by Khalil E. Jahshan
Although the Trump administration has yet to unveil publicly its long-delayed “deal of the century,” the architect of the plan, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, paid a visit during February 25-28, 2019 to six countries in the Middle East—Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. He peddled his controversial initiative to leaders of Arab and Muslim countries who Washington hopes would eventually endorse and bankroll what is being touted as an economic plan for the region. Kushner was accompanied on this diplomatic marketing mission by Presidential Assistant and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.
Kushner began his trip with a public relations mini-campaign by giving a well-publicized interview to Sky News Arabia on February 25, a complete transcript of which was published in English by The National the following day. While insisting that his plan is ready to share with the stakeholders, he apologized, as he had in the past, for not being willing to reveal significant details about its contents, which he insisted are based on two years of consultations with various parties to the conflict. Kushner admitted, however, that his initiative is essentially economic in nature and aimed at bringing about commercial opportunities for the people in the Middle East—including Palestinians and Israelis—to improve their standard of living, which had been kept sluggish in the past due to continuing conflict throughout the region.
According to the White House “Israeli-Palestinian peace czar,” this peace plan is not the first one for the region by any stretch of the imagination. However, in a self-serving statement, Kushner claimed that its provisions, although relatively unchanged over the past 25 years, are more practical and fairer than previous attempts at peacemaking; this is what required keeping them secret—to prevent their premature leaking and failure as happened before with key parties who refused to make the necessary concessions. Kushner stated in his highly orchestrated interview that his plan is based on “a realistic and … fair solution to the issues here in 2019.”
The Principles of the Kushner Plan
Kushner said his plan is focused on four principles: freedom, respect, opportunity, and security. First, he explained that the American administration he represents wants “people to be able to have the freedom of opportunity, the freedom of religion, the freedom to worship, regardless of your faith.” Unfortunately, Trump’s advisor neglected to mention more fundamental issues necessary for ending the conflict in the region such as an end to the 52-year-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, self-determination for the Palestinian people, or the two-state solution, which is considered the conventional option to end the conflict resulting from decades of peacemaking in the region. Clearly, Kushner fails to understand that he is dealing with a predominantly political issue and not one of limited economic opportunity or limitations on the free exercise of religious rights.
Second, Kushner highlighted the need for respect, expressing his desire that people in the region should “have dignity and to respect each other.” Again, this well-meaning but naïve wish is practically meaningless for people who have been living under oppressive military occupation for decades. It is frankly impossible for people to practice mutual respect while one side is militarily dominating the other. Living in dignity and mutual respect requires a fundamental change in the prevailing paradigm of prolonged or permanent occupation by Israel over Palestine.
Third, while one could anticipate the logic adopted by Kushner as a real estate tycoon by profession, he fails to appreciate, as a supposed diplomat, that the real world is more complex than a commercial deal or business opportunity. The conflict in Palestine involves basic human and political rights that have been denied and such a situation cannot be magically remedied by induced economic opportunities, including genuine attempts to ameliorate local lives. Without a political solution, Kushner will guarantee what he warns the parties about, i.e., allowing “their grandfather’s conflict to hijack their children’s future.”
Fourth, Kushner is right that security is a key component of any formula capable of resolving the Palestine question. However, like his peace-processing predecessors, he fails to specify the dual nature of security. It is actually a two-way street: unless applied fairly and equitably to both sides, security might become monopolized by the stronger party, thus preventing peace in the region—as it has done for the past seven decades.
Back to the Drawing Board
Many analysts, including the author, consider Kushner’s “deal of the century” an asinine, half-baked proposal that is big on promotion but short on substance. Kushner readily admits that his team did not focus much on the detailed issues but on the main impediments that prevented the Palestinian people from benefiting fully from their capabilities and which precluded the Israelis from integrating properly within the larger region. He insists that “the final status issues will be addressed in our plan” but avoids listing these issues, which include such deal-breakers as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements, final borders, security arrangements, and bilateral relations between Israel and Palestine.
Just as Israel insists on its own existential issues, so do the Palestinians. Palestinian observers were not impressed by the Kushner statements and continue to question his commitment to end Israeli occupation and realize Palestinian fundamental rights. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat dismissed Kushner’s peace plan as “pro-settler,” adding that any plan that fails to ensure independent Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, “is not worth discussing.” Although the plan advocated by the Trump Administration has yet to be announced in its entirety, the Palestinians have no option but to reject it because of its failure to publicly and explicitly guarantee Palestinian statehood in the context of a two-state solution. Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, whose endorsement and funding of the Kushner plan are crucial to its viability, will not do so as long as the Palestinian side withholds its endorsement.
It behooves the Trump Administration at this point to go back to the drawing board before releasing its plan after the April 9 Israeli election. Unless the gaps pinpointed above are addressed, and, particularly, the absence of Palestinian endorsement and participation in the process of drafting, marketing, and implementing the plan, the project is destined to be stillborn.