Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan
On 28 January 2020, the US President Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan, the much-trumpeted “deal of the century”. The response from Israel and Palestine has been contrasting: The President of Palestinian Authority (Mahmoud Abbas) has rejected the plan as the “slap of the century”. In contrast, the Prime Minister of Israel (Benjamin Netanyahu) has welcome it as the “opportunity of a century”.
Based on available information, Trump’s plan focus on the following:
- It offers an “a viable path” to Palestinian statehood by designating comparably sized land to Gaza and West Bank for a future Palestinian state, doubling the land currently utilized by Palestinians while securing a four-year “land-freeze” agreement from Israel.
- Jerusalem would continue as an undivided city and the sovereign capital of Israel. In contrast, the Palestinian state’s capital would lie in East Jerusalem (north of Israel’s West Bank barrier) including Abu Dis, Shuafat and Kafr Aqab.
- A large majority of Israeli settlements will become contiguous Israeli territory. Those in Palestinian territory would also become part of Israel through transportation grids.
- Jordan valley, “critical for Israel’s national security” will be under Israeli sovereignty.
- Palestinian refugees can choose to live within future Palestine, integrate into current states of residence, or resettle in a third state.
- Mutual recognition of both “nation-states”.
- A demilitarized Palestine
- Israel to hold security charge west of Jordan river and the US to work towards reducing Israel’s security footprint.
The global responses to the plan are not uniform. The UK has welcomed it; Turkey and Iran strongly have condemned it. Putin reserved his judgement. From the immediate region, Qatar has welcomed brokering efforts for “longstanding and just peace”, Jordan has given a muted response, Egypt advised “a careful and thorough examination of the US vision”. At the same time, Saudi Arabia appreciated Trump’s efforts calling for direct Palestinian-Israeli talks.
What is the background?
The “deal of the century”, a Trump-Jared initiative, is the newest in the series of numerous peace initiatives since the birth of Israel. Before the unveiling, US recognition of occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, the Jerusalem vote, statements recognizing occupied West Bank as Israeli territory all confirmed Netanyahu’s victory. It pushed Palestinians further away from the negotiating table.
While, Jared Kushner, son-in-law and adviser to Trump, in the past four years, frequented various Arab states brokering peace between them and Israel, his stopovers at international meets such as the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, were aimed at mobilizing international support for the peace plan from Europe, Arab states and others.
What does it mean?
With the Trump plan, Israel has gained significantly – an authorization to expand occupation and international recognition for its claims over Golan Heights, Jordan valley, settlements and Jerusalem while blurring the borders of a sovereign, independent future Palestinian state. As per the proposal, Palestinian-Israeli interactions, in terms of networking and transportation, forces close coordination at the security supervision of Israel by a demilitarized Palestine – a complete no-no for the Palestinian Authority.
The intra-Israeli effect includes greater security and contiguity with certainty about settlements; while intra-Palestinian aspects such as destiny of PA, Abbas and Hamas may depend heavily on a rejection of the plan. Although Palestinians’ collective memory refutes its acceptance, in all fairness, it is a plan that is realistic.
For Trump, it means ensuring the financial backing and votes of White Evangelical Christian Americans. For Netanyahu, as Israeli opposition critiqued, the timing boosts his domestic political leverage. For Palestinians, the plan and subsequent lack of opposition from the Arab world mean shattering of hope and prolonged conflict. With less hope and strong dismissal from Palestinians, hard-liners and extremists will be intensified.
WHO declares Public Health Emergency; China is confident of containing the virus
On January 30, the Emergency Committee of the WHO was convened by its Director-General. According to the WHO statement, “The Director-General declared that the outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) and accepted the Committee’s advice and issued this advice as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR (International Health Regulations)”
As on 31 January 2020, there have been more than 250 cases of confirmed deaths and more than 10,000 cases of infections within China. Outside China, until 31 January, no death has been reported due to the virus. However, there have been cases reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand.
Countries including the US, Britain, Japan, France have evacuated their citizens from Wuhan and are being carefully monitoring them in quarantines in their countries.
What is the background?
According to the WHO report, the committee “at its first meeting, the Committee expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not.” Developments since the first meeting have led to the second meeting, where the WHO declared a public emergency.
The virus has reached over 15 countries globally. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announced that it is scaling up the preparedness to support the outbreak in the region.
The Chinese took up to a week from the first patient sample, to determine a complete vital identification and sequencing if the coronavirus. The identified virus genome sequence has been handed over to Russian counterparts, and according to reports, a Russia-China vaccine is under development.
Countries have also started taking precautions to prevent the spread. The US, Australia, and Singapore have announced denying entry and transit for those who have recently visited China. Airline companies from the US to Europe have stopped flying to China.
