What if Palestinians take the money and run?

Kushner may be totally naive in failing to recognise that the Israelis will kick and scream at the prospect of a prosperous and empowered Palestinian community but that’s his problem, not the Palestinians.
Saturday 06/07/2019
Vision of homeland. Palestinians in Gaza shout slogans during a protest against a US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain, June 26. (AFP)
Vision of homeland. Palestinians in Gaza shout slogans during a protest against a US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain, June 26. (AFP)

I wasn’t at the Peace to Prosperity workshop but I listened to some of the speeches and read the documents the White House produced for the event. Nothing I saw or read changed my belief that the affair was long on fantasy and short on reality.

Even with that, however, a heretical thought came to mind.

I am a fan of imagining the future. During the Clinton administration, my mantra regarding the Israeli-Palestinian process was that what was needed was “a vision of the future that was so compelling people would be drawn to it.”

Back then, there was still hope that a political solution could be found leading to an independent Palestinian state in the territories that 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. They could build a seaport and airport, attract investment, start businesses and become a commercial hub and a tourist destination.

Despite Jared Kushner’s patronising presumptuousness, nothing in his vision was new because Palestinians had already imagined such a future.

All that came crashing down when Israel closed the borders after an Israeli massacred Muslim worshippers in Hebron; erected hundreds of punitive checkpoints throughout the West Bank; cut East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied lands; built a wall inside of 1967 line and established military outposts and settlements in the Jordan Valley, which denied Palestinians full access to almost 25% of their most fertile fields; intensified policies of collective punishment, repression, humiliation and degradation of millions of civilians; denied Palestinians access to more than 80% of their land and natural resources; blockaded and strangled Gaza; and began a massive settlement programme that has seen the number of Israelis in the West Bank almost quadruple to more than 620,000 settlers.

I know that Kushner warned in his speech that there would be someone like me who would be Mr Negativity, bringing up the old arguments and blaming Israel for everything. However, it’s important to point out that Kushner, while completely absolving the Israelis, did his own share of blaming. Except, in his case, all blame was placed squarely on the Palestinians’ shoulders as if the Palestinians’ problems were of their own making.

I’ve been too close to this situation for too long and, 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 deformities resulting from Israel’s brutal and oppressive policies. Blaming the Palestinians is nothing more than blaming the victim while letting the victimiser go free.

There is a reason the Palestinian economy never “took off”: Palestinians were denied the opportunity to grow by the relentless occupation that refused to cede control.

Compounding Kushner’s detachment from reality was his lack of self-awareness regarding the effect of the policies pursued by the Trump administration and the laughable absurdity of his claim that he and US President Donald Trump “haven’t given up on the Palestinians” and still care for them.

The Trump team turned a blind eye to Israel’s land seizures, settlement expansion, “legalisation” of outpost and home demolitions. In addition to moving the US Embassy to East Jerusalem, it has acquiesced to Israeli policies that consolidated control and expanded settler compounds in East Jerusalem and are suggesting they would look favourably on further annexations in the West Bank. They have cut all aid to Palestinian institutions, including hospitals and schools.

To suggest that they want to “empower Palestinians” through education and health care is disingenuous, at best.

As I listened to Kushner’s speech and read through the plans, offended by their lack of reality, patronising tone, naivete and refusal to acknowledge how we got to where we are, a heretical idea came to mind: Imagine what might happen if Palestinians were to take the money and run.

From its beginning, Israel mastered the art of dissembling. It has repeatedly agreed to terms that it had no intention of honouring. Instead, it pocketed its gains and moved on.

In the beginning, Israel agreed to a partition and then plotted how to ethnically cleanse the area to make their new state, in David Ben-Gurion’s words, “larger and more Jewish.”

The Israelis 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. 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 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 doesn’t negate political rights nor will it buy acquiescence to the denial of those rights. Palestinian aspirations can’t be bought and sold.

We are in an emerging one-state reality ­— an apartheid state. Israeli policy led to this and the Kushner plan would only consolidate it. Most 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 towards 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 demand greater political freedom.

If Kushner is promising to open 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, et cetera, what if Palestinians took the money and ran? What if Palestinians used this offer to develop a new strategic vision, taking the steps to transform the current emerging one state reality into a democratic secular state?

Kushner may not realise what the result of an empowered and prosperous Palestinian community would be. He may be totally naive in failing to recognise that the Israelis will kick and scream at the prospect of a prosperous and empowered Palestinian community but that’s his problem, not the Palestinians’.

It’s interesting to imagine the future should Palestinians take on this game with a political and strategic vision that sees prosperity not as the end of the road but as paving the path to Palestinian empowerment and ultimate leadership in the new one-state reality.

In this regard, we might see Kushner’s plan, not as the “too-clever” path to maintaining Palestinian subordination to the Israeli occupation. Rather it may be the naively designed path with the unintended consequence that would lead to an entirely new reality.

The Israelis and the United States will howl but they are the ones who dug this hole for themselves. 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’s not exactly the vision of the future the United States and Israel are seeking, that’s what they’ll get. Palestinians will continue to demand freedom and rights and as an empowered majority, it’s only a matter of time before they rise up and secure those rights.

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