The deal of the century

            As we were busy the last two weeks to give insight to the UAE we also wished to wait for the details of the Bahrain Summit, which was held on 25-26 June 2019. The summit, officially known as the Peace and Prosperity Workshop was to be the introductory of a greater initiative, which long ago gained the name as the “deal of the century”. Details are still scarce, partially because by now even Western sources claim it to be a failure, yet it is still important to assess it, because the aim, the details of conduct and the aftermath are significant. These all show the present state of the Middle East with most of its fault lines and might overshadow much of what we are about to experience in the region. Surely those forces, which pushed for the deal will not accept failure just yet, so new attempts might be on the horizon. While on the other hand, those Arab forces, which tried to promote the deal, or at least manage it by tacit support now have to reevaluate their stance and think through how to live with the consequences. Last week we saw that the UAE, one of the most supportive architects already took measures to change, at least in conduct. Other news already show that many of those concerned feel the storm has left, at least for now, and now it is the opportune time to shift and embrace themselves for such future initiatives. These steps speak more on the summit than all the communiques together and conclusion can finally be drawn.


The proposal

            The overall idea is, fitting very well with the business-minded nature of Trump, is that the Palestinian case can and should be solved through economic means. Simply put, if their life conditions are improved significantly they would finally gain a future and by stability viable conditions could be created. That would nurture a normalization in the political climate, which seems unable to break out from the deadlock and by doing so eventually lead to peace. For that aim a roughly $50 billion package was put together to pour capital into the Palestinian Territories, revive their economy and recreate their administrative system.

            Most of the precise details of the deal are still rather illusive. Thought the overall plan is available, which gives an general idea and names several key projects the exact implementation process and the specific guarantors of the deal are not clear at all. Even Western analysts question the viability of the whole plan, and rightly so. Both the website and the Jared Kushner’s opening speech looks more like a high school presentation with very vague, sometimes demagogue remarks. Several of them are outright funny. For example the project for Gaza’s power plant, which Kushner even emphasized in his speech, would allocate some $590 million to renew it and expand it, and promising a similar package to the West Bank, which is now greatly dependent on direct Israeli electricity. The irony is that Gaza had better power supply, just like the West Bank until it was deliberately cut by the Israeli administration and any outer party was excluded to repair it, which was a – very successful – attempt to get a grip on these populations. So any innovation in this grid would still be dependent of Israeli cooperation, which is not even slightly mentioned.

            The other funny point – among many others – is the boosting of tourism with a $2 billion massive project. Now putting aside that there is no entry point into Palestine now, which is not administered by Israeli forces – and they don’t even show any will to permit one – the area has practically no infrastructure for that and a very bad reputation. Simply put, who would go there? By current conditions all taxes and visa fees would go to the Israeli budget, and would boost Israeli tourism, from where at most excursions could be made.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Jared Kushner in the opening ceremony.

            Also very amusing, which actually shows how limited Kushner’s knowledge on the region, is the idea to build a New Palestinian University from $500 million, which would allow it to be boosted up between the top 150 universities in the world and create the next generation of Palestinian intellectuals. This is a typical Western idea. Not touching the point that if there is only one university like that how would Gaza and West Bank students access it together, Palestinians were and to some degree still are one of the most educated people in the Arab world. Even now, most of them get higher education, even if that is abroad. Also money does not create quality education, for which the Gulf is the best example, where unbelievable amount of funds were poured in and still the majority of the Gulf youth studies in the West.

            Nonetheless, the plan of bringing up the Palestinian living standards is not completely a bad idea after all. One of the leading cause of growing insurgency and why it is getting more sporadic and decentralized, consequently less predictable and preventable is desperation. One has nothing to lose is ready to do anything. Also 70 years of almost complete and rapidly growing deprivation could solve that matter. But the key element is security. First a viable, even preliminary deal must be cut for the state system it shall be exercised in, whether it is one state or two. And in the interim state the growing economy and living conditions can stabilize the created framework. That would attract investments and further stability. Yet, who would invest in conditions completely unreliable, which can be destroyed or halted any minute by an outer force, and there is no viable state behind it as a guarantor?


