Buying Palestine for peanuts

Palestinians protest against the Bahrain economic workshop (APA images)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 24, 2019

Over the weekend, the White House released “Peace to Prosperity,” the economic component of its so-called Deal of the Century.

It calls for $50 billion in “investments” spread over 179 projects. Half the money would be spent on Palestinian infrastructure over 10 years, with the rest spread between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.

It will supposedly include a $5 billion transportation corridor between the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and another $2 billion in the Palestinian tourism sector.

The plan has zero chance of success, not least because no one knows where the money would come from – presumably it is to be pledged by America’s client states in the Gulf – and there’s no reason to believe Israel would ever remotely allow any major projects intended to benefit Palestinians.

Jared Kushner, adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump, and US envoy Jason Greenblatt, are the brains behind the plan.

They claim it will reduce Palestinian poverty by half and double Palestinian GDP over a decade.

I told Al-Jazeera on Saturday that the plan amounts to reheated ideas for “economic peace” – the hope that a few financial crumbs will buy Palestinians off from demanding liberation and from continuing to resist Israel’s system of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

It’s an effort to buy Palestine for peanuts.

Watch the interview (link below).

Inflicting pain and misery

Even taking the plan on its own terms, Kushner comes into this with a real credibility problem: To take just one example, “Peace to Prosperity” claims that there will be big investments in healthcare for Palestinians because, “a healthy economy requires a healthy population.”

But at Kushner’s urging, one of the first things the Trump administration did was to cut all US humanitarian and development aid to Palestinians, including US financial support for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides health and education to the poorest and most vulnerable Palestinian refugees.

The Trump administration also eliminated funding for six hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide life-saving care for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Jared Kushner can’t tell us that he cares about ending poverty for the Palestinian people while inflicting more pain and misery on them – which is his actual record as compared with the pipe dreams in this plan.

Repackaging occupation

There is nothing new in Kushner’s effort to market military occupation and colonial exploitation as a plan for prosperity.

In the early 1990s, when the Oslo accords were signed, media hyped that Gaza would turn into a “Hong Kong on the Mediterranean.”

Instead, under the guise of the “peace process,” Israel began to isolate Gaza and systematically “de-develop” its economy, as scholar Sara Roy describes.

Again, in 2005, when Israel was preparing to withdraw its settlers from the interior of Gaza, media hyped that the coastal territory would become a “Singapore on the Mediterranean.”

But rather than allowing it to prosper, Israel turned Gaza into a sealed ghetto for what it deems a surplus population who must be bombed or murdered by snipers if they dare resist their fate.

Undaunted, Kushner’s plan asserts that “Just as Dubai and Singapore have benefited from their strategic locations and flourished as regional financial hubs, the West Bank and Gaza can ultimately develop into a regional trading center.”

One shudders to think what worse fate is in store for Gaza after these latest promises.

Dystopian future

Amid all the neoliberal pablum about “governance,” “capacity building,” and “empowering” Palestinians, Kushner’s plan promises to “Increase Palestinian exports as a percentage of GDP from 17 to 40,” partly through “the development of state-of-the-art industrial zones.”

This, too, recycles decades-old plans to turn Palestinians, or migrant workers who would be brought in, into a cheap, captive workforce in industrial zones where foreign corporations would exploit them free from labour rights, health and environmental standards or any effective monitoring as has happened in neighbouring Jordan and all over the developing world – I examined this in my 2014 book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

This dystopian future for the Palestinians was championed in similar rosy terms by Tony Blair in 2008 when he was envoy for the Quartet, the moribund group of US, European Union, UN and Russian officials who claimed to be advancing the “peace process.”

If Kushner really wanted to dramatically increase Palestinian GDP it would not take 10 years and billions of dollars. All it would take, to start with, is for Israel to end its severe restrictions on Palestinians working, doing business and farming their land in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli military restrictions on Palestinian economic activity in so-called Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank under total Israeli military rule – have cost Palestinians billions of dollars.

The World Bank estimates that “if businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35 percent to the Palestinian GDP.”

But Kushner’s plan makes no mention of how millions of Palestinians live under an Israeli military dictatorship that places countless deliberate obstacles on the Palestinian economy as part of its systematic violence against the population.

The closest the plan gets to acknowledging reality is the laughably euphemistic claim that Palestinians “routinely encounter logistical challenges in the West Bank and Gaza, impeding travel, stagnating economic growth, reducing exports and stunting foreign direct investment.”

No, Jared, it’s a military occupation, not a “logistical challenge.”

Similarly, unemployment in Gaza is over 50 percent – almost 80 percent for university graduates – not because of an absence of “investment” projects, but because of Israel’s 12-year blockade on the territory, another glaring reality the plan refuses to acknowledge.

Tried and failed

There’s little more to be said about this plan, except that anyone who harbours the remotest illusions that the forthcoming (if it ever sees the light of day) political component would be any better, should lay those to rest.

That will be nothing more than window-dressing for Israel to annex the occupied West Bank in whole or in part.

The Bahrain conference scheduled for this week, where “Peace to Prosperity” is to be launched, is already a flop.

Originally, it was supposed to be a showcase of normalization, with a high-level Israeli ministerial delegation hobnobbing with Arab leaders.

But amid stiff regional resistance – or perhaps mere shyness among some Arab regimes – and a total boycott by Palestinians, the US abandoned plans to invite an official Israeli delegation.

Even normally reliable US clients like the European Union, Jordan and Egypt are sending the lowest possible representation.

A decade ago, the Quartet tried to impose an illusory economic peace on Palestinians – at that time with the enthusiastic collaboration of the Palestinian Authority leadership. The effort came complete with a much-hyped “investment conference” in Bethlehem, which like the Bahrain edition, failed amid staunch opposition from Palestinians.

In case there was any doubt about how Palestinians feel, political factions in the Gaza Strip announced a general strike for Tuesday to send a message to those gathering in Bahrain that no one can extinguish their inalienable rights, especially with empty promises of “prosperity.”

As I told Al-Jazeera, what Palestinians need and demand is liberation, not Jared Kushner’s charity.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.