- - Sunday, February 2, 2020

RAMALLAH — President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did more in a day last week to unite feuding Palestinians than the Palestinians have managed to do in more than a decade.

Almost 13 years after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah retained power in the West Bank, inaugurating a bitter rift in Palestinian politics, the factions have come together in furious opposition to the proposed peace deal Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu rolled out at the White House last week. They say the plan does little to nothing for their beleaguered people.

Whether the unity will last, and whether even a united Palestinian opposition can effectively oppose the plan, is far less certain.

“This is not a deal. It is a deceptive plan ignoring the international laws and accords aiming to expand the Israeli settlements,” said Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi. “It is an apartheid policy against the Palestinians.”

The proposal was largely drafted by White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Under the plan, Israel would assume control of the Jordan Valley — the fertile strip of land running along Israel’s eastern border that makes up almost 30% of the West Bank — and gain effective sovereignty over contested Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Mr. Trump said the plan sweetens the deal for Palestinians if they renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and set up a working, democratic government. Israel would cede a large swath of territory near the Egyptian border to Palestine, and a tunnel would link the Palestinian enclaves in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The newly independent Palestine state would be in line to receive $50 billion in economic development aid but would have to give up its right to have a military.

Spend some time in Ramallah, and it’s hard to find anyone in the government or on the street who thinks such a trade-off is good.

Fatah and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority are prepared to oppose the deal with any legal and peaceful means necessary, Mr. al-Qawasmi said.

Hamas spokesman Abdul Latif al-Qanou agreed that Palestinians must oppose the deal but said the peace plan provides greater force for the argument that the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority should stop coordinating with the Israeli military, withdraw recognition of Israel and take up arms against the occupying power. Hamas has been making those demands for years.

“Palestinian armed resistance and Palestinian unity are the main sole ways to confront this dangerous deal,” Mr. al-Qanou said.

Hostility in the streets

Ordinary Palestinians are similarly unified in their dislike of the deal, but many confess they are torn over how to respond.

“Armed resistance is the sole way to stop this deal from being implemented on the ground,” said Sundus Al-Farajah, 20, from Bethlehem. “We have nothing to lose. We do not have any control over our lives as Israel controls everything. Armed resistance cannot make our lives worse than what it is now.”

Bilal Muhna, a 29-year-old Gaza resident, said the deal would make it impossible for him to ever receive compensation for an Israeli strike that destroyed his house in 2014. “The entire plan aims to give Israel the green light to continue its policy against the Palestinians,” he said.

But he added that “protest, peaceful resistance without any use of weapons or violence is the only way to react against this deal in every area in Palestine.”

Many Palestinians said they believed the deal merely ratified Israeli seizures of Palestinian lands over the years, including Jewish settlements. As part of the deal, the U.S. would recognize those settlements, but the international community largely remains unified in condemning them as illegal appropriations of territory reserved for a Palestinian state.

“This deal gives the rest of the Palestinian lands to the Israelis who occupy and confiscate more Palestinian lands, while giving the Palestinians nothing rather than dehumanization at the Israeli checkpoints,” said Suha Hroub, 32, who lives in Ramallah.

Layla Ayyad, 26, from Abu Dis, said the deal is less a vision for change than a mechanism for solidifying the status quo. In that sense, she said, the plan is at least a starting point that reflects the truth on the ground.

“Trump described the real borders and territories of the Palestinian and Israelis,” she said. “There is nothing surprising in this deal. Everything is reflected on the ground. What Trump does is, he is giving the green light and legal rights to recognize the reality.”

Still, the first few days after the peace plan rollout have not gone entirely Mr. Netanyahu’s way.

The Israeli government balked at an expected rapid annexation of lands in the face of opposition from neighboring Arab states and White House comments that any land moves wait until after March 2 elections in Israel, where the scandal-plagued Mr. Netanyahu is fighting for his political life.

Many U.S. Arab allies took a wait-and-see approach, but Jordan warned against hasty annexations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan harshly criticized the plan and the lack of regional opposition to it.

Some said the long-anticipated Trump blueprint might at least change the dreary dynamics that have dominated the region.

Mohammad Jaber, a 43-year-old real estate broker from Hebron, considered the deal an opportunity.

“The Palestinian authority adopts negotiation and peace talks with Israelis, and this deal is a result of this policy,” he said. “This deal cannot be worse than [the Oslo Accord of the 1990s]. Every time we reject something, we lose more: people, houses, land and rights.”

That was Mr. Kushner’s message in multiple press appearances after the plan was announced Tuesday. He warned that a blanket rejection would do nothing to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Mr. Kushner told CNN last week that rejecting Mr. Trump’s self-described “deal of the century” would mean the Palestinians were “going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”

Adnan Abu Amer, a political scientist at the University of Gaza, said he fears the plan will be implemented whether or not the Palestinians welcome it. Naysayers need to launch an effective campaign to stop it, he said.

“A miracle should happen to stop this deal, such as Netanyahu loses the election, huge changes among the Arab leaders to support the Palestinians, or a remarkable armed resistance and operations against the Israelis,” he said. “Otherwise, the deal will be implemented on the ground sooner or later.”

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