The problem with the US administration’s approach towards Palestinian issue
WASHINGTON - As the Trump administration prepared to release what has been billed as the “Deal of the Century,” two authors of new books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said the plan cannot succeed because it makes the same errors as previously proposed solutions.
Those include not consulting the Palestinian people and treating the Israelis and Palestinians as if they have power parity, said human rights attorney Noura Erakat, author of “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine,” and Khaled Elgindy, who wrote “Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump.”
The United States has announced it would lead an economic conference in June in Bahrain aimed at helping Palestinians improve their financial situation. Officials are expected to release some details about the overall peace plan during the conference and some said it could include Israel’s annexation of the West Bank as well as an end to the two-state solution.
The Palestinian government has dismissed the possibility of a solution without seeing it but that’s the point: Palestinian leaders have not been consulted about their own future. Palestinian Authority leaders said they will not attend the Bahrain conference.
Both Erakat and Elgindy said many Palestinians feel they have not been consulted and that their government does not represent them. The two spoke at a Middle East Institute book forum May 21 in Washington.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation needs consensus-building internally before it can fight for what it wants with Israel, Elgindy said.
“It’s hard for allies to support Palestinians when they have little idea what the goal is,” he said. “Until we have that, I think we’re going to have to get used to living with uncertainty. We live in this very amorphous area where [the] two states [option] isn’t going to happen but one state isn’t going to happen, either. We don’t have critical mass on either side.”
The idea of success seems to be pumping money into the Palestinian economy until the people capitulate but that started with a pre-deal campaign of ending aid that had essentially kept people from starving, Erakat said.
“This is the duress that’s being sold to us as the ‘Deal of the Century,’” she said. “Palestinians have limited sovereignty, so they’ll never be able to negotiate.”
Richard LeBaron, a non-resident senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East who participated in multilateral negotiations involving the region in the 1990s, wrote in the Atlantic that resolving economic issues in the Palestinian territories is not a new idea.
“The fundamental difference between this group and its predecessors is that the prior efforts were seen primarily as confidence building for bilateral peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, which would result in a Palestinian state,” LeBaron wrote. “[White House adviser Jared] Kushner and his colleagues won’t even use the term ‘two-state solution,’ which was the mantra of all US negotiators in the past.”
He said the Trump administration has differed in that it offered punitive measures to the Palestinian territories, such as reducing access to US government officials and cutting aid, while rewarding Israel by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This led Palestinians to believe the United States is not an “honest broker,” LeBaron wrote.
The peace process has been a “death by a hundred cuts,” Elgindy said, adding that the law was used not to help the weak and most vulnerable but to attack the poor.
Outside negotiators apparently believed Palestinian internal politics could be ignored or manipulated, while hinging negotiations on the idea that Israel and the Palestinian territories were equal players, Elgindy said, adding that they are not because the occupier will always have more power than the occupied.
“The peace process failed because it was totally detached from reality in terms of the occupation,” Elgindy said. “The constant pressure on Palestinian leaders did make them more pliant but also made them too weak to serve as peace partners.”
Erakat said she sees several ways forward: The Palestinian territories need stronger leadership to negotiate without the help of Americans, who favour the Israelis, and to offer something better to Israelis than what they came up with themselves.
“The way forward has to be a form of pressure on Israel, rather than appeasement,” she said. “There’s no parity. Here I think the most obvious way forward is that we have to shift the way we think about things.”