The less sweet implications

            While the rounded up number of $50 billion sounds really tempting, three details put the package in a very different light. First of all, most of that is not direct financial support, but loans and concessions. Meaning most of the money has to be refunded. The second thing is that the money is given in phases – the number of steps depends on the individual project – and has an overall span of ten years. Which greatly prolongs the implementation and the success of any program. The third detail is that all funds after the initial phase are conditional. As Kushner himself explained bluntly, they would be “rewarding results”. Not only meaning that at any point the deal can be rolled back, but also the trajectory and every detail can be influenced by the donors, practically the US. Since good behavior is condition of further funds.

            Several implications put the whole project in even darker light, partially connected to the conditions of the framework. The project specifically names the Palestinian administration as one of the main cause of economic failure, and aims to restructure it. Officially to make it more efficient – which is probably indeed needed -, but in fact open to complete restructuring to outer sources. And by the conditional nature of the deal, not much the Palestinians could do to object in any later step. The whole program does not even once mention security safeguards, nor the involvement of the Israeli government in it. Which is vital since the area is under military oppression and all entry points are administered by it. So at any point Israel can partially or fully block the implementation of a project, or upon succeeding it can destroy its results. That would mean that the Palestinian authorities would still have to pay for something that never actually entered service, or the lack of progress would block the process.

            The most menacing segment lies here, since it does not give any idea about the new Palestinian state and its relations with Israel, but would facilitate the whole project within the current conditions. Namely under occupation. Which in theory can mean that Israeli companies would move in to the West Bank and Gaza and under the pretext of the economic improvement could take over these areas, pushing even more Palestinians out. As many Palestinians already suspected, this project can turn into an ideal fertile ground for a new massive colonization project.

            As seen by most of the Arab world, the logical conclusion is that for a huge amount of money Palestinians should formally agree to the current situation, accept development in this framework, meaning effectively accepting a one-state model. In this process their self-administration would be reshaped by outer forces, and the ten years spam would reassure their compliance. However, since it is conditional, after the first step all further payments can be cancelled and they would end up in a case with a signed peace treaty, given up self-determination and even no money. No wonder why all Palestinian political formations clearly refused the deal and refused to take any part in it.

            All these detail and the very school-project like presentation question why it was put together at all. Why to bother? And why Israel and its Gulf partners are so eager to support it now? As explained with the UAE, the relations with Tel Aviv is by many viewed inseparable from the relations with the US. Even the two can be connected in the mutual animosity against Iran. Many other Arab states, like some elements of Tunisian politics, would love the get rid of the trouble and might even build lucrative economic relations with Israel. But so far the Palestinian case was a major obstacle in this gradual evolution. If for nothing else, morally, since it cannot be debated that after 1948 Palestinians were driven from their lands and those who stayed are oppressed. Yet if the Palestinians themselves would sign comprehensive peace treaty in a one-state fashion, than they could finally close this matter saying the Palestinians gave up. Oslo and Madrid already had this effect in the general approach, and even though they failed the result is irreversible. How much would the acceptance of Israeli supremacy would erode their standing?

            If all is that clear, why was the plan so blunt and clearly unfeasible. Surely the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Israelis, might even Kushner himself could have put up a more serious plan than this. As for Kushner, he doesn’t need it being Trump’s top advisor. From this positions all notables will consider his package and express no criticism. As for the Gulf, their influence on the matter is symbolic to none. They are implementors, not designing partners. As for the Israelis, having a massive lobby force behind them with huge media support, they don’t really care for the details. They only need a signature from the Palestinians that they gave up their sovereignty, and after that they are still in control of all later development. So they can be sure no harmful result would come upon them. Even more than that, such a step would turn all international criticism around. The attempt by EU sanctions on product from the illegal settlements – a huge concern in viability of these already extremely costly projects – would lose their validity. Those Arab and Muslim states still not willing to cooperate with Tel Aviv, from that point on would have to explain themselves. Since if event the Palestinians made peace, why not the others?

