'Real Estate Brokers' Cannot Dampen The Palestinian Spirit
The past couple of years have seen a very determined President Donald Trump -spearheaded effort to browbeat the Palestinians and deprive them of any chance of fulfilling their aspirations. The objective has been clear - to force the Palestinians to a political solution with Israel on the latter's terms which appear to coincide with Trump's own vision for the region. And by his antipathy towards Palestinian organisations like the Hamas which governs Gaza and which the Trump administration is convinced is supported by Iran.
There has been negligible condemnatory comment from the Trump administration about the extensive use of force against the Palestinians, reflecting Trump's very supportive stance of Israel.
The latest example of Israel's dealings with the Palestinians was the killing of four persons with hundreds injured as Israeli forces used live rounds and tear gas on tens of thousands of Palestinians who had held a rally at the Israel-Gaza fence to mark the first anniversary of the Great March of Return protests Israel had deployed tanks and troops along the fortified perimeter.
Protests at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip began in March 2018, with Palestinians seeking an easing of the blockade of Gaza and recognition of their right to return to homes and lands their families had to leave when Israel came into existence in 1948.
The Israeli use of lethal force against demonstrators had led the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution condemning Israel's "apparent intentional use of unlawful lethal and other excessive force" against civilian protesters in Gaza. It called for the perpetrators of violations in the enclave to face justice and for cooperating with a preliminary examination opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2015 into Israeli disregard for the human rights of Palestinians.
But it is evident that Trump and his hard line advisers are convinced that the right approach is to keep the Palestinians under pressure, a policy that Israel is only too willing to execute, while at the same time seeking to buy them off with blandishments of well funded economic measures.
The process of implementation of Trump's plan began in 2017 when Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017- a move that Israel wanted and successive American administrations had shied away from. The Palestinians had always demanded that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Action to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem commenced. The announcement drew considerable condemnation in the Arab world and from the Palestinians- but the move went ahead.
Then in August 2018, Washington announced an end to all U.S. funding for the UNRWA that assisted Palestinian refugees. The U.S. was UNRWA's biggest donor by far up to that point, giving it $364 million in 2017. And in February 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased all assistance to the Palestinians, to whom it provided $268 million in 2017. The U.S. cuts were clearly designed to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to re-engage with the White House, which it had boycotted since Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
With his son in Law Jared Kushner acting as the point person assisted by US Adviser Jason Greenblattt, President Trump declared that he was drawing up a plan to resolve the Palestine issue and said that he would present the Deal of the Century comprising both economic and political elements.
While Israeli Television reported that Trump's Middle East peace plan would propose a Palestinian state on as much as 90 percent of the occupied West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem - but not including its holy sites- Palestinian officials and others briefed on the plan said its political elements envisaged an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control. Palestinians would be left with a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders. While Western and Arab sources were said to have confirmed this Jason Greenblattt denied there was any plan to expand Gaza into Egypt's Sinai desert.
The real concern in Palestinian and Arab circles was that Trump and Kushner had completely given up the idea of a two state solution- something that had been the long-standing U.S. and international formula for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Kushner's comments to the media appeared to bear this out as he said in an interview that Palestinians deserved "self-determination," but he did not back Palestinian statehood and expressed uncertainty over their ability to govern themselves. Greenblatt was more emphatic stating that the proposal for a two-state solution, with one for Israelis and anther for the Palestinians, was a "slogan of the past." The "Kushner" plan he said would provide for open borders but did not specify how this would be achieved.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh appointed by President Abbas in March 2019 to replace Rami Hamdallah who had been attempting a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, said that the document that had reportedly been prepared by Kushner's team did not make any reference to Israel's occupation; its settlements policy; the two state option and other matters of concern to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority had seen its debt reaching $3 billion, and a severe contraction of its estimated $13 billion GDP econom. The cut in aid by the US and Israel withholding part of the 5% of the around $190 million monthly tax revenues that it transferred to the Palestinian Authority, had contributed to the crisis. Meanwhile President Mahmoud Abbas had been under considerable domestic pressure because of his ongoing differences with Hamas and protests had taken place in Gaza calling on the Palestinian Authority president to quit.
PM Shtayyeh said the fundamental economic problem was Israel's continuing occupation of the West Bank but for the Trump team the economic woes of Palestine appeared to be the leverage necessary to sell the Palestinian and Arab leadership on the Kushner plan.
The outlines of Trump's Deal of the Century were presented at the "Prosperity to Peace" workshop held in Manama the capital of Bahrain. Only the economic aspects were disclosed with the formulators of the plan stating that the political aspects would only be tenable after the results of the re-elections being held in Israel in September 2019 which might or might not see Netanyahu elected again.
The event was organized reportedly by Richard Attias & Associates, the global communications firm used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to publicise his "Davos in the Desert" project. While the White House refused to comment on the funding of the event in Manama there was speculation that the funding had come from the Saudi Crown Prince.
