The Trump-Kushner peace plan looks doomed already
The Trump administration unveiled Sunday its first significant move in a plan to forge peace between Palestinians and Israelis. It will lead a two-day “economic workshop” conference in Bahrain next month where U.S. officials will reveal more of their plan to resolve the decades-long impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, while raising tens of billions of dollars in investment for the occupied territories. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and the White House’s designated lead on brokering peace, appears to believe that working to improve Palestinian livelihoods and cultivating Palestinian businesses should take precedence over political solutions.
That may make sense, given the political abyss into which the prospects for a viable independent Palestinian state have fallen.
But the abiding impression among Palestinians is that Trump and his lieutenants aren’t honest brokers. Instead, they see a series of debilitating moves enacted by the administration — from the unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to cuts in Palestinian aid to the shuttering of diplomatic offices that cater to Palestinians — as part of a campaign to confirm Israeli hegemony and undermine Palestinian political aspirations. With Trump firmly allied with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the most right-wing government in Israeli history, Palestinians see no end to the Israeli military occupation over their lands.
“Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief negotiator, in a statement. “This is not about improving living conditions under occupation but about reaching Palestine’s full potential by ending the Israeli occupation.”
Numerous Palestinian business executives invited to Bahrain by the Trump administration have already signaled they won’t be coming. “It looks like they’ve invited many business people, but it’s an issue related to our national interest,” Ibrahim Barham, a founder of a Palestinian electronics and engineering company, told my colleagues. “We can’t divide it from what’s going on in the political arena.”
Speaking to the New York Times, one Palestinian American entrepreneur described the invitation as a “blatant payoff” and likened Kushner’s offers of investment to “trying to strangle a woman while giving her a manicure.”
Another argued that relief from the encirclement of Jewish settlements and the overweening control of Israeli security forces, not financing, is what Palestinians need. “We don’t lack money, know-how and interest,” Sam Bahour, a Ramallah-based consultant, told the Times. “We lack the resources: land, water, movement, access and frequency. It doesn’t require a grand plan, nor does it require a grand workshop. It requires Israel getting its boot off at least the economic part of our neck.”
Experts pointed to earlier false dawns, when grand plans of enterprise in the West Bank came to naught amid turmoil and destruction. “When political negotiations collapsed, violence erupted, and investments went up in flames,” wrote Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution. “To assume that the promise of economic improvement would outweigh ordinary human aspirations of a people who have painfully struggled for decades is to miss the nature of the human condition.”
Netanyahu is explicitly disinterested in lifting the occupation and has left open the possibility of annexing Palestinian lands. Israeli officials and their American supporters blame the failure of the peace process on the Palestinian leadership and the continued hostility of Islamist militant groups such as Hamas, which governs the beleaguered Gaza Strip. The Israeli and U.S. officials urge the Palestinians to view the Kushner-led process with an open mind and to give peace, or at least the Trumpist version of it, a chance.
On social media, Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s chosen negotiator on Israeli-Palestinian matters, insisted that the White House had a viable political plan in place, not just an economic one.
But critics cited Greenblatt’s rhetoric — he frequently berates Palestinian officials and commentators on Twitter — as evidence of the Trump administration’s bad faith. “In [Goldblatt’s] telling, Israel is under attack by fanatical Arabs brainwashed with hatred,” wrote Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “He has never acknowledged the impact of the Israeli occupation or Palestinian dispossession, disenfranchisement and exile."
Kushner’s adventure in peacemaking is either willfully or naively leading Israelis and Palestinians down a path that cements the former’s suzerainty over the latter. Supporters of the two-state solution fear that it may doom the last fleeting hopes for a meaningful agreement. “Kushner’s attempt to find an economic solution to this long-running political conflict is destined for failure,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel advocacy organization in Washington, said in an emailed statement. “It risks paving the way to disastrous steps such as formal annexation, which would undermine any future efforts to reach a lasting peace,” he added.
Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, lamented the White House’s dismissal of “expertise” in its rush to hatch a deal, as well as the narrow, transactional mind-set that Trump and Kushner, schooled in the cutthroat world of New York real estate, bring to the proceedings.
“Unlike a real estate transaction in which one party gets the property and the other party gets the cash, a Middle East peace deal starts and ends with the two parties as neighbors, stuck with each other sharing a duplex for eternity,” Satloff wrote.
As the White House’s efforts lurch forward, the focus may turn to what that living arrangement looks like. And that conversation — about equal Palestinian rights in a single state — is one very few people in Washington or Tel Aviv want to have.
“Trump is now not only burying the two-state solution, which was not viable anyway, but he’s gladly dancing on its grave, thus forcing people to end their denial,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Politico. “It’s important for us to respond very clearly that we need equal rights in one state.”