix en Provence (FR). Ici je me suis passionnée au fonctionnement des institutions européennes et au rôle joué à l'échelle internationale. Pendant mes études j'ai aussi approfondie mes connaissances sur le Moyen-orient par les livres et avec une expérience directe. J'ai vécu pour trois mois à Jérusalem où j'ai fréquenté l'université de Al-Quds.

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