Unfortunately, there have also been attacks/abuses against the people of Chinese origin across the globe, for example, in public transports in France, Australia and Canada.
What does it mean?
The development of the vaccine and its release can be expected in a couple of weeks. However, the fact that it is not ready yet shows the global preparedness to meet such emergencies. There has to be a concerted joint effort to deal with medical emergencies such as this.
The evacuation processes may inversely be the cause for more cases. Evacuations, though justified, do not seem like a practical option as the threat of the spread of the virus is more.
The biggest challenge is the misinformation about the cause, the nature of the spread and how to prevent the same. The civil society needs better information from their respective governments, and the latter has to find better ways to reach out to the former.
UK and EU on 5G and Huawei
On 28 January, the British Government capped the use of telecom equipment from ‘high-risk vendors’(HRV) at 35 per cent in their 5G operations. In simple words, HRV’s such as Huawei would continue to operate in the UK’s telecom sector in a limited manner. This comes after intense lobbying by the US. The hardware application is restricted to radio access networks that do not handle sensitive technology compared to ‘core networks’ which prove crucial for telecom operations. Additionally, Britain has banned the use of such hardware in military bases and critical locations.
On 29 January, the European Commission laid out recommendations titled ‘Cybersecurity of 5G networks EU Toolbox of risk-mitigating measures’ that address security concerns regarding 5G. Interestingly, the document does not ban the presence of Huawei, instead recommends cybersecurity measures to the 27 members on avoiding 5G risks. Thierry Brenton, the European Commissioner for internal markets, stated the grouping would not ban anyone based on nationality unless they followed security measures.
What is the background?
The recent move is in tune with Britain’s stance on 5G since 2018, that vowed to do away with Huawei’s 4G hardware by 2021 and restrict 5G in ‘core networks’. Alongside Theresa May’s approval of Huawei, the government’s cybersecurity advisory organisation in February, last year, called Huawei’s induction a ‘manageable risk’ that could be mitigated. The official delay owes to the debate on ‘security vs technology’ and apprehensions over the Chinese led tech giant. On a fancy note, Boris Johnson was seen taking photos with a Huawei phone immediately after his anti-Huawei stance at the NATO summit.
5G apprehensions in Europe have culminated with increasing market penetration by the Chinese technology giant. The European Commission’s endorsement follows its March 2019 Commission Recommendation and the Council’s request for examining security issues in 5G. While the 2019 commission document does not make direct reference to Huawei, it highlights the need for ‘strategic autonomy’ mentioning the ‘EU-China, a Strategic Outlook’, a joint document. Additionally, France and Germany’s inclusion of Huawei in their 5G rollout has started setting the trend to the European 5G culture.
Considering Europe’s technological demands, it supports the limited application of vendors, unlike the US, that advocates a complete ban citing intellectual property threat and espionage from the Chinese. Trump has repeatedly advocated for banning products from the Chinese giant. In February 2019, the US State Department pushed the grouping to avoid services from Huawei. Accordingly, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had tweeted, ‘We must ensure the security of 5G equipment by limiting authoritarian regimes’ access to, and control over, our networks.’ The US has been persistent in distancing Europe’s 5G from Huawei, for Trump in one of his calls with the British Prime Minister, pressed for cooperation against the telecom giant.
Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei at the Word Economic Forum in Davos stated that the company could ‘survive further attacks’ taking a direct jab at the US. There has been consistent tension with a slew of events including the US blacklisting of Huawei, the arrest of CFO Ming, Google’s android ban on Huawei and techno-legal disputes.
What does it mean?
First, this development could prove the US’s international efforts in banning Huawei’s 5G advancements ineffective. Evident is Trump’s support to PM Boris Johnson and this move comes at a crucial time for Britain, considering its exit from the EU and the US’s importance. Further complicating are the EU guidelines that could widen gaps and create new irritants. This could also disembark the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence grouping that includes the UK and the US with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. A long-range assessment of the situation would not overlook arm twisting diplomacy by big powers.
Second, it could prove too early to raise concerns regarding Britain’s technological capacity building in non-critical telecom sectors, but Huawei’s expertise and digital boom in Europe raise questions. While this could hamper bilateral security arrangements, it furthers concern regarding the participation of Chinese tech in non-telecom sectors. This makes it important for countries to materialise tech transfers and cooperation towards digital independence.
Third, in the 5G debate, China has distanced Huawei in rhetoric. But the US could see this through their trade dispute with China considering the recently concluded ‘Phase One’ of the deal.
Finally, this is a testimony to Chinese inroads into developed countries despite its history with less developed ones across South America and Africa. While one should not discredit the Chinese progress, it is imperative advanced countries tread carefully in establishing ties given technology’s role in the changing world.
