Whatever happens with Donald Trump’s presidency, the future of his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is assured. A career as writer of romantic fiction is his for the asking.
Finally, there was something in writing, something to talk about. The first part of the long-awaited US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revealed by Kushner for the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain on 25-26 June. Never mind that the principals to the conflict were not officially present for the birthing of the “New Vision for the Palestinian People and the Broader Middle East”. Never mind that the glossy brochure was vacuous rather than visionary. Never mind that it was the bribe, not the deal, of the century.
In the world of Trump it’s all about the dream. Imagine a bustling tourist centre in Gaza and the West Bank, Kushner declared. “Imagine people and goods flowing securely throughout the region as people become more prosperous.” Imagine indeed. And how will such a vision splendid be realised? Through buzz phrases and mythical foreign investment of US$50 billion to “unleash” the economic potential of the Palestinians, to “empower” them to “realise their ambitions,” and to “enhance” Palestinian governance. Palestinian GDP would double, a million new jobs would be created.
Fine words flowed about education and training, health, employment, infrastructure, transportation, trade, communication, legal and regulatory frameworks, quality of life, and so on and so forth. A US$5 billion superhighway would link the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank and Gaza, run by its nemesis, Hamas. A new Singapore, a new Dubai, a new Sweden would rise from the congested alleyways of Gaza and the abraded hills of the West Bank.
Worthy perhaps, but utterly hallucinogenic. It ignores Israel’s asphyxiating hold over Palestinian life, commerce and communication. The word occupation has vanished from the lexicon. The vision proclaims the need for the Palestinians to develop 4G and 5G technology. There is no mention of the role that Israel plays in impeding this. That Israel only lifted a ban on 3G wireless technology for Palestinian mobile services in 2018. In the words of one Israeli commentator, “It’s as if the plan was designed for a Palestinian economy that exists in an imaginary universe or on the moon, without a realistic discussion of how many aspects of the Palestinian economy are linked to Israel”.
The plan mentions governance but steers well clear of the issue that lies at the very heart of this—and the conflict that has split blood and treasure for the past seventy-plus years—Palestinian statehood. Perhaps that will leap out of the cake in part two of the Kushner “vision”. But the Palestinians have already seen the plan for what it is. A grand bribe to persuade them to decouple economic well-being and political aspiration. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, declared the plan dead on arrival. Engaging with it, he said, was tantamount to a Palestinian declaration of surrender. To which, Israel’s ambassador to the UN responded encouragingly, “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?”
With the Bahrain conference focused on declaration rather than detail, Kushner hailed it as a “tremendous success.” He reportedly told a Saudi newspaper that his “very detailed and reasonable plan was well received by attendees” from all over the world.
Others, within and beyond the region, had a very different take. An Israeli journalist reported criticism of the plan as “amateurish hodgepodge” which promised “projects that cannot be implemented, funded by money that does not exist and contingent on a peace deal that will never happen”. The economic bonanza was not a confidence building measure but a “con job and insult rolled into one”. It dangled dollars in front of Palestinian noses, implying they could be bought, and set up a chain of events which will lead to the Palestinians being blamed for the plan’s “inevitable failure”.
A former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Dan Kurtzer, now Professor of Middle East Studies at Princeton University, tweeted, “I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.”
Kushner will probably lose little sleep over this. Dismissing Palestinian criticism of the US approach, he noted that the Palestinian Authority did not “have a great track record of getting a deal done. I’ll keep doing it the way we want to do it”. That “way”, it seems, is to redefine the Palestinian “problem” as largely, if not wholly, an economic one. Forget about contested history, forget about contested borders, contested aspirations. Throw enough money at the Palestinians and they’ll forget who they are. They’ll be so busy basking on the beach in Gaza or strolling through its shopping malls that politics will be a thing of the past. Dream on Jared.
Peter Rodgers is a former Australian ambassador to Israel who has written two books on the Middle East, Herzl’s Nightmare – one land two peoples and Arabian Plights – the future Middle East