For Palestinians, economics do not come first

The correct approach should have been exactly the opposite order — coming to a balanced political settlement first on which to build the economic aspect that would guarantee stability.
Sunday 26/05/2019
Palestinian students walk on their way to school to attend their end-of-year exams in Gaza City on May 23, 2019. (AFP)
Palestinian students walk on their way to school to attend their end-of-year exams in Gaza City on May 23, 2019. (AFP)

The conference, or more accurately the economic workshop, that the US administration has asked Bahrain to host in June on “stimulating investments in the Palestinian territories” as an improvised step must be considered a useless leap in the air. This holds true despite that all Palestinians, in their various political hues, quickly rejected such a conference.

The Americans, in accordance with their plans and not with those of the Arabs and Palestinians, chose to start with what they should have ended with. Perhaps this error in setting priorities points to one of two possibilities. The first and most likely is that the United States was unable to arrive at an explicit Arab consensus on steps to implement US President Donald Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so it resorted to this approach as a test balloon.

The second possibility is that the US administration has set a date that it is not willing to postpone for announcing the full version of its “Deal of the Century.” Thus, the official announcement of the deal would precede the Bahrain conference and is meant to secure commitments from regional and international parties to participate in fulfilling the economic requirements of the deal.

This second possibility is unlikely because it is difficult for any Arab capital to deal with a settlement plan that nullifies the establishment of a Palestinian state and removes East Jerusalem from the settlement plan.

The Arabs have no reason to be optimistic that the Americans will produce elements that would encourage them to support Trump’s efforts, given his previous unilateral decisions that blatantly discarded basic elements of any settlement and international resolutions.

The likelihood of the improvisation hypothesis can be defended by saying the conference dealing with the economic aspects that Washington wants to use as the foundation for the “Deal of the Century” illustrates the adage of putting the cart before the horse.

Conflict resolution cannot be based on luring people whose rights have been recognised by the whole world with promises of financial aid and investments. The correct approach should have been exactly the opposite order — coming to a balanced political settlement first on which to build the economic aspect that would guarantee stability.

The current American approach to the Palestinian issue mimics the Oslo approach, which based the political settlement on security considerations. There, too, the opposite would have been right because security flows from politics. No wonder that the Oslo Accords failed.

The correct approach would have been for both sides to reach a strategic agreement and then move to establish security measures that would protect the agreement. When the Oslo Accords collapsed, the peace process evaporated, except for security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel without any political content.

Based on this experience, the American approach in Bahrain can be viewed as nothing more than a tactical diversion because those who want to talk about encouraging investments must first consider whether there is an investment environment available.

How can any participant in the proposed conference explain how investment will take effect in Gaza or in the West Bank under occupation conditions? Which aspect should come first, removing the occupation and lifting the siege or the distribution of roles among those parties willing to invest? The answer to that last question shows that the conference move is an improvisation.

Let’s suppose that the Americans intend to present the deal in all its details after Ramadan, then the Arab parties have the right to ask: On what basis will the Americans launch their project?

All Arab governments have publicly stated their adherence to the original terms of reference of the peace process and to international resolutions. If the American claims that there is a behind-the-scene positive Arab response to their project are true, who will be convinced that the Arab leaders will change their positions as soon as the Trump administration presents its project and, contrary to what they have previously stated, will declare acceptance of the American proposal?

It seems that Trump’s envoys and the US president himself are unaware of the repercussions of a positive official Arab response to a distorted American project to solve an Arab issue into which Arabs have put a lot of effort, work, money and sacrifices.

It is also clear that consideration of the internal stability of the Arab countries has never crossed the minds of the Americans. Trump’s administration naively thinks that, feeling the danger of the Iranian expansionist project, the Arabs in the Gulf will flock to accept Trump’s deal, like the man who dashed against Scylla while endeavouring to avoid Charybdis.

The workshop, dedicated to stimulating investment in the Palestinian territories, is of no use before creating an investment environment. This will not occur without a balanced political solution.

The internal logic and style of the American deal is dictatorial, based on dictating options. Such an approach does not help create a regional political environment that would help Arab governments accept the logic of dictation. None of the Palestinian social or political factions will dare go along, through direct or indirect contacts, with the American proposal that ignores the fundamentals of the Palestinian cause.

When Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the US Embassy there, the Palestinian Authority found itself in a corner.

Trump had acted with disdain and arrogance and had not even bothered to follow it up with amendments, not even verbal or temporary ones, such as saying that he did not mean East Jerusalem.

On the contrary, he reiterated his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole city of Jerusalem and even leaked that his “Deal of the Century” does not stipulate the establishment of a Palestinian state and that Washington will not seek the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority. This means that official Palestine is excluded and social Palestine is targeted by investing in its suffering to pass a distorted settlement.

In such circumstances, how can Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas be expected to renew contacts with the US administration?