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Trump’s ‘deal of the century’: 17 things we learned

Trump netayahu
US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019. Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP ©AFP ⁃ SAUL LOEB

The US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan for Palestine focuses on the economy and future of Gaza and the West Bank – but skimps on Israel’s role.

By: Chloé Benoist

Ahead of the Bahrain conference this week, the White House unveiled its “Peace to Prosperity” proposal for Palestine – part of US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”.

The plan, led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, is a jargon-laden economic roadmap on how to distribute more than $50bn.

Its intention is clear: to build enthusiasm for turning Palestine – only referred to as “Gaza and the West Bank”, lest one believe Palestinian statehood is on the cards – into a new Dubai or Singapore.

Middle East Eye has looked at the plan – already unanimously rejected by the Palestinian leadership – to decipher its economics-heavy approach. As with all visions of the future, it is as notable for what it left out as for what it included.

No mention of the occupation…

The plan and its accompanying “programmes and projects” booklet run to 136 pages, detailing at length where the Palestinian economy needs a boost. But the White House fails to mention one issue, without which, according to the UN, the Palestinian economy would be more than double its current size: the Israeli occupation.

As has been pointed out by several observers, Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands isn’t mentioned once: the closest it gets is a reference to “higher-wage, high-growth occupations”, meaning jobs – which is far removed from how most people understand the term in the context of Palestine.

Similarly missing are related terms such as “siege”, “blockade” and “settlements”, as well as any acknowledgement as to how Areas A, B and C – the different parts of the West Bank under Israeli or Palestinian Authority (PA) control since 1995 – would be affected.

One has to read between the lines to find any allusion to Israeli policies which negatively affect Palestinians, such as “protracted crisis”, “logistical challenges”, “impediments to growth”, “resource constraints” and “regulatory barriers to the movement of Palestinian goods and people”.

2. …or refugees

Another word absent from the document is “refugee”. More than two million refugees live in Gaza and the West Bank, yet the Kushner plan fails to address how they are affected by the drastic cuts in US aid to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Yes, the plan dedicates $13.7bn in prospective funding to Lebanon and Jordan, now home to an estimated 2.5m Palestinian refugees, but there is no mention as to whether any of the money will actually be for Palestinians.

3. Jerusalem is off the table

deal of the century
A picture taken on June 16, 2019, shows a poster in Gaza City denouncing the US Middle East peace plan dubbed the “deal of the century”. – Arabic writing on poster reads “The deal of the century will not pass”. Photo: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP ©AFP ⁃ MAHMUD HAMS

In January 2018, Trump promised to take Jerusalem “off the table”. The “Peace to Prosperity” document does just that, failing to mention the holy city. This is in line with the US decision to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, thereby recognising it as the capital of Israel in spite of long-standing Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

It remains unclear what, if anything, the White House thinks should be done with the estimated 300,000 Palestinians who currently live in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel against international law in 1967.

4. Israel keeps a low profile

The document heavily downplays Israel’s role in regional tensions: when it is mentioned, it is usually tucked away amid a list of “neighbours” and “key trading partners” such as “Egypt, Israel and Jordan” rather than on its own.

Some of the economic suggestions are set to benefit Israel financially, including the sale of water to Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan; the provision of gas and electricity to Gaza; the promotion of increased trade with Egypt and the occupied Palestinian territory; and the use of spyware tech by Jordan.

5. US still prioritises arms for Israel

Kushner’s plan for Palestine says that it has the “potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over ten years”. But only $27.8bn of that will go directly to the occupied Palestinian territory, while the remainder will go to neighbouring states.

That $27.8bn is around 27 percent less than the $38bn ten-year military aid deal that the US made with Israel in 2016.

6. US tells Palestine: It’s your fault

With no mention on Israel’s role in the conflict, the White House emphasises that the Palestinians are responsible for their current predicament and that, should the “deal of the century” fail, it would be their own doing.

“Ultimately, however, the power to unlock [this vision] lies in the hands of the Palestinian people,” the document reads at one point. While the Kushner plan promises to “unleash” Palestine’s potential, it never comes close to revealing who or what restrained this potential in the first place.

Elsewhere it states that “a lasting peace agreement will ensure a future of economic opportunity for all Palestinians”. A lasting peace with whom? The question is left unanswered.

