In June of 2019, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary Professor of Islamic Studies Dr. Martin Accad wrote an article titled: “The Long-Awaited US Peace Plan, the So-Called “Deal of the Century,” Would Need a Whole Greater Deal of Justice to Succeed.” Given the Trump administration’s release of the Israeli-Palestinian “deal” earlier this week, Dr. Martin Accad’s June analysis provides important insight for consideration:
The US was supposed to announce its promised “Deal of the Century,” a peace plan for the seven-decade-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the end of this month of June. But recent developments in Israeli politics, including the dissolution of the Israeli parliament and the announcement of a rerun of general elections next September, have led Palestinian veteran negotiator, Saeb Erekat, to announce regarding the plan: “Now it is the deal of the next century.” The announcement of the deal by the US has now been officially and seemingly indefinitely postponed. It may not come through at all, or else it will be still-born.
Despite these recent developments, talking about the deal and analyzing it is not superfluous and helps us to reflect on peace in the region more generally. Though it has been veiled in secrecy, based on all available information, the “Deal” seems to be lacking one essential component: justice. And it appears that Jordan will play a central role in deciding its fate. The three principal salesmen of the deal are President Trump’s son in law and Senior White House Adviser, Jared Kushner, Chief Legal Officer to Donald Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook. They have been tasked with the responsibility of raising the necessary funds for the financial aspects of the deal among Arab states and, by all appearance, of convincing Jordan’s king to take on the crucial role of dealing a final death blow to the Palestinian cause.
The personal profiles of the three men speak volumes about their agenda, and consequently of the contents and purpose of the “Deal of the Century.” Kushner has been working his long-standing alliances with Gulf States to rally them around his plan, based on mutual economic benefits that will result from their blind cooperation with the United States on this initiative. Trump’s announcement that he had concluded a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis after his first foreign trip as president in May 2017 revealed the beginning of this path. Both countries were from then on bound by immense mutual financial benefits that would be hard to back away from. The muting of the Khashoggi affair, which would have been unthinkable before the arms deal, demonstrated well that a blind eye would be henceforth turned towards any abuse of power and self-serving criminal activity carried out by the rising US allies. The Gulf States were also, through these contracts, promised the military power they needed to mount an increasing offensive against Iran, their centuries-old Shiite archenemy.
This is where the role of Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, comes in. He was instrumental in the toppling of the Obama-sponsored nuclear deal with Iran and the hardening of the United States’ position on the Iranians. By cultivating the enmity between Iran and the Gulf States to unprecedented levels, the latter are now also engaged on a path of armament stoked by fear, which will be very hard to back down from. This enmity and fear will play a key role in forcing the hand of Arab states to align with US demands and prevent them from exposing themselves to Iran’s wrath by withdrawing their support for the new “peace deal.”
As for Jason Greenblatt, he was described in a recent opinion piece as engaged in trolling a “bewildering array of Palestinian individuals and institutions.” An avowed pro-Israeli settlements advocate, his hate ideology against every manner of Palestinian action will ensure that the so-called US “peace deal” will be dead at birth and that Palestinians will once again be blamed for the collapse of an “offer that they can’t refuse.” This familiar accusation had followed the 1947 UN partition plan, the Oslo Accord in 1993, Camp David II in 2000, and the Road Map for Peace in 2003. The very nomenclature, “Deal of the Century,” is no-doubt designed to play the same role, and it is poised to be met with the same fate of rejection by Palestinian authorities. Greenblatt’s role is to neutralize the Palestinian demand for the dismantlement of illegal Israeli settlements, a key negotiation card in any peace talks.
The unilateral and internationally illegal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the United States in December 2017, followed by the recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory earlier this year, have already dealt a fatal blow to two other crucial issues at the negotiation table—the status of East Jerusalem, and the swap of land for peace through the return of land illegally occupied through war. Despite the official position of the United States that these are unfounded speculations, the visit of the trio to Jordan at the end of May was likely designed to exercise pressure on the king—the historically-appointed “Legal Custodian” over Jerusalem’s holy sites—to convince him to give up this custodianship to the benefit of the Saudi ruler, no doubt by offering Jordan generous financial benefits that the kingdom’s ailing economy is so desperate for.
There are rumors as well that the meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan was aimed at convincing him to accept the naturalization of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees that have been living in camps in the kingdom for decades, and the resettlement of further hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring countries in new cities that would be built in the Jordanian desert. This would deal a fatal blow to the final card of Palestinian negotiators, the question of refugees’ right of return. The US’s suspension last year of its funding for UNRWA, the UN body tasked with the financial and educational support of Palestinian refugees living in camps since 1948, has plunged the agency into an unprecedented financial crisis. Jordan and Sweden have been involved in intensive talks to remedy the situation.
King Abdullah’s position is certainly not enviable. The fate of the Palestinian people seems increasingly to depend on him. Other Arab states seem already to have sold their souls to the new plan. Iran has been propped up to serve as the imminent threat to the survival of the majority Sunni Arab world. The “Deal of the Century,” though still officially shrouded with secrecy, is emerging as clear as sunlight: to force Palestinians to the negotiation table with zero negotiating cards. They will have to turn down the deal. They will be blamed for it. Their fate will be sealed.
Theological Perspectives and Missiological Implications
These matters that are unfolding before our very eyes are not about political partisanship. They are not about whether you love Israel and hate the Palestinians, or whether you hate Israel and love the Palestinians. The fatal blow will hardly be felt by Palestinian politicians and the elite class with secondary residences in Paris, London, and New York. It is the already disempowered millions of Palestinian people, who have been living in poverty and hopelessness for seven decades, who will be dealt their death. It is with their voice that God cries out today: “Listen to what the Lord says: ‘Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me” (Micah 6:1-3). And it is the prophets of his church that continue to voice the call of the ancient prophets: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7). And the voice of the Lord comes once more to us with this message: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Without justice for the Palestinian people, all human proposals for peace are nothing but the deafening clash of cymbals. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings,” says the Lord our God (Hosea 6:6). Whether the “Deal of the Century” is divulged this year, in 2020, or never, justice is the only component that will ensure peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This article originally appeared on the Institute for Middle East Studies and is reposted with permission from the author.
For more from Dr. Martin Accad, see “Three Principles for Studying Islam.”