While China and Russia refused to attend the meeting as did Lebanon and Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco attended despite appeals by the Palestinians that they not attend. Nearly 300 delegates were invited including a handful of Israeli business leaders.
The economic plan that was presented to the meeting was reportedly designed to double Palestinian gross domestic product in 10 years, create more than 1 million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, reduce unemployment to single digits and the poverty rate by 50 percent. Its main features were the provision of a fund of US $ 50 billion largely from the coffers of wealthy Arab states with Kushner hinting but not committing that the USA would also contribute. 28 billion would be earmarked for the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, $7.5 billion for Jordan, $9 billion would go to Egypt and $6 billion to Lebanon.
$15 billion of the total would be in the form of grants, $25 billion in subsidized loans, and about $11 billion was expected to come in through private capital. The money would be administered by a multinational development bank and the funds would be managed by an appointed board of governors who would determine allocation based on project proposals.
Among the projects highlighted for funding were:-
infrastructure, water, power, telecommunications, tourism and medical facilities. Funds would be used for projects intended to draw closer connections between the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai through services, infrastructure and trade; upgradation of power lines from Egypt into Gaza , improving the use of Egyptian industrial zones to promote trade between Egypt, Gaza, the West Bank and Israel; port expansion and business incentives for the Egyptian trade hub near the Suez Canal; tourism development in the Sinai tourism; transformation of Palestinian areas as global tourism destinations; and the repair and restoration of historical and religious sites and beachfront areas.
The Kushner economic miracle plan drew derisive comments from many in the region particularly as, for the Palestinians and their supporters, the political issue was the predominant one and plans to resolve that remained obscure. Interestingly before the Manama meeting US Secretary of State Pompeo had reportedly commented to Jewish leaders that the still-secret plan might not "gain traction" and critics might reject it as not "particularly original".
Prominent commentators and ordinary citizens in the Arab world had denounced Kushner's proposals in very similar terms: "colossal waste of time," "non-starter," "dead on arrival."
The Palestinian premier said the plan was "divorced from reality" and unlikely to evolve into a political plan.
Senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Hanan Ashrawi said Kushner's plans were "all abstract promises" and said only a political solution would solve the conflict.
Hamas bluntly said "Palestine isn't for sale".
Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmysaid. "This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers, not politicians. Even Arab states that are described as moderate are not able to openly express support for it."
Bahrain's main opposition group, the outlawed Shi'te Muslim al-Wefaq party, said hosting the event had brought shame on their country's rulers, while Kuwait's parliament said it would reject anything that came out of the event.
200 demonstrators broke into the courtyard of Bahrain's Embassy in Baghdad and took down the kingdom's flag in protest.
Qatar said on Friday that economic development needed for Israeli-Palestinian peace could not be achieved without "Fair political solutions"acceptable to Palestinians. referring to a U.S. plan set to be unveiled next month.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard said Washington's peace plan was doomed to fail and that the Palestinian resistance movement would respond firmly to those who proposed such deal. The Guard said the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "withdrawal of Zionists from the occupied lands, and return of Palestinian refugees to hold free elections".
Egypt said it would not accept any diplomatic deal rejected by the Palestinians.
Jordanian officials had said that the economic offers to the Palestinians could not replace a solution securing them statehood and an end to Israeli occupation. Jordan's King Abdullah II was said to have told Kushner that a lasting Middle East peace could only come with the creation of a Palestinian state on land captured by Israel in a 1967 war. A palace statement said the monarch had been deeply concerned about the still-secret US plan to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and told Kushner Israel had to withdraw from the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Jordan, a staunch American ally, has reason to be particularly concerned about the nature of the as yet unrevealed political aspects of the American plan given what is seen to be the inconsistency that has been the hallmark of Trump's forays into international affairs. More than half of Jordan's 8 million citizens are said to be of Palestinian descent.
Many Jordanians balk at anything that might entail Jordan having to permanently absorb the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, by giving them Jordanian citizenship. Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian analyst and activist commented that it would be suicidal for Jordan to cooperate with the US peace plan. Some Jordanians feel that giving Palestinians Jordanian citizenship would in effect force them to forget about their ancestral homes and a Palestinian state.
Whatever has been manufactured on paper by Trump, Kushner, Greenblattt and their aides, the reality is that for decades generations of Palestinians have been fighting for their own state and to return to their homes. Death, deprivation and oppression have been their lot and have not in any way fazed them. One is reminded of Iran's youth fighting Saddam Hussein's well armed army often going to the battlefield on motorcycles and sometimes in sandals.
The Palestinians have fought even longer and there is no indication that the steely determination that has driven them so far would in any way be dented by the plans of, as Gamal Fahmy has said "real estate brokers, not politicians."