By Yvonne Ridley
The Trump administration’s vision for a futuristic-looking Gaza Strip is like something dreamed up by a Hollywood theme park, with pristine beaches reaching out into the calm, blue waters of the Mediterranean. It ignores the fact that these are the same beaches where children playing football in the sand and Palestinian families enjoying a picnic have been killed by Israeli bombs.
America’s vision for a high-rise Metropolis conveniently overlooks the Palestinian civilians killed and injured in their tens of thousands during three major Israeli military offensives against the enclave. So-called Operation Protective Edge, launched on 8 July 2014, for example, slaughtered thousands of civilians over a seven-week period during which carnage, punishment bombings and devastation on a massive scale were inflicted upon Gaza’s besieged population who had nowhere to run. More than 550 Palestinian children were among those killed, while hundreds more received life-changing injuries in war crimes which still have to be accounted for.
These are the facts bulldozed to one side by the son-in-law of the US President who wants the world to embrace his vision for economic prosperity in Palestine. Jared Kushner is married to Trump’s daughter and acts as a senior White House adviser despite having little or no diplomatic experience in the Middle East. He is swaggering across the world stage to promote this glossy image.
What he will not do is address the real problem, which is exactly how Palestinians will achieve their aspirations for a sovereign state of Palestine. Kushner is doing everything in the wrong order; in Britain we’d say that he is putting the cart before the horse.
Furthermore, this farce is a bit like reheating toast. Something similar — the Trump Administration is devoid of originality — was attempted while optimism was high during the Oslo peace process. US lawyer and politician Mel Levine and James Zogby, the co-founder and president of the Arab American Institute, served as co-chairs for a project called Builders for Peace, which pulled together a high-powered team of Jewish American and Arab American business leaders.
Running parallel with the peace process designed to negotiate a real political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within five years, this prestigious group set about developing a scheme to bring prosperity to Palestine. The scheme lasted barely three years and failed miserably because of Israeli intransigence. Thriving businesses and a bustling economy could then — and, significantly, can now —only be achieved through Palestinians having freedom of movement for both people and goods. Such independence would enable them to import raw materials and export their finished products to the world.
Despite the terms of the Oslo Accords and follow-up economic agreements, Israel’s government has consistently refused to hand over control of the Palestinian economy in the occupied territories. Thus, the real freedom for Palestinians to do business with the outside world was crushed, as international companies withdrew their offers to extend or relocate to Palestine while it was still under Israeli occupation.
Israel’s petty, spiteful approach even extended to a small shipment of flower bulbs to Gaza intended to jump-start a plan to export flowers to Europe. The Israelis refused to allow the bulbs to be unloaded and, as a direct result, they rotted and died.
The truth is that all the evidence points to the fact that a Palestinian State could flourish only if Israel stepped back and stopped meddling. Israel, though, does not want to see Palestine prosper beyond Zionist control. A recent World Bank study revealed that Palestinians would triple their growth rate if barriers to free trade were lifted, but the last thing Tel Aviv wants is a success story emerging from Palestine.
What’s more, thanks to the continuing expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, Palestine has been reduced to a series of “Bantustan” pockets of land surrounded by roadblocks, the grotesque wall and settler-only highways making it impossible to establish free movement for trade or any other normal life. East Jerusalem, which once served as the economic, political, social, cultural and educational hub of its West Bank hinterland, has been annexed by Israel in an illegal move unrecognised by most of the world, fuelling Palestinian hardship. The situation in Gaza is even worse.
Against this backdrop of misery and hardship, why is Kushner so keen to push his Peace to Prosperity Conference in Bahrain? Some say that it’s a vanity project, or a back door way of enabling the business-led Trump administration to identify who has the cash to splash. Whatever its rationale is, without a viable political solution in place this conference will lead nowhere. As it stands, it is an insult to the Palestinians living in dire poverty in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, as well as the refugee camps scattered around the Middle East and the wider diaspora.
Like everything coming out of the fantasy factory that is Washington’s White House these days, this is a grotesque farce that has been conceived by an administration whose president was propelled to fame by “reality” TV shows, but the Palestinians deserve better than this. They need the freedom to trade and move around; that alone will attract investment. However, as long as Israel keeps a tight grip on the occupied Palestinian territories and their economy, this is not going to happen.
Kushner and Trump’s $50 billion proposals, unveiled in a 90-page dossier in Bahrain is nearly as daft as those who will be attending the conference, which does not include the Israelis or the Palestinians themselves. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing I’m not sure what will.
The reality is that whatever support is promised in Manama, everything will be conditional on seeing the political solutions of what Donald Trump himself has called the “deal of the century”. In the meantime, the US President’s America looks increasingly unlike a credible honest broker in the Middle East peace process as it continues to make crazy decisions involving Jerusalem, the status of Palestinian refugees and the future of Syrian’s Golan Heights.
In conclusion, I have another word of warning for the Palestinians. Promises of state money, foreign investment and international funding upon achieving independent statehood were once made to the good citizens of East Timor and South Sudan. Their experience demonstrates that promises are easy and plentiful, but real investment is more elusive until and unless genuine freedom is part of the deal. Trump’s “deal of the century” is unlikely to provide anywhere near that. “Peace to Prosperity” actually offers Palestine and its people very little hope indeed.