Shop owners and workers sit in front of their closed shops at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, near Amman, Jordan, during a strike called by local activists against US President Donald Trump’s 'Deal of the Century' and Bahrain Conference this week. Picture: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
What we are facing in Palestine is the worst form of apartheid. What the “Deal of the Century” will propose is one country, Israel, with cantons of self-government, very similar to the idea of the South African Bantustans under apartheid.

The game that is being played now is to make this Bantustan system seem palatable and potentially profitable to the international community by emphasising the economic incentives and potential investment if the deal is accepted. But what it is really all about is ensuring Israel's annexation of settlements considered illegal under international law, and ensuring Israel's control of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Let us not forget the pronouncement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three days before the Israeli elections in April when he was asked by Israeli TV Channel 12 about his policy regarding the West Bank.

He said: “I will not uproot a single settlement, and I will ensure that we'll control all the area West of the Jordan river. We will move to the next stage - to the gradual extension of Israeli sovereignty in the areas of Judea and Samaria. I also do not distinguish between the settlement blocs and the lone settlements, every settlement like that is for me Israeli.”

Right-wing Israeli politicians are calling for the annexation of all lands in “Area C”, which would see Israel annexing the vast majority of the land in the West Bank. As it is, the West Bank is only a fraction of historic Palestine, and was supposed to comprise the bulk of a new Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the recognition of which has been called for in countless UN resolutions.

There can be no illusions that the basis of the Trump administration's supposed “Deal of the Century” is to recognise Israeli sovereignty over what has been up until now considered illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This would be the crowning achievement of the Israeli government's theft of Palestinian land, and ensure its recognition of what it considers Judea and Samaria.

What will this mean for the Palestinians which will be squeezed into tiny cantons? Palestinian residents in those cantons will not be able to exercise their right to self-determination or be afforded Israeli citizenship rights.

They will therefore not have equal rights to Israelis, such as the right to vote in Israeli elections, influence government policies concerning daily life, or be able to access the same services as Israelis in terms of health care, education, or jobs. Israel will determine the ability of Palestinians to move outside of their cantons, much like the South African apartheid state controlled the movement of black South Africans outside of the Bantustans. The very idea of a Palestinian state has disappeared from Israeli terminology. A Palestinian “state” has now become Palestinian “society”.

The Palestinian cantons which will appear as white dots on a map of what is supposed to be a viable and independent Palestinian state, will not be contiguous and at most will be characterised by Israel as self-governing enclaves. There is no realistic possibility of such a situation ensuring the economic and political independence and sustainability for the Palestinian people.

But what Palestinians have been struggling for since 1948 is the right to self-determination, justice and equality, and the disclosed political contours of this deal will certainly not achieve any of those national goals.

If the US and its allies ensure that such a deal is imposed on the Palestinian people against their will, Israel will have moved from being a democracy to a country based on ethnic discrimination, which governments and civil society around the world will never accept, just as they did not accept apartheid South Africa.

The cart cannot go before the horse. First Palestinians need to have their right to an independent viable Palestinian state recognised as called for by the UN, and once that is achieved the economic incentives and investments will be welcomed in the process of nation building.

To put economics before a political solution is nothing but an attempt to bribe the Palestinians to give up significant swathes of their land in return for financial compensation, much of which will end up going to neighbouring countries.

Our people have fought a long, hard struggle over the past 71 years against dispossession and for freedom. No glossy workshop of the US and its allies in Bahrain will blind Palestinians to the attempt to camouflage Israel's expanding occupation, sweetened with the promises of money and investment.

Just as our leader Chairman Yasir Arafat would never sell the aspirations of Palestinians for a national state down the river in the context of the Oslo Accords, nor will any Palestinian administration ever accept this “Deal of the Century”.

* Majdalani is the Palestinian Minister for Social Development and member of the executive committee of the PLO.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.