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'Dignity for dollars': Palestinians reject 'deal of the century' as false promise of prosperity

Palestinians say Trump's proposed investments do not fulfil their quest for equal rights and statehood
Economic summit in Bahrain next month decried as 'complete waste of time' (Reuters/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

It is hard to keep a secret in President Donald Trump's White House.

Since he took office, a series of plans have hit the newsstands before Trump could announce them.

Still, despite administration officials' apparent inability to keep a lid on major proposals, few details are known about the "deal of the century", Trump's plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jared Kushner, Trump's adviser and son-in-law who has been tasked with putting the plan together, has refused to even comment on whether the proposal would lead to an independent Palestinian state.

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What Kushner has liberally discussed, however, is one aspect of the scheme: a promise of economic prosperity for Palestinians.

Last month, for example, Kushner spoke of a "robust business plan" for the Palestinians.

But Palestinian advocates have stressed that investments and business initiatives will not fulfil their quest for equal rights and statehood.

Not only is "economic prosperity" an inadequate substitute for human rights, it's not possible without Palestinian sovereignty, said George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

"It's hard to have genuine, sustainable economic development and growth, unless you have control over your own resources - your borders, airspace, water and the like," Bisharat told Middle East Eye.

'[The Bahrain summit] will be a complete waste of time... Without Palestinian participation, it's a pretty meaningless endeavour'

- George Bisharat, law professor

"This is I think what's fundamentally wrong about the approach that Kushner appears to be promoting."

After months of delays and before any discussion about Palestinian rights, the first concrete part of the plan will be revealed at an economic conference in Bahrain in late June titled "Peace to Prosperity".

Palestinians, who have written off the Trump administration as a peace broker, are boycotting the workshop in Manama.

Asked about the potential outcome of the event, Bisharat answered with one word - "nothing".

"It will be a complete waste of time. As far as I can tell, every reputable Palestinian actor - whether in government or the private sector - is declining to participate," he said.

"Without Palestinian participation, it's a pretty meaningless endeavour."

Carrot-and-stick approach

For more than two years, the White House has taken a stick-only approach to the Palestinians, pursuing policies that align with the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump has declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital, recognised Israeli "sovereignty" over Syria's Golan Heights, cut off funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA and halted aid to East Jerusalem hospitals that treat Palestinian patients.

This apparent bias has led Palestinians to reject the White House's long-awaited "deal of the century" plan before its release.

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"No attempt to address the Israeli-Palestinian issue that does not begin and end with the full acknowledgment of the Palestinian right to self-determination, freedom, justice, and equality can be taken seriously," said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR).

But Kushner appears to be using a different definition of self-determination.

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy earlier this month, the US president's son-in-law said "only" an environment conducive to business investments can grant Palestinians "self-determination and better lives".

Kushner, who was a real estate developer before joining the administration, has rarely spoken about the details of the deal, but in his few public statements, business was the dominant theme.

Indeed, the purported financial benefits Palestinians stand to gain from the "deal of the century" is the first carrot the Trump administration has presented after years of hardline policies and funding cuts.

Still, who is going to foot the bill for Washington's promised financial support to the Palestinians, asked Robert Satloff, the moderator at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event on 2 May.

"Let's look at that equation - better life for Palestinians, security for Israel. For Palestinians, it sounds an awful lot like quality-of-life enhancement. That sounds like money, a lot of money. Whose money are we talking about?" Satloff said.

'It goes beyond dumpster-fire diplomacy in implying that the Palestinian people do not have the right to freedom or self-determination, and can be persuaded to trade their dignity for dollars'

- Yousef Munayyer, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

While he didn't directly answer the question, Kushner joked that the funds wouldn't be coming out of his own pocket.

He went on to decry "well-intended" aid programmes for Palestinians.

"We have to decide, do we want to keep throwing money into a situation that perpetuates a situation and even makes it worse?" Kushner said.

The alternative for uplifting the Palestinian economy, he added, is to make the Palestinian territories ripe for investments.

"The reality is until you establish borders, establish security, have rule of law, have transparency, eliminate corruption, really enforce property rights ... you're never really going to see that economy rise, and you're never going to see people's living standards rise," Kushner said.

'Dumpster-fire diplomacy'

US administration officials seem surprised by Palestinians' refusal to participate in the economic plan. Jason Greenblatt, Trump's chief negotiator for the deal, has said he found it "difficult to understand" why the Palestinian Authority is rejecting the workshop in Bahrain.

Reducing the Palestinian struggle to money is offensive, Munayyer said.

"The Trump administration's effort is a deliberate and calculated insult to Palestinians," he told Middle East Eye in an email.

"It goes beyond dumpster-fire diplomacy in implying that the Palestinian people do not have the right to freedom or self-determination, and can be persuaded to trade their dignity for dollars."

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Still, Kushner has repeatedly used a promise of Palestinian financial returns to promote his plan.

In an interview with Sky Arabia in February, he talked almost exclusively about the potential economic impact of peace.

Kushner said the administration had studied models of growing economies in Poland, Japan and Singapore as it crafted the proposal, and discovered "tremendous" opportunity for economic growth in the Palestinian territories.

"The political plan, which is very detailed, is really about establishing borders and resolving final-status issues," he said.

"The goal of resolving these borders is really to eliminate the borders. If you can eliminate borders and have peace and less fear of terror, you could have freer flow of goods, freer flow of people and that would create a lot more opportunities."

Still, this focus on economics has not convinced Palestinians, who continue to reject the deal and plan to boycott the workshop in Bahrain.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American business consultant, ridiculed the idea of economic prosperity without Palestinian statehood.

He explained in a column published by +972 Magazine that Israel benefits from the occupation while robbing Palestinians of their economic rights - a problem that can only be remedied by establishing an independent Palestinian state.

"Israel's determination to maintain full control of the Palestinian economy for over five decades has become a major hurdle in getting it to realise that its occupation must come to an end," Bahour wrote.

"And like recovery from other addictions, this one will require external support.

"That support needs to be based on third states holding Israel accountable to save it from itself, rather than building a 'business plan' to try and paint life under the boot of Israeli military occupation as somehow beautiful."

Bisharat, the law professor, echoed that argument.

"You can't have economic self-sufficiency and growth," he said, "when you don't have control over your own political fate."

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