The Palestinians are in a tough spot... and the Democratic primaries are off to a bad start

January felt like a long month for most following global news

January felt like a long month for most following global news. The US & Iran were at loggerheads, the UK (finally) left the EU (sort of), and there was the outbreak of the coronavirus, which sent the internet into overdrive. There were other developments, of course, but quite a few of them were buried under the flood of varied news stories which grabbed our attention. One of them was the new US peace plan for the Middle East, which has shone a spotlight on the difficult position the Palestinians now find themselves in, more than two decades after President Clinton’s efforts in the ’90s.            

The Palestinians took one look at the plan and rejected it outright. In their view, it was a non-starter. For instance, the Palestinians are particularly sensitive about and angered by the various Israeli settlements which have been established in the West Bank in recent years, which has eroded their claim to territories within that segment of any future Palestinian state. The plan suggests the possibility of transferring established Palestinian territories in Israel to a Palestinian state that may took root in the future. Amongst other provisions, the proposed plan does not grant exclusive rights over the holy sites in Jerusalem, such as the Al-Aqsa mosque, but rather access. This is not something which the Palestinians take lightly, given that the mosque is the third holiest site in all of Islam.

In addition, with the US now recognising Israel’s capital city as being that of Jerusalem, the Palestinians would be offered to have their capital city in the east of Jerusalem, in an area which is not said to be very heavily populated, and less suitable than areas closer to the centre of the city. Not to mention that with the establishment of a Palestinian state, it would effectively retain the status quo that allows Israel to veto security measures taken within the Palestinian territories, and potentially limit the movement of goods and individuals into these same territories.

That is a pretty big problem. Actual state sovereignty requires that a government is in full control of not only its borders, but also security to threats emanating from inside and outside of it. In a scenario where Israel is in control of the flow of goods and individuals into Palestinian territory would impede Palestine in more ways than one. Of course, there is the security argument to be made, that Israel would need to ensure that weapons are not flowing to militant groups who bear a grudge against its very existence.

The timing of the plan’s release was also curious. Trump was in the midst of an impeachment trial, and it was on the same day in which Israeli PM Netanyahu faced indictment charges on corruption. Whilst the Palestinians may hope that the plan was simply released for political reasons in both Washington and Tel Aviv, it does seem as though they may be on their own on this one.

Why are they on their own? Because the Israeli-Palestinian issue is no longer a priority in the Middle East, and Arab countries no longer place the same emphasis on it as they used to. There are more pressing matters, not least issues in Syria, and Libya, instability in Lebanon, and the ever-present tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to see how Palestine’s Arab allies would go to great efforts to prop up the Palestinian cause when Israel is a key bulwark against Iranian influence in the region, something on which they share common cause.

It would seem as though the Palestinians are all on their own. They could seek to wait out Trump and hope that he loses in November. If he does, they could have a fresh start with a Democratic President. On the other hand, if Trump wins, their backs would be against the wall, and they could either try to wait him out again until 2024. Unless the plan is altered in a way to make discussing it politically feasible for the Palestinian authorities, the plan looks like a dead letter at the moment.

Democratic primaries

What are the chances of a Democratic candidate beating Trump? Hard to say. He’s been acquitted by the Senate of the charges brought against him by the House of Representatives (not a shock), and many feel that his reelection is a foregone conclusion.

The Iowa Caucuses were a bit of a mess earlier this week. The app that was supposed to tally the votes failed, leading to the results being delayed. As I’m writing this, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are running each other close.

Bernie Sanders has been absolutely surging ahead in support, sending chills down the collective spines of the Democratic establishment. Many fear that an avowed socialist could not beat the sitting President, given the stigma that the term carries in the United States, not least because of the Cold War with the Soviet Union that influenced a few generations in the 20th century. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren’s support seems to have drained somewhat, at least in Iowa, in the weeks ahead of the first actual poll that will determine the next Democratic nominee, so Bernie was looking well-placed to have a good showing.

I’ll also make a brief remark, as I tend to do, about Pete Buttigieg. His support has been good, propelling him to the top 4 of the Democratic field, and up until now, that was good enough. He has the second-largest amount of cash reserves behind Bernie Sanders, which will be important in the weeks ahead if he hopes to make an impression in places like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. His result in Iowa is encouraging, but he’s not expected to do as well down in the southern states, where the demographics are more mixed and Joe Biden seems to poll better. Iowa was a good start, but it is only a start. Bigger challenges lie ahead for the Maltese-American.

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