- What will the dynamic be if Palestinians become prosperous?
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 it. Nothing 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 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 so compelling people would be drawn to it.” Back then, there was still the hope 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 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.
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
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 closed the borders after the an Israeli massacred Muslim worshippers in Hebron; erected hundreds of purely punitive checkpoints throughout the West Bank; cut East Jerusalem off from the other occupied lands; built a wall inside of the 1967 line and established a network of military outposts and settlements in the Jordan Valley, which denied Palestinians full access to almost 25 percent 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 percent of their land and resources; blockaded Gaza; and began a massive settlement expansion programme that has quadrupled the Israelis in the West Bank almost over 620,000.
OK, I know Kushner warned there would be someone like me who would be Mr. Negativity, bringing up the old arguments and blaming Israel for everything. But Kushner, while absolving the Israelis, did his own share of blaming. All placed squarely on the Palestinians’ shoulders. 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 of Hamas, the flaws of the Palestinians are a function of the deformities resulting from Israel’s brutal and oppressive policies.
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”! 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, it hasacquiesced to Israeli policies and are even now suggesting that they would look favorably on further annexations. 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.
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 they had no intention of honoring. Instead, they pocketed their gains and moved on. In the beginning, they agreed to a partition and then ethnically cleansed the area to make their new state “larger and more Jewish”. They signed the Camp David Accords, then those at Oslo and Wye, with no intention of fulfilling even its most minimal requirements for the Palestinians.. They repeatedly agreed to “settlement freezes” – never intending to stop. So, what if Palestinians 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.
We are in an emerging one state reality– an Apartheid state. Israeli policy led to this and the Kushner plan will only 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 needed for their rights.
What if they were to exploit the opportunity provided by Kushner’s plan to build Palestinian society on the way to developing the strength to secure political rights and freedom? 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 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?
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. We might see Kushner’s plan, not as the “too-clever” path to maintaining Palestinian subordination to the Israeli occupation, but the naively designed path with the unintended consequence that will lead, a generation from now, to an entirely new reality.
Israelis and the US will howl, but they will have dug this hole for themselves. If that’s not exactly the vision of the future the US 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 USA 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.