It also implies awareness that “peace for prosperity” is a futile exercise: several sweeping statements begin with conditional clauses, such as “If implemented” or “If the government realises its potential”.

7. Education questions are unanswered

The Trump administration’s oversight of what prevents Palestine from growing is demonstrated nowhere better than when it comes to education.

Here, the document concedes that “Palestinians have among the highest graduation rates in the region”, but does not explain why many Palestinian schools “are stretched beyond their capacity”.

It emphasises the need to “focus on supporting schools operating in underserved communities”, but makes no mention of the numerous EU-funded schools in Area C of the West Bank that have been torn down by Israeli forces for failing to secure nearly impossible-to-obtain construction permits. Nor is there mention of the 500,000 Palestinian students affected by the US’s decision in 2018 to cut all funding to UNRWA.

The plan promises $300m in scholarships for Palestinian students to study abroad, but fails to address how Palestinians currently on such schemes struggle to obtain visas to leave the West Bank and Gaza.

Sports, health care, agriculture and tourism are likewise assessed without context and assigned solutions with little regard for the reality on the ground.

8. ‘Jared, are we giving property rights to Palestinians?’

Jared Kushner
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, speaks to reporters as he closes the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference “Peace to Prosperity Workshop” in the Bahraini capital Manama on June 26, 2019. Photo: SHAUN TANDON / AFP ©AFP ⁃ SHAUN TANDON

Kushner’s plan places a large emphasis on Palestinians’ “property rights” – the phrase is used 13 times throughout the document. “Land registration is a critical step in the transformation of the Palestinian economy” it states on page 32. It later adds: “Strong property rights are critical to realizing this future.”

The plan fails, however, to mention the systematic expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel from 1948 until the present day. Many refugees still hold the deeds and keys to the homes they left behind in historic Palestine, as do Palestinians whose lands and homes in the occupied West Bank have been seized by Israeli settlers.

Is this what Kushner and Trump, who had an Israeli settlement named after him this month in the Golan Heights, have in mind? The detail is unclear.

9. Palestinians are customers, not citizens

“Peace to Prosperity” has clearly been authored by writers with a business background (Trump has long touted his experience as a businessman; Kushner is an investor and real estate promoter).

The documents are full of management language that calls for a “business-friendly” approach to “unlocking human potential” through “investment-led growth” by fostering an “incubator ecosystem” and a “strong local start-up culture”.

Perhaps most telling is the line: “Good Palestinian governance requires commitment to its customers: the Palestinian people.” In the absence of a proper state, the plan implies that Palestinians are not citizens, but consumers whose political aspirations can be met by goods and services.

10. Let Palestinians eat cake – and 5G

The document’s business-like approach includes several ambitious high-end goals, like turning Gaza into a “modern metropolitan city”, a central online e-government system, and developing 5G access across the Palestinian territory.

Such proposals seem out of touch compared to the basic necessities of which many Palestinians are still deprived. For example, 53 percent of residents of Gaza live in poverty today. On the technology side, Israel only lifted its ban on Palestinian telecom operators accessing 3G networks a year ago.

11. Setting the bar high

One of the plan’s goals is for Gaza and the West Bank to score 0.70 on the World Bank Human Capital Index, which measures the potential of a population’s labour. If Palestine were to achieve this, then it would put it ahead of some of the economies cited elsewhere in the plan as examples, including mainland China (0.67), the UAE (0.66), Bahrain (0.67) and Lebanon (0.54).

Another suggested goal is that Palestinian governance scores 60 or above on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. That’s way above the 36 scored by Bahrain, host of this week’s conference, and more than double the 28 achieved by Lebanon. Even Israel, in existence for more than 70 years, only manages 61.

12. Gaza as the next Rio?

The plan also alludes to several visions for Palestine as a high-end touristic destination. At one point it suggests that the 40km of Gaza’s Mediterranean “could develop into a modern metropolitan city overlooking the beach, drawing from examples like Beirut, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and Tel Aviv”.

No mention is made of the state of the coastline polluted as Gaza’s fragile infrastructure finds itself unable to process waste that ends up in the sea – or that Palestinians are currently prohibited by the Israeli navy from venturing more than a few miles from shore.

