by James J. Zogby
I wasn’t at the “Peace to Prosperity” Summit, but I listened to some of the speeches and read the documents the White House produced for the event. Nothing that I saw or read changed my belief that the entire affair was long on fantasy, short on reality. Even with that, however, a heretical thought came to mind – but more on that later.
Let me make it clear at the outset that I am a fan of imagining the future. During the Clinton administration my mantra with regard to 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 the hope that a political solution could be found leading to an independent Palestinian state in the territories that Israel had 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.
There were other grand ideas. In fact, despite Jared Kushner’s patronizing 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 the an Israeli massacred Muslim worshipers in Hebron; erected hundreds of purely punitive checkpoints throughout the West Bank; cut East Jerusalem off from the rest of the occupied lands; built a wall inside of ’67 line and established a network of 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 innocent civilians; denied Palestinians access to over 80% of their land and natural resources; blockaded and strangled Gaza; and began a massive settlement expansion program that has seen the number Israelis in the West Bank almost quadruple to over 620,000 settlers.
OK, 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 of the past and blaming Israel for everything. But it’s important to point out that Kushner, while completely absolving the Israelis, did his own share of blaming. Except, in his case, all the blame was placed squarely on the Palestinians’ shoulders – as if all of the Palestinian’s 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 victimizer go free.
The reality is that there is a reason why 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 impact of the policies pursued by his own administration and the laughable absurdity of his claim that he and President 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, settlement expansion, “legalization” of outposts, and home demolitions. In addition to moving the US Embassy to East 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 favorably 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 health care is disingenuous, at best.
With this in mind, as I listened to Kushner’s speech and read through the plans, offended by their lack of reality, patronizing tone, naiveté, 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. They have repeatedly agreed to terms that they had no intention of honoring. 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. So, 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 doesn’t negate political rights, nor will it buy acquiescence to the denial of these rights. Palestinian aspirations can’t be bought and sold for a price.
Let’s 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? In fact, 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 steps to transform the current emerging one state reality into a democratic secular state?
Kushner may not realize what the end result of an empowered and prosperous Palestinian community will be. And he may be totally naïve in failing to recognize 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 will lead, a generation from now, 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 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.