            Regardless its success, however, the Israelis were not really concerned about the deal itself and that is clear by their reaction. The real benefit for them were relations built with the Gulf states now. As more and more Arab states accept the Israelis as partners in different fields, so drops the level and determination of the resistance. As resistance drop, so shall the support for the Palestinians, who are being consumed by the settlement anyways. So for Tel Aviv time is on its side and no result is a good result. From that angle the actual success of this deal is irrelevant.


The reception

            Compared the efforts taken the reception was mild at the most. However, there is a big difference the political stance and the public or media reception.

            The political impact was impossible to hide. Thought there were a large number of discussions and lectures, as it should be in a workshop, practically all of them were Westerners, with very few Arabs and only two Palestinian businessmen. The three highest ranking Arab political figures present were the Bahraini Crown Prince Salmān ibn Ḥamad, Bahraini Foreign Minister, Hālid Āl Halīfa, and Saudi Minister of the State, Muḥammad aš-Šayh, an otherwise weightless politician. The fact that there was no Arab head of state or any Palestinian political figure present in a conference unrolling the US vision on the region is not only a clear message of refusal, but also shows how much the American influence is weakening. Who would have dared to refuse such invitation from Condoleezza Rice fifteen years ago and now here we are?

            Even on official capacity only six Arab states represented itself in any level – Saudi, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain. And even those participating, like the UAE, or Egypt issued statements completely contradictory in essence with the aim of the workshop, only agreeing in words. The fact that the biggest supporting partner, the Saudi state did not dare to hold the workshop on its on soil, rather in a country under its occupation, and that even their top leaders did not participate shows the fear of these governments. Rightly so, as even in Bahrain there were protests against the summit, just like in Jordan, Morocco, and all over Palestine even including Tel Aviv. That on its own should explain the almost total silence by the West on the matter. Because nothing positive, or openly groundbreaking happened.

            The media reception is more curious, which also show some level of fear and shame by the supporting Arab leaders. Many Arab journalists were specifically excluded from participating and all together very few Arab outlets could cover the workshop, almost none of them live. Only the Saudis aired some news about it, even those only in the English versions for the outside world. Quite the opposite was the case for the Israeli media, which covered the whole event – most of the time live – with a huge crew from several channels. Which alone proves that this meeting was important to whom. That does not mean, however, that there was no attention given to it by the Arab press. Leading newspapers and channels were contemplating on the possible consequences weeks before it even begun. Renouncing editorials are not rare to find, but even the Kuwaiti journal al-Qabas brought a long article that Kuwait as a state and people strongly condemns the Bahrain Summit and stand with the Palestinians. Meaning even within the Gulf ranks, among the most devoted supporters of the Saudis and the US the whole plan was outrageous and caused great divisions.


Where to now, Jared?

            Undoubtedly the deal of the century should have been the crown of the policies the Trump administration envisioned for the Middle East. Less by Trump himself, but much rather the neocon-Zionist lobby surrounding him. And here a substantial difference can be observed between Trump himself and these advisors of him both in objectives and in the tools applied. That divergence is there regardless the fact that so far the strategies went hand in hand.

            This was a compact policy which started to come to light in steps as Trump himself was struggling to form a reliable team. Should we remember the so far Trump changed his top advisors and secretaries in a long unseen scale. And he eventually ended up with the most hawkish team since George W. Bush, with people like Bolton and Pompeo, who fitted well with the possibly most stable segment of Trump’s team, his Vice President Pence, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. These, most especially Pence and Jared represent the two biggest components of the Zionist lobby. The Jewish-Zionist part like Jared, and a number of key advisors and ambassadors, and the other neocon group, usually known as evangelicals. This robust pseudo-Christian group, which is actually far acceding the infamous Jewish lobby groups in this cluster is driven by a very radical pseudo-religious view, which aims to bring the end of time closer by utter support for the state of Israel. By their view the Armageddon to happen Israel has to reach its full might in the region, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and go to war with its neighbors on an utterly destructive way. Naturally most Jewish-Zionist groups only go along until the full control of the region by Israel, but surely they are not wishing a destructive war upon themselves.

