By Hanan Ashrawi
From the beginning, it appeared farcical that a group of ideologically driven men with personal ties to the U.S. president and Israel, no experience in world politics and no interest in international law or the universality of human rights could deliver peace to the Middle East.
Such a lethal combination of religious fundamentalist and nationalistic bias, as well as direct investment in the Israeli occupation, with views that align with the far right in Israel, cannot be trusted with the mammoth task of peacemaking, let alone spearheading a credible and trustworthy political process with the required qualities of integrity and respect.
Jared Kushner, the political novice appointed by his father in-law, the president of the United States, as head of the Middle East “peace” team, is just one example of this unqualified and irresponsible group.
Kushner was on the board of a foundation that supported and funded the Israeli army. His family’s charitable organization regularly funds construction in the illegal Israeli Beit El settlement near Ramallah in the West Bank, while the current U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was the head of an organization called American Friends of Beit El. Adding President Donald Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, with his declared allegiance to Israel, as the peace envoy, compounded the absurdity.
This team embodies a significant departure from established U.S. policy, including that of the most prejudiced previous administrations. However, given their backgrounds, the arrogant, condescending and racist attitude displayed by Kushner in a recent Axios interview should come as no surprise.
Kushner had the insolence to state that while Palestinians deserve self-determination, he was not sure they could govern themselves. This appalling statement betrays a colonialist attitude and a deeply patronizing tone of a “white man’s burden,” which has no place in respectable international discourse.
Trump’s “peace team” is seemingly stuck in the colonial era, when the subjugation of other peoples was justified by the racist claim that they were incapable of governing themselves, should be grateful for their masters’ handouts and needed to prove they deserved freedom and human rights.
The right to self-determination is universal, unconditional and absolute. Under international law, it is not only non-negotiable but also of erga omnes nature, meaning its realization is the responsibility of all states. In Palestine’s case, the international community has repeatedly and unequivocally recognized and reaffirmed this right for decades. But like his father-in-law, Kushner is obviously ignorant of the law and averse to facts.
By assuming the United States has the right or standing to condition the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, Kushner is voicing the dominant bias of this administration, which treats Israel with positive exceptionalism, rewards and bribes while singling out Palestinians for negative exceptionalism, bullying and exclusion.
Kushner’s interview responses are an extension of the Trump administration’s policies over the past two years. The unilateral and illegal decision to recognize Israel’s illegitimate annexation of Jerusalem was just the first in a series of hostile and irresponsible political and financial decisions—aimed not at achieving peace but at pummeling the Palestinians into submission and capitulation.
The administration also closed the Palestinian representative office in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which had served U.S.-Palestinian relations since 1844. It discontinued Congress-approved funding to Palestinian civil society, hospitals and infrastructure, and then, following the advice of this “peace team,” it defunded UNRWA, the U.N. agency mandated to serve over 5 million Palestinian refugees.
These measures adversely affected the millions of Palestinians Kushner claims to deeply care about and understand—even better than they do themselves.
Such is the flawed logic of the planned Bahrain “workshop,” despite the serious Palestinian and international concerns and lack of participation by the Palestinian leadership and business community. In fact, this “workshop” aims to financially and politically reward and integrate Israel in the region, while ignoring the legal and political context of the occupation denying Palestinians their economic potential and political rights. Yet Kushner still makes the delusional claim that the workshop will serve Palestinian interests.
The Trump administration has allied itself with the most extreme, racist, right-wing elements in Israeli politics. Today, Israeli political discourse has become a competition between the extreme religious and extreme secular right over who can inflict more pain on the Palestinian people and annex more Palestinian land.
Historically, such bluntly racist, colonialist attitudes have been proven to fail. Yet even with failure guaranteed, Kushner’s shortsighted, hollow approach is dangerous, because it threatens to subvert any genuine effort at peacemaking in the future.
Kushner is dead wrong about the reality and nuance of the situation. The Palestinian people are not begging for charity or seeking to improve the conditions of their captivity. Palestinians seek to realize their natural and inalienable right to self-determination, freedom, sovereignty and dignity—none of which depend on Kushner’s approval nor the administration’s endorsement.
Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.