Presidential advisor Jared Kushner looks on as US President Donald Trump announces a new immigration proposal, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on May 16, 2019. - Trump proposes an overhaul of US immigration to favor applicants with high skills and good English, while cutting back on family based arrivals and asylum seekers. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Kushner’s Middle East peace plan is aimed at forcing Palestinians to abandon their rights

By Omar Baddar

The Trump administration is putting together a “peace and prosperity” workshop in Bahrain next month, ostensibly aiming to shore up economic investment in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. The event is being sold as another step in the administration’s alleged “peace-making” effort — led by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — which seeks to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through “the ultimate deal.”

Although this workshop directly impacts the Palestinian people, one group has been excluded from its planning: The Palestinians.

Had Palestinians been consulted about such a conference, they would most likely have insisted that their political grievances take priority over international investment efforts. After all, Palestinians are not victims of a natural disaster who are in need of handouts from Kushner’s workshops; they are an occupied people in need of freedom from military occupation. And while the Trump administration talks a good game about improving Palestinian livelihood, their policies toward Palestinians thus far have been self-defeating.

Throughout its more than two years in power, the Trump administration has shown complete and total disregard for Palestinian rights, aggressively pursuing a range of policies at their expense. This includes recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in violation of international law and to worldwide condemnation; shutting down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington; shuttering the U.S. consulate serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem; and effectively endorsing Israel’s illegal acquisition of Palestinian land by dropping the word “occupied” from the State Department’s official reports, in contrast with previous administrations.

This political assault was also coupled with heavy-handed financial pressure that pushed Palestinians to the brink, as the Trump administration ended U.S. financial support for UNRWA, the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees survive; canceled USAID assistance programs in the Palestinian territories; and even ended U.S. aid to Palestinian hospitals. At first glance, a “prosperity” workshop to benefit the Palestinian economy may seem like an obvious contradiction to Trump’s track record thus far. But that contradiction disappears when considering the administration’s real aim of reducing Palestinians to a level of desperation that would ultimately lead them to abandon their political rights for economic benefit.

Kushner’s plan will inevitably meet the fate it deserves. Not only has he failed in getting the Palestinian political leadership to buckle to his misguided carrots and sticks, his effort to circumvent the political leadership altogether and lure the Palestinian business sector to his “peace and prosperity” workshop has also backfired.

If we wanted to be generous to this administration, we would blame their colossal failure in bringing the parties to the table for peace negotiations on incompetence. After all, Kushner’s only qualification for this job is that he is Trump’s son-in-law. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who will also be in attendance, was Trump’s bankruptcy attorney. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt was Trump’s real-estate lawyer. The result is a team of clueless amateurs trying to do their best and miserably falling short.

But there is no reason to be this generous to this administration. It is far more likely that this is a deliberate failure meant to end the possibility of Palestinian self-determination. After all, Greenblatt has been shamelessly trolling Palestinian leaders on Twitter for a while now. Friedman is a fanatical ideologue who called former President Barack Obama an anti-Semite, and who explicitly compared liberal Jews who support a two-state solution to Nazi collaborators. As for Kushner himself, he once led a foundation that funded illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land. Those settlements are considered war crimes under international law, and they have obstructed the possibility of a Palestinian state. In short, this is a team that is fundamentally opposed to Palestinian rights, and is dedicated to undermining them.

And then we have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even before Trump came to power to offer unconditional support for Netanyahu’s war on the Palestinian people, the prime minister had already declared his opposition to a just peace and promised that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. Netanyahu is likely working with the Trump administration to produce a peace process that no self-respecting Palestinian would ever approve. Their plan will almost certainly fail to address the most fundamental Palestinian rights that are currently being denied by Israel, like freedom of movement, to say nothing of final status issues like sovereignty, the claim to East Jerusalem, and the refugees’ right of return. And when Palestinians refuse to engage, they can then be blamed for the failure of peace efforts.

It’s a game of charades, but one with the ugly consequence of perpetual conflict, violence, and injustice.

But there is an alternative path: One in which the Israeli and American leaderships stop trying to pummel Palestinians into submission to Netanyahu’s diktats, and where they start treating Palestinians as equal human beings who deserve basic rights, dignity, and justice. That is a path that can lead to peace, and we can bring it about by demanding better leaders and better policy from our own government.

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