Under different circumstances, this would have been welcomed with open arms: an international gathering led by the United States with representation from the major Gulf states, and other members from the international community, to deliberate a $50 billion plan aimed at financing economic development for the Palestinians across the region. Who would not enthusiastically support a such massive investment in the lives of those whose suffering has spanned more than seven decades, as the Peace for Prosperity plan details?
Ultimately, millions of Palestinians, many of them refugees, are living in dismal conditions and are in dire need for the kind of economic development on offer in the plan introduced in Bahrain by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Yet there are quite a few stings in the tail of this plan, which no glossy document or sleek gathering could conceal.
First and foremost, there is no firm commitment by the Trump administration that this is the only first phase of a more comprehensive plan that will address the core political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as ensuring security for all, Palestinian self-determination, Jerusalem as capital of both Israel and Palestine, and a just and fair solution for Palestinian refugees, wherever they are.
Moreover, most of the ‘new’ ideas presented in its three parts – unleashing economic potential, empowering the Palestinian people and enhancing Palestinian governance – are in fact recycling old ideas, perceptually flawed and unimplementable. It oversimplifies a complex and multidimensional conflict, in which non-tangible factors such as fear, distrust and systems of belief are as important as borders, economics and natural resources, if not more so.
For the Palestinians, the plan and the meetings in Manama could only come across as an economic peace, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are keen on. Without a political plan, it is dead on arrival as far as the Palestinians are concerned.
A major sin in this recent diplomatic effort is that it takes an incremental approach. Incrementalism in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has failed, and worse, created the space for extremists to successfully derail it. A plan that rolls out over the next 10 years is bound to meet with scepticism not only as unworkable, but also as a deliberate ploy to postpone indefinitely dealing with the more complex issues that separate the sides.
It comes across as a bribe, exploiting the Palestinians’ hardships in return for their abandoning the right for self-determination, let alone their wish for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza, and for East Jerusalem, or at least parts of it, to become the capital of an independent Palestine. For the Palestinians, these issues would comprise the most fundamental basis for any peace agreement with Israel – the suggestion of merely an economic peace is a non-starter.
From the outset, President Trump’s mooted ‘Deal of the Century’ had an unclear endgame, with no adequate process and no clear deadlines. Still, had it not been for the hostile environment created by Washington – through closing the Palestinian delegation in Washington, cutting all funds for the Palestinian authority and Palestinian refugees, and above all moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – then maybe, just maybe, some elements within the Palestinian polity might have been more conducive to an economic investment project as a step towards a comprehensive peace agreement.
Moreover, had the Trump team learned carefully from the history of the peace process since the Oslo Accords, they would have realized that simply throwing money at such a complex and delicate process achieves very little in the absence of clear vision for a final political agreement.
Considering the current international and domestic circumstances, the introduction of the Peace to Prosperity plan is either naïve or disingenuous. It attempts to leave an impression, not very successfully, of being proactive about alleviating the plight of the Palestinians, while in putting the onus on the Palestinian leadership if it fails. It also allows Israel to continue expanding settlements and toying with the idea of annexing parts of the West Bank.
What’s left is the sad reality of Israeli and Palestinian political systems in a state of flux, with the US not even pretending to play an honest broker for peace, coexistence and reconciliation. Consequently, the possibility of a comprehensive peace is as remote as ever, and outbreaks of hostilities are now more likely than any lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.