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What if Palestinians ‘take the money and run?’

Jul 02,2019 - Last updated at Jul 02,2019

I was not at the "Peace to Prosperity" summit, but I listened to some of the speeches and read the documents the White House produced, and nothing I saw changed my belief that the entire affair was long on fantasy, short on reality. With that, however, a heretical thought came to mind, but more on that later.

I have always been a fan of imagining the future. During the Clinton administration, my mantra with regard to Israeli-Palestinian peace was that we needed "a vision of the future that was so compelling people would be drawn to it". Back then, there was still the hope for an independent Palestinian state in the territories Israel occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

It was such a vision that led Yasser Arafat to imagine that, with independence, Gaza could become like Singapore. With peace and freedom, Palestinians could connect the West Bank to Gaza, build a seaport and airport, attract investment and become a commercial hub and a tourist destination.

Despite Jared Kushner's patronising presumptuousness, nothing in his vision was new since Palestinians had already imagined such a future. But all came crashing down to earth when Israel implemented a closure of the borders after an Israeli massacred Muslim worshippers in Hebron, erected hundreds of punitive checkpoints throughout the West Bank, cut East Jerusalem off from other occupied lands, built a wall inside of the 1967 line and established a network of military outposts and illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley, which denied Palestinians full access to almost 25 per cent of their most fertile fields, intensified policies of collective punishment, repression, humiliation and degradation of millions of innocent civilians, denied Palestinians access to over 80 per cent of their land and natural resources, blockaded and strangled Gaza and began a massive settlement expansion programme that has seen the number Israelis in the West Bank almost quadruple to over 620,000 settlers.

Okay, I know that Kushner warned in his speech that there would be someone like me who would be Mr Negativity, bringing up old arguments and blaming Israel for everything. But notice how Kushner, while completely absolving the Israelis, did his own share of blaming, laying it all on the Palestinians' shoulders, as if all of their problems were of their own making. I have been close to this situation for too long; while I can find fault in the ossified and struggling Palestinian Authority and the brutally stupid, self-defeating tactics employed by Hamas, the flaws of the Palestinians are a function of the impossible situation created by Israel's brutal and oppressive policies. Blaming the Palestinians is nothing more than blaming the victim while letting the victimiser go free. The real reason the Palestinian economy never “took off” is because of the suffocating Israeli occupation that never ceded control.

Compounding Kushner's detachment from reality was his lack of self-awareness regarding the impact of the policies pursued by his own administration and the laughable absurdity of his claim that he and President Donald Trump "haven't given up on the Palestinians" and still care for them! The Trump team has turned a blind eye to Israel's land seizures, illegal settlement expansion, "legalisation" of outposts and home demolitions. In addition to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, they have acquiesced to Israeli policies that have consolidated control and expanded settler compounds in East Jerusalem and are even now suggesting that they would look favourably on further annexations in other parts of the West Bank. And they have cut all aid to Palestinian institutions, including hospitals and schools. To now suggest that they want to "empower Palestinians" through education and healthcare is disingenuous, at best.

With this in mind, as I listened to Kushner's delusional and patronising speech, a heretical idea came to mind: Imagine if Palestinians were to take the money and run.

From its beginning, Israel mastered the art of dissembling. They have repeatedly agreed to terms that they had no intention of honouring. Instead, they pocketed their gains and moved on. In the beginning, they agreed to a partition and then plotted how to ethnically cleanse the area to make their new state, in Ben Gurion's words, "larger and more Jewish". They signed the Camp David Accords having no intention of fulfilling even its most minimal requirements for the Palestinians. They did the same with Oslo and Wye. And they repeatedly agreed to "settlement freezes", never intending to stop expanding their control over the occupied lands. What if Palestinians decided to play the same game? What if they did what the Israelis have done? What if they decided to build the Palestinian economy and improve the daily life of Palestinians, while maintaining focus on the long game?

Agreeing to play along in no way negates Palestinian rights. Economic empowerment does not negate political rights, nor will it buy acquiescence to the denial of these rights. Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations cannot be bought and sold for a price.

Let us face it, we are in an emerging one-state reality; an apartheid state. Israeli policy led to this and the Kushner plan will only serve to consolidate it. At present, the majority of the population between the river and the sea is Arab. The problem is that Palestinians lack rights and power, and they lack a strategy to gain the power they will need to secure their rights. What if they were to exploit the opportunity provided by Kushner's plan to build Palestinian society as an important step on the way to developing the strength to secure political rights and freedom? History shows that when people live in economic despair, they are less inclined to demand political rights. Only when they gain a degree of economic relief do they turn to demand greater political freedom.

So, if Kushner is promising: to open up the West Bank by removing barriers to travel, to connect the West Bank to Gaza, to make Gaza a tourist haven, to promote investment in Palestinian institutions, etc. — what if Palestinians took the money and ran? What if Palestinians used this offer to develop a new strategic vision — taking the first steps to transform the current emerging one-state reality into a democratic secular state? If Kushner inadvertently empowers the Palestinians to overcome the disenfranchisement he is trying to permanently impose on them, that is his problem. Maybe one day the Palestinians could build a resort in Gaza or Jaffa and name it after Jared Kushner, as the father of the new secular democratic state that will come to be between the river and the sea.

If that is not exactly the vision of the future the US and Israel are seeking, that is what they will get. Palestinians will continue to demand freedom and rights and as an empowered majority, it is only a matter of time before they rise up and secure those rights.

If that is not what the US and Israel want, then it might be a good idea for them to go back to the drawing boards and muster the courage and resolve to end the occupation and provide Palestinians with the justice and freedom they deserve and need to truly prosper in an independent state of their own.

 

The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute

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