The plan also suggests that one reason why the Palestinian tourism sector isn’t thriving is because Palestinians, well-known across the region for their hospitality, need to partner with “leading international hospitality schools” such as the United Arab Emirates Academy of Hospitality.

13. Palestine as the next Singapore?

Gaza
A protester raises a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli forces across the border following a demonstration east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on September 6, 2019. – Two Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli fire in renewed clashes along the Gaza border. Photo: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP ©AFP ⁃ MAHMUD HAMS

Ambitious metrics aside, it is also revealing that some of the places cited as examples for any future Palestinian economy are not noted for their tolerance or freedom of speech.

The plan cites states like the UAE or Singapore, which have been accused by groups such as Human Rights Watch of trading political rights for the benefit of economic advancement – an accusation that Palestinians have levelled against the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan.

Comparisons are also made with Beirut as an example of a seaside metropolis: these seem ill-thought out, given the Lebanese capital’s ongoing struggles with the privatisation of public spaces and its nonexistent urban planning.

14. Cultural faux pas

The report hails how “the West Bank and Gaza” have been cultural centres “from ancient to modern times”. It recognises Palestinian contributions to “the region’s most renowned artists and poets” – but fails to cite any examples.

In defence of the White House, to describe the likes of Mahmoud Darwish, Ghassan Kanafani, Sliman Mansour or Annemarie Jacir as noteworthy would be to acknowledge how crucial politics and national aspirations have been to Palestinian culture during the past half-century.

Ironically, the report does mention the Nabi Musa festival as a “great cultural legacy should be celebrated and supported”. A core tradition of this religious event is an annual pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Jericho – a route that’s impossible for Palestinians to follow if one accepts the Trump administration’s view of Jerusalem as exclusively Israeli.

15. Cash for neighbours’ gas, power, tech

Several infrastructure projects in other countries are listed as potentially helpful to Palestinians, such as Egyptian electricity lines feeding into Gaza or upgraded Jordanian frontier crossings. But other proposals are more baffling and have no apparent direct benefit to Palestinians.

The plan argues, for example, that tourism in neighbouring countries will have a trickle-down effect on Palestinian tourism. This ignores that the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is regularly closed. Or that Lebanon officially refuses entry to individuals with Israeli stamps on their passports.

The plan earmarks $1.5bn for a natural gas hub off the Egyptian coast to “help coordinate energy development in the Eastern Mediterranean”; and $500m to provide Jordan with “national cybersecurity infrastructure and capacity building” to “open up opportunities for more international cyber collaboration”. While the benefits of these projects to Palestinians are unclear, Israel has long-standing interests in both Mediterranean gas reserves and cyber security and spyware technology.

16. Lebanon is not on board…

A total of $6.33bn is budgeted for Lebanon in the plan, including $200m to “support regional trade integration to incentivise exporters to become engaged in regional value chains to significantly reduce the cost of doing business in the region”.

This may come as a surprise to some observers for three reasons. First, Lebanon does not share a boundary with either Gaza or the West Bank. Second, it has not sent any representation to the Bahrain conference. Third, unlike Egypt and Jordan, it refuses to have any diplomatic or economic relations with neighbouring Israel.

Is the Trump administration hoping to lure Beirut into better ties with Israel? Some in the Lebanese parliament believe so. Nabih Berri, parliament speaker, said on June 23 that “those who think that waving billions of dollars can lure Lebanon, […] into succumbing or bartering over its principles are mistaken”.

17. …and neither is the ‘Strawberry King’

The document of the plan is illustrated with photos of smiling people drinking water from a tap (a distant memory in Gaza), or hiking through countryside (much of which has been taken over by Israeli settlers).

Especially prominent are images of strawberry farmer Osama Abu al-Rub, which seem to have repurposed from USAID brochures where he is described as the “Strawberry King”. Al-Rub, who lives in Qabatiya, south of Jenin, was also featured in a 2017 USAID video after receiving assistance – but he said this week he is unhappy with his appearance in “Peace to Prosperity” documentation.

“I am very upset by the publication of my family photos and the US manipulation in promoting the ‘deal of the century’,” he told MEE. “We are ashamed of this project aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause. It is impossible to accept it or to be one of its tools.”

Remark: This article was originally published by https://www.middleeasteye.net/ in June 26, 2019.

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