Kushner’s plan recycles failed past proposals and will clearly not succeed. But was it meant to in the first place?
Proposing an economic approach to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is nothing new and it was definitely not pioneered by President Donald Trump and his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. It was put forward many times in the past by both the Israeli side, most prominently represented by Israeli leader Shimon Peres and his New Middle East vision, and by various international mediators, including the Quartet on the Middle East, which was created by the UN, US, EU and Russia after the Second Intifada.
Needless to say, all past proposals have failed for one simple reason: They all suffered from an imbalance between economics and politics. Kushner’s “deal of the century” has by far surpassed all others in this regard by completely decoupling politics from economic solutions.
Since the 1990 Madrid conference, the peace process had been built on the principle of “land for peace”, where Israel withdraws from Arab land it occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace and the normalisation of relations with the Palestinians and Arabs. This was also the core of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia.
Regardless of its shortcomings, the 1993 Oslo Accords provided a political vision for Peres’s plan – a two-state solution – which was followed by the 1994 Paris Protocol which established rules regulating economic relations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Kushner decided to replace this principle with his idea of “peace to prosperity”, which effectively reduces the conflict to an economic problem that can be resolved by improving the living standard of the Palestinians.
The absence of a proposed solution for major political issues, particularly Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem, and the right of return, render his proposal nothing more than an attempt to bribe the Palestinians into giving up self-determination.
Another major issue with Kushner’s plan is that the source of funding for its ambitious $50bn budget is still unclear. Europe, traditionally a major donor, did not attend the workshop. Russia and China were not part of it either.
Saudi Arabia, which has shown the most enthusiasm for the deal, is already dealing with its own economic problems and the war in Yemen, which has cost it billions of dollars. The US, where the proposal originated, would certainly not spend that much money, particularly under President Trump who prides himself on extracting monetary concessions from other countries.
Even if one assumes, hypothetically, that the money can be secured, Kushner’s approach would never boost the development of the Palestinian economy. The proposal mentionsSouth Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan but he ignores the fact that these are sovereign states which have full authority over their national resources.
By contrast, the Palestinian Authority has no control over borders, infrastructure, ports and airports, land, water and other resources. It does not even have full control over its own budget. Right now public servants are not getting paid in full because the occupying power, Israel, has decided to take a portion of the funds allocated for salaries.
The development and prosperity that Kushner is promising can only happen if the Israeli occupation is lifted. As Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi neatly put it in a recenttweet, “first lift the siege of Gaza, stop the Israeli theft of our land, resources &funds, give us our freedom of movement & control over our borders, airspace, territorial waters etc. Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free & sovereign people.”
Although Kushner’s economic plan purportedly focuses on economic development, it has serious political implications for the conflict. Trump’s son-in-law openly stated that the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative is no longer on the table. His plan also treats Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel as equal partners and does not mention the Israeli state as a party to the conflict.
The wording of the text offers a glimpse of what the political addendum of the “deal of the century” could look like – devoid of solutions for major Palestinian issues and full of concessions for the Israeli side. Yet its provisions are still unknown, as its announcement of the complete deal was delayed for a fifth time.
With all these major flaws, it was hardly surprising that the Bahrain Workshop failed to jump-start a process that could bring together parties interested in the future of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or lay the foundations of a collaboration on economic projects. Kushner’s pledge of $50bn failed to inspire both potential donors and potential beneficiaries, like Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The Palestinians, who have been divided since 2007, united against the workshop and rejected its proposals. Even former American policymakers who spent most of their careers focusing on the Palestinian-Israel conflict have not supported the plan, including Dennis Ross, special envoy for the Middle East peace process under the Bush administration.
All in all, it is quite clear that Kushner’s “deal of the century” was never really meant as a serious proposal to resolve the conflict or provide a vision for how to move forward. Rather all this time, it has been a useful distraction from the implementation of another plan that aims to further entrench the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Trump administration has already made a few major steps in this direction, including recognising Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
While the world’s attention was focused on the preparations for the Bahrain Workshop, national security adviser John Bolton visited Israel and toured the occupied Jordan Valley. It is quite likely that next step will be US recognition of Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank, where over 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers currently live.
In this sense, waiting for the announcement of the “deal of the century” is a waste of time and paying attention to Kushner’s theatrics means falling into his trap set up to distract the public from what is really going on. All those who care for the Palestinian cause should mobilise now and prevent Kushner, Trump and their Israeli partners from establishing irreversible “facts on the ground” that could see Palestinian hopes for self-determination destroyed.