Palestine: Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ rejected as more of the same

Palestinian leaders have criticised US President Donald Trump’s much-hyped and long-awaited vision for Middle East peace, unveiled on June 25 in Bahrain, as more neo-colonialist containment.

Trump has touted the plan as the “deal of the century”. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and architect of the plan, described it as the “opportunity of the century”.

The proposal, “Peace to Prosperity”, is the latest in a long line of US proposals over many decades and many US presidents. It contains yet another economic plan for Palestine, which is unlikely to succeed in the absence of any plan for justice.

This first part proposes a US$50 billion investment in 179 projects designed to “unleash the economic potential” of the Palestinian people. The projects include spending on building better health and education facilities, providing career counselling and jobs for students, enhancing urban renewal with parks and libraries and encouraging Palestinian entrepreneurship and innovation.

There is even a project to build a new Palestinian university, even though the West Bank and Gaza Strip already has 14 universities in operation.

Utilising the whole gamut of economic buzzwords, the proposal reads like a build-your-own-economy beginner’s guide.

Dan Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University tweeted: “I would give this so-called plan a ‘C minus’ from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.”

No official Palestinian or Israeli delegations attended the Bahrain workshop on June 25–26.  While they were invited, the Palestinian Authority and many in the Palestinian private sector boycotted.

“Attempts at promoting an economic normalisation of the Israeli occupation will be rejected,” the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said on May 20.

Palestinian businesses issued a joint statement on May 22 saying, bluntly, that successive US proposals for “economic peace” have been tried and “ha[ve] failed every time precisely because freedom and sovereignty for Palestinians was lacking”.

The Hamas leadership in Gaza rejected the US proposal as “an attempt to integrate the Israeli occupation in the region at the expense of the Palestinian cause.”

The US proposal has also been largely panned by analysts, such as Daoud Kuttab, as “an amateur attempt at economic peace-making” at best and by Rashid Khalidi as “neo-colonial arrogance” at worst.

In a telling interview on June 2, Kushner echoed past British colonial masters in casting doubt over the abilities of the Palestinians to govern themselves. “The hope is that they, over time, can become capable of governing,” he said.

Europe, IMF unconvinced

Even those who did attend Kushner’s Bahrain workshop remained unconvinced of its viability to bring  peace.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) pointed out that “improving economic conditions and attracting lasting investment to the region depends ultimately on being able to reach a peace agreement”.

The Saudi delegation welcomed “international efforts” to improve investment and economic growth in the region, but ultimately said it would only accept a proposal based on the Arab Peace Initiative it led in 2002.

Lebanon boycotted the workshop and maintained its long-held position that permanent settlement of Palestine refugees in Lebanon is not an option. “Those who think that waving billions of dollars can lure Lebanon … into succumbing or bartering over its principles are mistaken,” said the parliament’s speaker Nabih Berri.

Iraq also boycotted the Kushner-led workshop, and many of the other Arab countries sent only low-level finance ministry officials. Europe, traditionally a major donor, as well as Russia and China did not attend.

From a New York fundraising conference for the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees — from which the US withdrew its funding in August 2018 — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded those present of the two-state solution and international consensus to realise an “Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security”.

Analysts, journalists, Arab entrepreneurs and former ambassadors have all indicated there were few original ideas in the Trump plan.

Military occupation continues

The blinding issue left unaddressed in the Trump proposal was the reality of the Israeli military occupation and control of the Palestinian territories. Despite Kushner’s assertion that the economic plan was a “necessary precondition” for peace, the complete lack of contextual analysis prompted one Kuwaiti investor to observe that the Trump proposal appeared to “design the interiors before the architect has designed the building”.

In the 25 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed, Israel has all but cemented its control over the Palestinian territories it occupied in the 1967 war. One of the crowning pieces of this control was the 1994 Paris Protocol which outlined the interim economic framework to govern the occupied Palestinian territories until a final status peace agreement was reached.

The Paris Protocol, in effect, gave Israel “full direct and indirect control over the levers of the Palestinian economy”, according to Yara Hawari in Al Jazeera.  Shackled to an Israeli economy twenty-four times larger in GDP than itself, the Palestinian economy was forced to take on Israeli-defined trade terms and monetary policy, little of which served to repair their long-neglected occupied economy.

While the two-state solution guided the political negotiations of the Oslo Accords, a “no-state solution” was drafted into the economic framework of the Paris Protocol.  Consequently, Israel solidified its “containment strategy” of the Palestinian territories and locked the Palestinian economy into a crippling structural dependency on Israel.

Into this context stepped the Trump administration. In two years, Trump rejected long-held US policy and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, closed the Palestinian mission office in Washington DC, cut US aid to the West Bank and Gaza, and cancelled funding to the UN agency for Palestine refugees – actions which Rashid Khalidi says “have virtually all come pre-packaged from the Israeli extreme right’s storehouse of ideas”.

It is in this light that the Trump “deal” showed its true neo-colonial colours or, as the Middle East Monitor described it, the “steal of the century”.  

Since Oslo, an “economic peace” has long been the best offer Israel is prepared to put on the table for the Palestinians. It is hardly surprising that the Trump proposal led with its own “economic plan” for peace. It will be even less surprising, said Jonathan Cook on June 30, that a Palestinian rejection of Trump’s plan will be exploited “as justification for approving annexation by Israel of yet more tranches of occupied territory”.

What must be challenged is Israel’s — and the Trump administration’s — containment strategy, or its “no-state solution”. Israel’s military occupation and colonisation cannot be allowed to continue at the expense of Palestinian rights, freedom and justice. A political solution that ends Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid regime is what is required.