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Looming Mideast peace deal amounts to Netanyahu-Trump pact, experts say

Analysis: The Israeli prime minister is expected to have good reason to be grateful for the "deal of the century" set to be unveiled Tuesday.

Thank you.

That's what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to President Donald Trump when the leaders met ahead of the unveiling Tuesday of the U.S.'s long-delayed Mideast peace plan.

"Thank you for everything you've done for Israel," Netanyahu told the president at the White House on Monday, according to a statement released by his media adviser.

Netanyahu has good reason to be grateful for the "deal of the century."

Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent's University in London, said the agreement that Trump has promoted as the "ultimate deal" amounts to a two-way pact between Trump and Netanyahu.

"The Palestinians were not consulted. It's a dictate of take it or leave it," he said.

"Popes used to give indulgences to forgive sinners until they got to purgatory. Now Trump is absolving Israel for occupation," Mekelberg added, addressing widespread speculation that Washington will give Israel the green light to annex parts of the occupied West Bank that it captured from Jordan in 1967 in the Six-Day War.

More than half a century later, the West Bank is home to almost 3 million Palestinians who hope it will form a significant part of a future state. More than 400,000 Israelis also live there.

Details of the plan are due to be released Tuesday and analysts predicted that it will not bode well for Palestinians, who have refused to meet with the Trump team since the president announced in December 2017 that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

For Mekelberg and other analysts the deal should be understood as two friends lending each other a hand at a sensitive time in their political careers.

Trump is currently embroiled in impeachment proceedings, and in November Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust; both are campaigning in elections that will decide their political fate.

"Trump and Netanyahu care more about electoral politics at home and less about real peace with the Palestinians," said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

"It resembles a colonial arrangement of a bygone era," he added, comparing the impending deal to past secret agreements that divided parts of the Middle East among European powers and promised the Jewish community a home in historic Palestine.

"Palestinians are denied agency, representation and rights," he said.

Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said Palestinians "can't and won't" accept the plan set to be unveiled in the White House.

Even before the details were released, protests rejecting it were already in full swing in Gaza and Palestinians had called for a "Day of Rage" on Wednesday in the West Bank.

"The deal of the century, which is not based on international legality and law, gives Israel everything it wants at the expense of the national rights of the Palestinian people," Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in opening the Palestinian Authority's weekly Cabinet meeting in Ramallah on Sunday.

Image: Palestinians burn a poster
Palestinians burn a poster showing President Donald Trump as they protest the American peace plan in Bethlehem on Monday. Mahmoud Illean / AP

Palestinian leaders have consistently dismissed the U.S. as biased toward Israel and emphatically rejected the economic half of the Trump administration's plan that was published on June 22.

Opposition to the deal came from another end of the political spectrum, too.

A delegation of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of Israeli municipal authorities in the occupied West Bank that traveled to Washington for the plan's unveiling, said Tuesday that it was "very disturbed."

"We cannot agree to a plan that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state that would pose a threat to the State of Israel," said David Alhaini, the group's chairman.

Since becoming president, Trump has endorsed Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

In November, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed decades of U.S. policy when he announced that the United States no longer viewed Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as necessarily a violation of international law.

If the deal includes annexation of large parts of the West Bank, as many suspect, it would "seal the fate of the two-state solution" said Mekelberg, referring to a plan to establish a separate Palestinian state.

"The West Bank would no longer be a viable Palestinian state and at best could become some autonomous region," he added.

Netanyahu's chief political rival, Benny Gantz, also flew to Washington this weekend to meet with Trump and welcomed the peace plan as a "significant and historic milestone."