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Trump peace plan: High stakes and low chances
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor, Jerusalem
27 January 2020
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Image caption
All previous peace attempts have failed to solve the conflict
Hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians exist in a world that is
stuck between the darkest hours of the night and a bright and false dawn.
Mostly it`s night. Beware whenever you hear references to a renewal of a
`peace process`. It has hard to bring dead initiatives back to life.

Perhaps President Donald Trump, unpredictably as ever, will spring a big
diplomatic surprise.

But if recent leaks are correct, the US president seems to be preparing to
announce a deal that suits his supporters and Israel`s Prime Minister,
Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Trump may believe, truly and without doubt, that he is offering
the `deal of the century`. It might be for Mr Netanyahu. Israel may be given
the green light to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank based on the
areas in which it has settled Jews.

Media captionIs Palestinian-Israel peace plan out of reach?
The Palestinians will be told that it is in their best interests to accept
reality, concentrate on economic sweeteners instead of defeated national
aspirations and realise fast that they would be making a grave mistake to
turn the deal down.

But they are already boycotting the Trump Administration because of its
overtly pro-Israeli agenda, and they are planning a `day of rage`.

Bitterness and blame
President Trump`s deal may look more like a surrender document than anything
else, a chance for Israel to seal its victory over the Palestinians once and
for all, seven decades after its own independence and more than a century
since Zionist settlement in Palestine began.

Most Israelis would say that Zionism and the creation of their state was the
legitimate return of a persecuted people to their historic and religious
homeland. Most Palestinians would say that Zionism is responsible for the
catastrophic colonisation and theft of their land.

Can the Jewish settlement issue be resolved?
Are there alternatives to a two-state solution?
What makes Jerusalem so holy?
Whichever way you look at it, the conflict that resulted is in its second
century and has always smouldered and often blazed.

Through all the years of mediation in peace talks between Israel and the
Palestinians, the top US priorities have always been Israel`s wishes,
constraints and most of all its security. But successive US Presidents
accepted that peace required a Palestinian state alongside Israel, even if
they were not prepared to allow it equal sovereignty.

Israel argues the Palestinians turned down a series of good offers. The
Palestinian negotiators say they made huge concessions, not least accepting
Israel`s existence in around 78 per cent of their historic homeland.

Hopes dashed
A negotiated peace did seem possible once, almost 30 years ago. A series of
secret talks in Norway became the Oslo peace process, forever symbolised by
a ceremony on the White House lawn in 1993 presided over by a beaming
President Bill Clinton.

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel`s greatest war leader, and Yasser Arafat, the human
embodiment of Palestinian hopes for freedom, signed documents promising to
negotiate the future, not fight for it. The two bitter enemies even shook
hands. Rabin, Arafat, and Israel`s foreign minister, Shimon Peres, were
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption
Handshakes on the White House lawn marked a moment of high hopes
Oslo was an historic moment. The Palestinians recognised the State of
Israel. The Israelis accepted that the Palestine Liberation Organisation
represented the Palestinian people.

Cracks soon appeared in the Oslo edifice. Benjamin Netanyahu called it a
mortal threat to Israel. Some Palestinians, like the academic Edward Said,
condemned it is a surrender. The Palestinian militants of Hamas, the Islamic
Resistance Movement, sent suicide bombers to kill Jews and wreck the chances
of a deal.

The atmosphere in Israel turned ugly. Yitzhak Rabin was demonised by some of
his fellow Israelis as no better than a Nazi, and portrayed at
demonstrations as an officer of the SS. Months of incitement culminated in
his assassination by a Jewish extremist on 4 November 1995.

Rabin`s killer wanted to wreck the peace process, and he believed the best
way to do that was to eliminate the Israeli best equipped to make it a
reality. He was right.

Even if Rabin had lived Oslo might still have failed, defeated by small
details as well as huge issues like the future of Jerusalem, by leaders on
both sides who preferred conflict to compromise and by the violent reality
of a continued Israeli occupation and Palestinian opposition to it.

Political pressures
Oslo took years to fade away. Some diplomats and leaders tried to save it.
But it was a false dawn, followed by cynicism, distrust, betrayal and

Israel accelerated its project to settle hundreds of thousands of Jews on
land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war on the West Bank, including
East Jerusalem, the territory the Palestinians still want for a state.

Media captionWhy the ancient city of Jerusalem is so important
Israel insists what is doing is legal. Most of the rest of the world
believes that the Israelis are breaking international law, which forbids the
settlement of an occupying power`s citizens on the land it occupies.

The timing of the announcement may have as much to do with the political and
legal needs of Messrs Trump and Netanyahu as it has with the chances of a
diplomatic breakthrough.

Both men face elections, and prosecution. Mr Trump is being impeached, on
trial in the US Senate for high crimes and misdemeanours. Mr Netanyahu faces
criminal charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust. The Israeli
parliament is due to discuss granting him immunity while he is in

Failed attempts at peace can be dangerous. The collapse of the Camp David
peace summit in 2000 was followed by a violent Palestinian uprising. The
stakes are high, and the chances of success are low.

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