The US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ Plan: One Big Illusion
The United States, led by President Trump’s son in law and advisor, Jared Kushner, join the list of administrations attempting to solve the seven decade old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The latest US vision was proposed in Manama, Bahrain, in what was labelled an ‘economic workshop’, full of businessmen and investors. But the vision illustrates that the Trump administration has not grasped the complexities of the conflict. The vision seeks to raise $50billion in investments to allegedly build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society and apparently transform the West Bank and Gaza. Yet there is no political framework included in the vision, no mention of sovereignty, statehood, final borders, the right to return for the refugees or the removal of Israeli settlers – the very factors that gave birth to this deep-rooted conflict.
The firm rejection of the proposal from the Palestinian Authority government and the subsequent absence in Manama was a direct consequence of the total negligence of the political objectives in the proposal. Meanwhile, Hamas, the organization that control Gaza, was not even invited.
Israel also did not attend, and so the two parties that the workshop affects directly were absent. Trump and Kushner had effectively organised a wedding without the bride and groom, in a move symptomatic of the Trump administrations attempt at solving the historical conflict – feeble and hopeless.
Indeed, the vision includes plans to create a business environment that provides investors with confidence that their assets will be secure by improving property rights, the rule of law, fiscal sustainability, capital markets, and anti-corruption policies.
Likewise, there is mention of intentions to reduce constraints on Palestinian economic growth by opening the West Bank and Gaza to regional and global markets. Major investments in transportation and infrastructure will, according to the scheme, help the West Bank and Gaza integrate with neighbouring economies, increasing the competitiveness of Palestinian exports and reducing the complications of transport and travel.
But there is a profound misunderstanding of the realities. Kushner emphasised that the above ideas were all part of the plan to ‘make the lives of the Palestinian people better’, thus reiterating what he as long professed – that this is supposedly the ‘opportunity of the century’.
The Palestinian economy does indeed need investment and improvement, and the Palestinian people are in desperate need for better opportunities and an enhancement of their quality of life. Yet the element that is being conveniently left out by Kushner and his team is that the inadequate state the Palestinians find themselves in is directly because of the punishing occupation, and not once is this cited.
This was accentuated by the responses to the workshop. Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American business consultant watching the proceedings from Ramallah, West Bank, of the economic opportunities for the Palestinians, affirmed ‘Why haven’t they materialized? What’s stopping them? The Israeli military occupation. It’s the elephant they left out of the circus when they went to Bahrain.’
Hady Amr, who served as deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under President Barack Obama, also weighed in with the criticism, stating the fundamental problem with the economy was not the shortage of investment, but the lack of freedom and sovereignty for the Palestinians. He cited the blockaded Gaza strip where 1.8million people live under strenuous conditions.
The notion that Israel’s occupation is hampering Palestinian economic progress is pertinent and holds significant weight. For example, in Gaza, 35% of the farmland falls under the ‘buffer zone’ category enforced by the Israeli military. Should Palestinians opt to farm this land, it will leave them vulnerable to Israeli live fire, which as history suggests, can be unrelenting and destructive. Likewise, other farmlands in the strip have been periodically aerially sprayed by Israeli airplanes, which has in the past resulted in sizeable losses in profit, once even reaching $1.3million.
Former British Prime Minister and head of the Quartet – the foursome of nations and international and supranational entities involved in mediating the Israeli–Palestinian peace process – Tony Blair, whilst acknowledging the importance of an economic plan, declared his support for the matter that Kushner and his aides appeared to have ignored.
‘I remain a believer in the two-state solution, in the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state’, Mr. Blair asserted, in a head-to-head talk with Kushner. He even reinforced that ‘it would be foolish to think you can have economics without sound politics’.
Palpably, the discourse that surrounded the workshop suggests Kushner’s proposal did not have the desired effects. Attendance from high profile countries and figures was rare, let alone finding supporters of the cause.
Russia and China initially professed they would not participate, but even when they did, they sent low level representatives. Some Arab countries followed suit, including Egypt and Jordan who sent low level ministers.
Saudi Arabia gave a boost to Kushner by sending both the finance minister and the head of its public investment fund, but the Kingdom was firm in their demand for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Seemingly, the neglecting of the political dynamic when proposing economic enhancement indicates Kushner and his team view economic as well as political advancement as mutually exclusive.
But they are alone in such thinking, hence the lack of endorsement for the cause.
This is a symptom of the approach adopted by the Trump administration, which has been to abandon any possibility of being a neutral and honest mediator of the peace process. Trump’s administration granted Israel the prize it craved most when they declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and then proceeded to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, whilst concurrently illustrating a total disdain for the Palestinians by closing the Palestinian Liberation Organisation movement office in Washington. Then to compound matters, they slashed the funding to the UN agency that deals with refugees in Gaza.
Thus, the so called ‘peace to prosperity’ programme appears to be a continuation of the indomitable US championship of Israel. Yossi Mekelberg, professor of International Relations at Regents University, London, and senior consulting research fellow at Chatham House think tank, asserted this much anticipated proposal for peace, offers proof that the Trump administration is just ‘singing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hymn sheet’.
Such an outlook is what prompts the Trump administration to propose economic incentives and a better standard of living, assuming they could somehow serve as sufficient substitutes for a meaningful path towards self-determination and the right of return.
Observers suspect that the chief motive behind Kushner’s efforts is to bring together major powers, propose an obviously unsatisfactory offer that won’t be accepted by the Palestinians, and then when it is inevitably rejected, he and the rest of the Trump team can label the Palestinians as the roadblocks to peace.
Indeed, Kushner just recently expressed uncertainty over the ability of the Palestinians to self-govern, illustrating that there was never an intention to address their right to self-determination and their quest for statehood. Likewise, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, recently proclaimed that Israel has the right to annex parts of the West Bank, which again, reinforces that the major concerns of the Palestinians are no priority in this so called peaceful and prosperous proposal.
Rather it is an attempt at compelling the Palestinians to surrender their cause for the sake of unappetizing economic incentives. This was emphasised by Danny Dannon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who in a column in the New York Times, titled ‘What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender’, contended that the Palestinians could undergo a major transformation if they engage in a ‘declaration of surrender’. Such is the delusion of all those advocating for such a disastrous proposal.
But Kushner’s fantasy of a project was dealt a predicted blow. Whilst the Palestinians robustly rejected it, which was never really in doubt, there was no real approval from any other party either.
Kushner bought into the traditional Israel counterargument that the corruption of the Palestinian leadership, as opposed to the detrimental nature of the occupation, is the fundamental factor responsible for suppressing the Palestinians. But when he tried to sell it, nobody else was impelled by his delusion.
There is no doubting that the Palestinian cause has slipped further down the agenda in recent times, on a regional and global scale. Kushner attempted to capitalise on this and present an unrealistic and ill-conceived scheme that addresses the conflict from all the wrong angles. His attempt at swaying the Arab states to subscribe to his plan, in the hope of backing the Palestinians into the corner and prompting collapse and surrender backfired tremendously. There was no support for a programme that so brazenly dismisses the Palestinian political objectives. Now the ball is in the Palestinian leadership’s court. The message has been sent. There is a rejection of Kushner’s plan, the support shown for the Palestinian cause needs to manifest into tangible results to prevent further Israeli ascendance, and it starts with Palestinian unity across all spectrums of the leadership.