            They so far successfully managed to convince the president to give his full support for this lobby and appease it. The first major step was acknowledging Jerusalem as a whole to be the capital of the state of Israel and moving the American embassy there. Which should have been followed by other countries, yet so far only a very limited number of minor states, mostly by governments highly dependent on Washington took this controversial path. This was, however, nothing new as a number of previous administrations promised this step. In a way that was policy, only not yet implemented. The next was the acknowledgment of the Ğulan as part of Israel. It was of a different nature as no other states dared to follow to this clear breach of international law given the UN and practically all international bodies clearly acknowledged, just like the US so far, this territory as part of Syria. The lack of followers, however, did not stop the implementation of the next phase, the incorporation of all Palestinian territories into Israel. Clear indications were already given to that. Jared’s plan was to legalize this move, since this is a clear break with all previous agreements promoting a two-state solution to the struggle. Having achieved that Israel could win all the long-contested territories already within its grasp, would cement Netanyahu in power for the foreseeable future, and enable the Jewish state to close most of its impending matters.

            Trump, however, had a different view on the matter, as he himself is not driven by ideology. He has an approach of a trader, a businessman in the matter. Seeing the enormous pressure capacity and voting potential of these ideological groups he tries to rid himself from their interference by appeasement. By giving in to their wishes he can secure their support for a second tenure. But this serves another, broader and very pragmatic strategy as well. Simply giving all the territories Israel wishes he tries to secure that state as viable on its on as much as possible. Consequently less dependent on the American protection and vital support. As he is heading into a major debacle with China he tries to close all secondary matters. Since he is not driven by ideology, the whole Middle East is a business venture for him. The clear inconsistencies in the Gulf policies are the best example for that. In other words, after the deal of the century Trump could say to Israel: – I gave you all you wanted, you don’t need me anymore. Manage on your own now!

            That would have fitted well with the long tradition of American presidents, who wished to write history by achieving something significant in the Middle East and in the Israel-Palestinian folder. Trump certainly achieved that, even if the last step did not manage to succeed. He surely does not view the case as a setback as it is clear the whole deal package was not his, but by the most trusted member of the lobby around him. And he clearly gave his full support for the project. Now it’s not his concern it failed, and surely will not put much effort to revive it as he starts to concentrate on his re-election campaign. Therefore he will not support any risky attempts, not to run into any other disappointments. That means that the whole deal package is dead, at least for the next two to three years, as the any legal rearrangement is only conceivable by massive American support, practically enforcing it on the region.

            This setback, however, surely does not stop the Zionist lobby to continue on the same path. Their problem is that they deeply lost momentum. They missed the best possible constellation in decades. The lesson here is that the regional climate is still not ready. And there are indications that certain players, which were nervous by the possible results already started to move away. The changing behavior of the UAE might be an indication for that, though as we saw the steps taken by Abū Zabī now not necessarily mean a different approach. But news appeared that Jordan started to distance itself from the Gulf current and started to pull closer to Turkey, Qatar and Iran. Surely a large number of factors from decreasing financial support by Saudi to internal protests and the growing importance of the Syrian question played role, but the biggest matter is the consequence of massive Palestinian migration by the deal. That urges Amman to look for new allies. Continued support for Riyadh and Abū Zabī will for sure bring Jordan into places it doesn’t want to go, and looking how they dealt with each other in Yemen makes them absolutely untrustworthy.

            Regardless of this failure for Kushner, however, this does not mean that Israel and the lobby behind it has any reason to be sorry. The summit itself, that they managed to hold a conference about the region in an Arab country – which does not even recognize it officially – as equal partner is a great victory. The path up to Manama showed – not only for them, but to the whole region – that they managed to secure inroads to the Arab world from Tunisia to Saudi and the Emirates. And the road continues as now Bahrain follows up to befriend Israel, just like the UAE before the summit. And once again the Foreign Minister Israel Katz is the middleman.

            Indeed the speed Israel gains foothold and acceptance in the Arab world is impressive. Thought the group of states they are betting on is weakening rapidly and need ever more American assistance, it is still a significant moral victory to gain the friendship of the very country, which having the two most holy sights of Islam, has some sort of moral predominance. Which in the long run might gain more for Tel Aviv than the newly usurped lands.