The Palestinians refuse to give up their cause, deal or no deal

Palestinians holding flags of Palestine, march to protest against US President Donald Trump’s so-called Middle East peace plan (Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency)

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  March 16, 2020

Given the Palestinians’ rejection of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, there is talk about “buying” their approval with financial inducements and privileges. Political pressure will be exerted until they consent.

The so-called “peace plan” was unveiled piecemeal, first at the Bahrain Conference last June, under the banner of “Peace for Prosperity”. Washington had already imposed its policy to strangle the Palestinians so that they would surrender and accept the deal. Not only was US aid to UNRWA cut from $359 million in 2017 to $65 million in 2018, but it was also stopped altogether in 2019.

The economic aspect of the deal is built upon donor countries and investors contributing $50 billion, of which $28 billion is earmarked for the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with $9 billion going to Egypt, $7.5 billion to Jordan and $6 billion to Lebanon. This is in addition to $15 billion in subsidies, $25 billion in subsidised loans and the balance from private capital.

Furthermore, 179 economic development projects will be funded, 147 of them in the West Bank and Gaza, fifteen in Jordan, twelve in Egypt and five in Lebanon. Their implementation will extend over ten years, creating a million jobs for the Palestinians, doubling their gross domestic product and reducing the poverty rate by 50 per cent.

Public sectors to be funded by Trump’s deal include transportation, energy, digital services, water, governance and reform, education, tourism and natural resources. The health sector, home building, agriculture, business development and manpower, as well as funding to improve the overall quality of life will also be covered.

All of this is meaningless, though, given America’s failure to make a real breakthrough in the frozen political negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This failure has made the US President’s special envoys focus on economic progress in the West Bank in particular. They believe that improving the economic situation will boost political progress, with its recovery helping to create trust between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Although we hear a lot about Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser, as well as former envoy Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, the US Ambassador to Israel, America’s proposal means more or less accepting Benjamin Netanyahu’s “economic peace” proposal. The Israeli Prime Minister mooted this idea several years ago.

Aside from the financial aspects of the deal, while Palestinian-Israeli relations are far from cordial, meetings of an economic and commercial nature between the two still take place. They are close in nature to the deal and its scenarios. Various Israeli figures of different status and roles have met with Palestinians, including the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, who recently met with Bashar al-Masri, a well-known Palestinian businessman.

These meetings constitute a major part in the “economic peace” that Israel is seeking because they will encourage meetings between other Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, which increases the latter’s influence in political decision-making in Ramallah. Israel prefers communicating with these Palestinians instead of politicians, which often means that any services that Palestinians want are carried out through the Israeli Civil Administration with no role for the Palestinian Authority. Such meetings are ongoing and are very dangerous as part of Israeli interference in Palestinian life.

The intention is clearly to weaken the PA, so why is the authority so quiet? What is happening to the Palestinian leadership?

Ordinary Palestinians, meanwhile, view these meetings with suspicion as part of the “normalisation” process, as well as a “carrot and stick” approach by the Israeli Ministry of Defence going directly to the people rather than the politicians and limiting the influence of the PA. Even a website is planned to cater for direct links between Israelis and Palestinians.

In view of the imminent collapse of the PA, Palestinian capitalists are seeking to control decision-making and strengthen the link between the Palestinian economy and Israel’s. The Israelis are not prepared to give up their control of the economy in Palestine as they don’t want to lose access to cheap labour and raw materials.

The Palestinian businessmen involved benefit from such meetings by getting “VIP” cards that allow them to enter Israel easily, travel through Ben Gurion Airport and pass through Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank instead of waiting for hours. It is all part of the economic aspects of the deal of the century.

However, most Palestinians reject the idea of benefiting economically from Trump’s deal, because the conflict with Israel is very political. They generally believe that promoting economic development at the expense of political progress is proof that it is a failed option, as there can be no strong Palestinian economy under occupation. Furthermore, the Palestinian issue is primarily a matter of national liberation for an occupied people, as well as the return of the refugees to their homeland.

Moreover, the economic “deal” is carried out under a Palestinian Authority that already suffers from serious financial crises when it comes to paying employees’ salaries and operates under the seriously unfair Paris Economic Agreement, which links the Palestinian and Israeli economies. It is this which gives Israel the right to seize the tax revenues from goods going into the Palestinian territories, a tool that Israel uses to put pressure on the PA, withholding and releasing it whenever it suits the occupation to do so.

Palestinians still believe that the main objective of their struggle is to end the Israeli occupation rather than boosting it economically while simultaneously eroding the legitimate rights of the occupied people and destroying any initiative for economic development acceptable to them if that development helps to resist the occupation and bring it to an end.

Whereas the deal of the century seeks to build trade relations between Israel and the Palestinians as a way towards a future political settlement, Israel’s motives stem from its need for security. That security requires the occupation to remain in place. There is, therefore, a fundamental difference in the approaches towards Trump’s “peace plan”. An “economic peace” as envisaged by Netanyahu and Washington will never succeed as long as the occupation and its infrastructure are in place. Peace requires the end of the occupation; it is as simple as that.

Hamas anticipated the unacceptability of the deal and is concerned that it will simply establish a new version of the old status quo. A “carrot with the West Bank, and the stick with Gaza” approach by Israel can be translated as an Israeli economic plan that tells the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip “neither live nor die”.

The suspicion and rejection of the economic aspect of the deal of the century have not been dispelled, not only among Palestinians but also within Israeli circles that do not believe in its usefulness. The US call for economic prosperity for the Palestinians instead of negotiations with the PA are not realistic as it is impossible to separate the economy from the political and security situation in occupied Palestine. That was evident by the failure of the so-called Middle East Quartet’s efforts to boost the economy of the West Bank, not least because there is no freedom of movement for goods and people in occupied territory. It is obvious to all reasonable people, therefore, that the economic aspect alone of the US-Israel “deal of the century” is a non-starter; the Palestinians refuse to give up their cause, deal or no deal.

Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic