Last week, a group of US envoys and senior officials, led by Jared Kushner and flanked by Arab Gulf leaders and regional investors and shareholders, convened in Bahrain for a workshop titled “Peace to Prosperity,” where the Kushner team unveiled a $50 billion peace plan for Palestine. According to a joint statement released by the White House, the workshop aimed to “facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region,” and “to empower the Palestinian people to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society.”
The ambitious agenda included a set of glossy “economic incentives” such as enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth. Big donors, mainly wealthy Arab Gulf states, were asked to foot much of the bill by pledging “grant money,” while private investors would offer “low-interest loans and private capital.”
The Kushner blueprint, which has been shrouded in secrecy for nearly two years, was billed as an “economic peace” plan, with the West Bank and Gaza pitched as the next Hong Kong or Singapore. The plan reads like a real-estate developer’s brochure. Or, in the words of treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, who attended the workshop, “It’s going to be like a hot IPO.”
In return, Palestinians were told to keep their political and national aspirations off the table. Nowhere does the Kushner plan address the political aspects of the conflict, including the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the decades-long Israeli occupation, or the status of Jerusalem. In statements both cynical and arrogant, Trump administration officials insisted that the plan would not deal with political disputes because, well, they want to “keep the event from being political.” In other words, Palestinian leaders are being pushed to repeat the same mistake they made at the 1993 Oslo Accords, where they agreed to suspend “final status” issues — permanent borders, settlements, Palestinian refugees, the state of Jerusalem — only to see Israel turbocharge its occupation, expand its settlements, and annex Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, Palestinian leaders boycotted the Bahrain workshop.
There are 50 billion reasons why Palestinians should reject Kushner’s 50-billion peace plan.
For starters, the scheme was masterminded by Trump’s hawkish “peace team”: Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser; David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel; and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s chief negotiator in the region. This is the same trio that has orchestrated the most punitive set of anti-Palestinian measures in US foreign policy history, from moving the American embassy to Jerusalem to working to defund USAID (the US Agency for International Development) to cutting all funding to Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza to shutting down the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic office in Washington.
Not to mention promoting Israel’s settlement activity: Kushner and his family have been generous donors to Israeli settlements in the West Bank for years (as well as friends of Benjamin Netanyahu himself — the prime minister once spent the night at the Kushners’ home in New Jersey). Both Friedman and Greenblatt have bankrolled settlement projects. Greenblatt lived in a settlement bloc near Jerusalem, which he guarded with an M16 assault rifle. Friedman, a settler himself, has advocated for Israel’s right to annex the West Bank, because, he believes, “Israel is on the side of God.” (Friedman was perhaps echoing his evangelical boss, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who said that God sent Trump to save Israel from its enemies, and who, in a January speech in Cairo, told a large Muslim audience: “In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”)
More than political stooges, the triumvirate of Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman belong to a close circle of settlers and Trump’s campaign donors, who reportedly dictate the president’s policy on Israel and who include World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson (the latter of whom wondered, following the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem: “Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a Book of Trump?”).
But perhaps most appalling of all in the Bahrain plan has been Kushner’s sheer arrogance — a brazen mix of colonial paternalism and “white man’s burden” racism. He has repeatedly questioned the feasibility of independent Palestinian self-rule, saying, “The hope is that they over time can become capable of governing themselves.” He has called the Palestinian leadership “hysterical and stupid” for refusing to participate in his workshop. He has dismissed Palestinian demands for an end to Israel’s occupation as “a high bar.” Asked why Palestinians should trust him, given his record, Kushner said: “I’m not here to be trusted.”
Kushner’s paternalistic attitude has deep historical roots. It embodies the very logic of the mandate system, which was imposed on Palestinians a century ago and which entrusted the British government to act as a trustee until the native inhabitants were “able to stand on their own.” Now, with its “Deal of the Century,” the Kushner team seems keen to replace an old imperialist machinery with a new one, entrusted to Israel, spearheaded by the United States, and sprinkled with neoliberal economic sweeteners.
No wonder some Palestinians have dubbed the Kushner plan “Balfour Declaration No. 2.” Just as the Balfour Declaration excluded Palestinians from the political and national rights it accorded to Jews, Kushner’s “economy first” doctrine views Palestinians’ political and national rights as dispensable. And just as the Balfour Declaration failed to mention Palestinians by name, instead referring to them as the “non-Jewish population of Palestine,” US peace envoys continue to plan for the future of Palestinians in the absence of Palestinians.
Once again, Palestinians are faced with the grim prospect of having their destiny dictated by foreign officials who, drunk on their own superpower mandate and armed with secretive memos and proposals, are telling Palestinians what Lord Curzon condescendingly told the Indians more than a century ago: “You cannot do without us.” Like their British predecessors, the US peacemakers refuse to even offer Palestinian rights the dignity of hypocrisy. After all, why would Palestinians trust someone who is bluntly telling them that he is not there to be trusted? No wonder most Palestinians see Kushner and his acolytes as staunch Zionists posing as peacemakers.
This is a perilous recurrence. We know how the British Mandate ended.