Emissaries of the Trump administration — Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt — have been wandering in the Middle East, trying to sell “The Deal of the Century,” which will settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. While the parameters and details of this plan were not made public, the Palestinian Authority has flatly rejected it, claiming that with this kind of a plan, and after moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the United States has lost its credibility as an honest broker.
For President Trump, this shouldn’t be a problem. As the ultimate dealmaker, he and his representatives might tell the Palestinians (which they probably did): This is the best deal you can get. Take it or leave it. Every time you’ve rejected an offer, you lost. Do you want to be the losers once again?
The Trump administration might be emboldened by the recent noises from its ally, Saudi Arabia, regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In November 2017, Prince Muhamad Bin Salman, among his other innovative advances, indicated to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he better accept the American peace initiative, even if it was less than what had been on the table before (presumably less territory for the Palestinians; capital in Abu Dis, not in East Jerusalem; no refugee return). With the looming Iranian threat, the Palestinian issue has fallen in Arab’s priorities. Like all things Saudi, this stick-waving was accompanied by a lucrative offer of money in return for a Yes.
Except that Abbas flatly rejected the offer.
For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the scuttling of the American deal might come as good news: Once again, the Palestinians are to blamed for the failure of a peace initiative (He might choose to ignore the fact that since 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative has been in the air and Israel totally dismissed it).
For Trump as well, this might not be a severe blow, although when he took office, he promised us “the mother” of all deals.” The most important thing to Trump is not to be declared a loser. “The Palestinians don’t want my deal? No problem,” he might reason. “I’ll wash my hands of this mess and move on. I have more important things on my plate, like North Korea, China and trade.”
However, we Israelis will be left with a problem that won’t go away: With the lack of a settlement with the Palestinians, and with roughly the same number of Arabs and Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, how can we maintain both Israel’s Jewish nature and its democracy?
Here is a different idea of how to break this deadlock. Instead of floating a peace plan that has zero chances of being implemented, and which might only bring more frustration and violence, the United States should launch a new Marshall Plan to settle the refugees of the Middle East. The socio-economic improvement in the lives of these people will, over time, become the launching pad of the political solution.
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has been taking care of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars, is an obsolete organization that perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status instead of encouraging them to settle down and start new lives. However, Trump’s decision to freeze a third of the U.S. contribution to UNRWA will only weaken this organization and, with no alternative, its beneficiaries’ situation will deteriorate.
The new Marshall Plan for the Middle East would include the gradual liquidation of UNRWA, replace by an international agency led by the United States and that will invest American, European and Gulf funds in infrastructure, education and job opportunities for the millions of refugees in the Middle East — most of them not Palestinians, but victims of the Syrian war.
The new plan will give hope to a generation of young people who might still dream of their homelands but will be offered a chance to turn a new page in their lives. It will establish America as a huge economic engine without the need for trade wars. And it will eventually encourage the Palestinians to join the success and harness a political solution to the socio-economic one.