Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

US policy towards Palestinians isn't misguided – it's carefully crafted to erase any notion of statehood

At best, it seeks an end-of-conflict agreement involving large-scale Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territory and no sovereign Palestinian state

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the Peace to Prosperity conference in Manama, Bahrain. Peace to Prosperity Workshop / Handout via Reuters
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the Peace to Prosperity conference in Manama, Bahrain. Peace to Prosperity Workshop / Handout via Reuters

If there is an underlying, guiding principle behind the Trump administration's agenda for Israel, it is surely that Palestinians are not to be treated as normal human beings.

No surprise, then, that an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people do not trust the Trump administration, nor believe in its "peace efforts”. And why would they?

Nine out of 10 Palestinians surveyed by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research said they did not trust the US administration. Three-quarters wanted the Palestinian Authority to reject US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-revealed peace proposal.

Despite concerted efforts to appeal to the Palestinian people over the heads of their governing bodies, by the team of Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and ambassador to Israel David Friedman, they have only succeeded in increasing support for the relatively unpopular and certainly passé leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the grounds that he is at least standing up to Washington.

Mr Kushner has repeatedly suggested that the Palestinian leadership's refusal to abandon goals such as freedom, independence and citizenship are outmoded and irrelevant "talking points" from corrupt and rapacious institutions that don't represent the people.

What he must be starting to discover is that the Palestinian people are, if anything, even more, not less, committed to these goals than the Palestine Liberation Organisation and PA leadership.

If Mr Kushner and his colleagues are sincere in their intentions, then they have wildly misjudged the political equation, as demonstrated by the fiasco of the recent Peace to Prosperity workshop in Bahrain, attended by neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials and positing the absurd idea that Palestinian aspirations could be realised primarily through economic aid and investment.

In fact, as the survey revealed, despite their hardships, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians prioritised independence over economic concerns; only 15 per cent put financial woes first.

Mr Kushner accepts the primacy of politics means all proposed investments are contingent on the Palestinians accepting a forthcoming political plan that apparently will not grant them either independence or citizenship. That has inevitably prompted many Palestinians to feel they are being asked to auction off their human rights.

Meanwhile the Trump administration has recognised Israel's annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Mr Friedman and Mr Greenblatt have said Israel also has the right to annex more areas in the West Bank.

The US has shuttered both the PLO mission in Washington and the US consulate in East Jerusalem. It has eliminated all aid to Palestinians, both directly and indirectly, including, ironically, many of the programmes and groups touted in Bahrain.

It has refused US visas to moderate, non-violent and pro-American Palestinian politicians like PLO official Hanan Ashrawi.

Indeed, there is really nothing left the US could take from the Palestinians that has not already been snatched from them.

This is the Trump administration's policy of "maximum pressure": you have nothing and get nothing, unless and until you engage with it, on its terms.

A key goal is to re-orient Washington away from any notion of an outcome involving Palestinian statehood and an end to the occupation, towards one that embraces a greater Israel

But the Palestinian people understand, because the Trump administration has made this clear, that these terms do not involve ending the occupation, establishing a Palestinian state, establishing equal or even real citizenship in Israel or any other country, or the basic rights of human beings in the modern world.

Naturally, they have reacted angrily to this, and rightly so. To do otherwise would be to surrender, as a series of articles in major American newspapers by Israeli officials and their friends recently urged them to do.

Significantly, the primary constituency for these Trump administration's policies are not Jews but evangelical Christians. With the 2020 election looming, the president is consolidating their already ardent support by pursuing policies that many of these evangelicals sincerely believe will lead to the second coming and the Apocalypse.

Most commentary continues to assume that the Trump/Kushner approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues is misguided, idiotic or naive. But it has been obvious for some time that the US policy towards Palestinians is in fact carefully crafted. It is just that the goals are radically different from those advertised and assumed.

At best, it seeks an end-of-conflict agreement involving large-scale Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territory and no sovereign Palestinian state.

If that's not possible, at the very least the existing Oslo-era framework with its two-state logic will be utterly destroyed. This goal appears to have been virtually realised.

And given this is all about US policy, another key goal is to re-orient Washington away from any notion of an outcome involving Palestinian statehood and an end to the occupation, towards one that embraces a greater Israel with US recognition and approval.

The fact that most seasoned western commentators cannot or will not acknowledge this brutal and obvious reality does not mean it is not irrefutably evident. It plainly is.

So, under such circumstances, what are Palestinians supposed to think?

The results of the new opinion poll show that nearly all Palestinians can see that the Trump administration systematically rejects their national aspirations and thinks they don’t deserve to be treated equally to Jewish Israelis, or just about anyone else.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States ­Institute in Washington

Updated: July 7, 2019 03:23 PM

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