Finally, the BREXIT: The “UK Dream” comes true
After three years of political turmoil, the United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January 2020. Boris Johnson said: “The country was divided and for many, this moment they thought would never come, but it is my job to keep the country together.”
The UK enters an 11-month transition period during which it will continue to adhere to the EU rules. Its departure from the EU came after the European Parliament on 29 January approved the withdrawal resolution passed by the Westminster after a debate off mixed warm words of love and hard-headed warnings to the country.
What is the background?
The referendum in 2016 followed by the withdrawal deal of former Prime Minister Theresa May started the tumultuous ordeal for the UK to leave the European Union. Rejected three times by the British Parliament between January 2017 to March 2019, several filibusters and May’s resignation made the Brexit process unduly long. They conflicted without much hope of an agreed outcome.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May in July 2019; since then, he embarked on the mandate to ‘Get Brexit done at any cost.’ His bold moves cemented his political standing within the Tories and with a political agenda to pass the Brexit in the Westminster, Johnson became one of the few British Prime Ministers to announce on 28 August the suspension of the Parliament with the consent of the Queen.
During August-October 2019, Johnson removed the controversial backstop deal for Northern Ireland to reach a compromise with Brussels. The new Brexit deal made Northern Ireland as a border check for goods entering EU member Ireland and the UK. Northern Ireland would not only remain in the single market of the EU but also within the customs of the UK. The subsequent election in December 2019 gave the public mandate to Johnson, and on 20 December the MPs passed Johnson’s withdrawal deal paving the way for the UK to leave the EU on 31 January 2020.
What does it mean?
The post-Brexit UK will look a lot more challenging and different for the country, the European Union and the rest of the world.
First, for the United Kingdom, a post-Brexit scenario means structural and social changes. From the colour of the passport to coins, the old structure from 30 years back is set to return. The terms of the European healthcare insurance, extradition agreement within the EU countries, pension rules and the ease of travel or work will have to be renegotiated during the 11-months transition period. Also, Britain will face the question of nationalism. A split in the United Kingdom is likely to arise as Scotland’s case for independence will become harder to ignore. Simultaneously Britain’s policy to make Northern Ireland a dual border will push the cause of the Irish unification.
Second, the UK’s relations with the EU will enter a new phase of arduous negotiation over the trade deal. The UK member of the European Parliament will lose their seats after the Brexit ushering the moment when the UK progresses to leave all of the EU’s political institutions and agencies. The UK will continue to abide by the EU rules during the transition period, and the European Court of Justice will continue to have the final say over legal disputes. The discussion on trade will take centre stage for Britain. For the EU countries, especially France and Germany, demand for level playing ground of investments will dictate the trade talks with the UK. The UK will be able to start talking to countries around the world about setting new rules for buying and selling goods and services. It has not been allowed to hold formal trade negotiations with countries like the US and Australia while it remained an EU member. A question remains, how much will this independence in trade policy cost Britain.
Third, as Britain sets to renegotiate its relations with the EU, its relation with the US will look a lot more transactional as two similar patterned leaders, Johnson and Trump will begin negotiating on another trade deal between the two countries. This was evident in the manner Johnson went ahead in allowing 5G telecommunications network on 29 January in Britain evading Trump’s warnings just before the trade talks. In all likelihood, Trump is not going to cut Johnson any favours in the trade deal that Johnson would have hoped for. Similarly, the British prime minister will not be content in merely being an ally of the US.
Also, during this week….
Despite John Bolton’s unpublished book, Senate votes in favour of Trump
John Bolton’s new book did not affect Trump’s impeachment trial; on 1 February Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of President Trump with only two of the four Republicans voting for the Democrats. The final verdict on whether to acquit Trump will be on 5 February. On 27 January, the impeachment proceedings took a turn. Bolton’s unpublished book has revealed Trump’s role in setting up the pressure in Ukraine.
Pentagon wants to place Patriot missile system in Iraq
The US has asked Iraq to place the Patriot missile system at the base hosting US troops to improve the protection of the US defence personnel. The US has 5000 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi security forces.
European Parliament postpones its resolution on India’s Citizenship Act
On 29 January 2020, the European Parliament has postponed (by 271 votes in favour and 191 against) the vote on resolutions against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act. Six resolutions have been moved by different groups, including the European United Left/Nordic Green Left. The vote has been postponed to March 2020; Modi is likely to visit Europe in early March.
Netanyahu talks Syria and Trump’s “Deal of the Century” with Putin
On 30 January Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his way back to Israel made an impromptu stop in Moscow to met the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting coincided with Russia’s pardon of the Israeli national Naama Issachar who was sentenced to seven-year prison for drug trafficking. Putin has reserved his statements on the new peace deal and Syria