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Kushner’s ‘Fantasia’ In A Minor Key – OpEd

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The New Arab reports, based on apparent Egyptian sources, that a significant portion of Jared Kushner’s vaunted deal of the century will involve baubles offered to the al-Sisi regime in return for taking responsibility for Gaza.

The story is both eye-opening and shocking in its audacity and presumption.  It foresees the Gulf States ponying up nearly $4-billion in infrastructure aid to build a harbor, airport and power generating plant–not in Gaza, where it’s needed, but in the north Sinai.

Presumably, the geniuses behind this plan believe these would be built close enough to Gaza to serve its population, as well as the few Egyptians living near enough to make use of them.

For Egypt, such an investment might offer local Sinai tribes an alternative to the radical Islamist movement which has bedeviled the security forces in the area for over a decade.

This report along with another published today by Foreign Policy  and this piece in The Atlantic, further clarifies that Kushner’s plan actually forfeits the idea of creating a unified Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza.

Instead, it posits a Palestinian statelet under Egyptian domination, with all services and infrastructure based in northern Sinai and controlled by the Egyptians:

Egyptian diplomatic sources have revealed…that he [Trump] plans to resolve many of Gaza’s issues through establishing several economic projects in the neighbouring North Sinai.

…Kushner in Cairo discussed aspects of the deal to do with Egypt’s role in it, namely joint projects with Gaza in the North Sinai, funded predominantly by Gulf money.

The desert region, currently experiencing an IS-linked insurgency being brutally quashed by an Egyptian military campaign, is planned to serve as a “cornerstone”, say the sources. First up, a shared free trade zone between the Gaza Strip and Rafah would be established. Secondly, a giant power station has been planned, which would supply Gaza with much-needed electricity, towards which the UAE have reportedly already pledged $500m.

Thirdly, the US plan comprises a joint Egypt-Gaza seaport in the North Sinai that would employ labour from Gaza, but would be fully supervised by Egypt, according to the sources.

In addition, the project includes, according to the source, an Egyptian airport in North Sinai which would also serve the people of Gaza, however again it would be entirely supervised and staffed by Egyptians.

The sources emphasised that this plan has become warmly welcomed by Egypt’s political circles, much more so than proposed land exchange deals, which were vastly unpopular with the Egyptian people. The latest plan would facilitate economic growth development in the Sinai, which has historically been one of Egypt’s poorest and most neglected regions.

This, of course, delights the al-Sisi kleptocratic regime because they can skim billions off the top of all the construction projects which will be funded by the plan.  That will enrich the very generals empowered with this new control over Gaza.

The new proposed structure would be mean a going back to the pre-1967 past, when Egypt ruled over Gaza.  In that event, one wonders why Israel bothered to conquer the enclave during the 1967 War only to unload it like defective merchandise in 2018.

One of the most bizarre assumptions of the Kushner plan is that he can pull a ‘bait and switch’: knowing that the Palestinians and much of the world expects any agreement to offer an independent Palestinian state, but also knowing that Bibi Netanyahu will never accept one Kushner, playing a round of three-card Monte, flourishes a card called “Palestine state.”  But instead of the card displaying a map containing the West Bank and Gaza, it features instead only Gaza joined to the northern Sinai.  That is what he now calls the “Palestinian state:”

The Israelis have also demanded the projects are implemented as part of a process of expanding the Gaza into the Sinai and transforming it into part of the future Palestinian state…

In so doing, he deflects the attention of his ‘marks’ from the West Bank, where everyone presumed the state would be based.  The West Bank is left dangling unattached to anything, except perhaps to Israel, which could then annex it and absorb it into Israel proper.  At that point, Israelis would be able to advocate foisting the remaining West Bank Palestinians under some form of Jordanian protectorate or for expelling them to Gaza.  This may be precisely what King Abdullah discussed during his recent talks with Pres. Trump in Washington.  Though if he takes this bait and accepts responsibility for the 2.5-million Palestinians in the West Bank, he’s being a sucker and will likely rue the day.

Whatever the intent, this plan is not only a fantasia in a very minor key, it’s delusional and cynical in the extreme:

Egyptian and Arab diplomatic sources previously confirmed to The New Arab that unspecified Gulf countries have stumped up $3bn to fund the first phase of Trump’s plan.

The assumption that the Gulf States will pony up enormous sums to buy off the Palestinians is little more than a pipe-dream.  In the past, after every Israeli war against Gaza, these same states have pledged similar sums for rebuilding efforts, and never come through.  At best, 10% of the original pledge comes through in dribs and drabs and the Palestinians are the ones who suffer.

The only difference with this plan is that since the new infrastructure will be housed on Egyptian territory, presumably the Israelis would not bomb it to kingdom come as they do any internationally-funded construction based in Gaza itself (cf. 2014).  But even that is a risky proposition, since the Israelis aren’t known for respecting sovereignty or borders (except their own, as they define them) when it comes to destroying targets they view as threats.

Philip Gordon’s new piece in Foreign Policy, which also pans the Kushner deal, goes farther than many foreign policy analysts in acknowledging both the hopelessness of the current situation and the failure of previous models like the two-state solution.  He writes:

…The reality is that under present circumstances, with the current Israeli and Palestinian governments, at this point the two-state solution is itself a fantasy. Neither the Palestinian nor Israeli people, nor their leaders, are currently prepared for the compromises required for a deal

This is a rarely heard or read appraisal these days.  The only observers to whom it seems obvious are the progressives who serious foreign policy analysts deride as radicals and cynics.

None of these analysts are contemplating what the longer-term prospects are.  If they do, they’re not showing the requisite courage to write publicly about it.  Do we remain with the status quo indefinitely?  Or is there any alternate approach that is feasible?  Clearly, with the current leadership on the Israeli and U.S. sides the current approach appears doomed.  But few are offering any speculation about other options or approaches.

Are there, for example, any scenarios in which outside parties exert enough pressure or force to compel a solution?  Such as has happened in Kosovo and Serbia?  The argument here is, of course, that the international approach is so sclerotic that it might take decades before there is consensus on the need for action.  Unless, of course there was a tragedy of Srebrenica-type dimensions which shocked the world’s conscience and compelled action.

One of the major problems with U.S. policy is that it has been based on what we wish could or would happen, not on what actually will happen.  That’s why maintaining the illusion that the two-state policy remains viable seems so fraught with disappointment.  Why aren’t serious policymakers trying to develop alternatives to it?  Of course, there would be fierce opposition from parties like the Israel Lobby.  But given that the current situation is frozen indefinitely, don’t we owe it to the world to reason our way to alternate models?

Even the so-called radicals like Bernie Sanders don’t offer more than lip-service to a new approach:

He continues with the same tired formulas of expressing concern for the latest Gazan victims of Israeli massacre.  He continues to profess faith in a two-state solution none of the principals (the Israelis and Palestinians) believe in.  His Middle East advisor, Matt Duss, comes from the same liberal-Zionist think tank mode as many of those who offered us failed approaches in the Obama, Bush and Clinton presidencies.  Duss and Sanders may offer a stronger emphasis on humanitarian, liberal values than their predecessors.  But they haven’t, so far, shown any major breaks with the failed approaches of the past.

Of course, one of Sanders’ major weaknesses is that while he’s advanced sophisticated, passionate programs dealing with domestic issues, his foreign policy approaches are secondary to his overall political agenda.  Given that American presidents spend the majority of their time and energy on foreign, rather than domestic affairs, this is a challenge he must address in order to be a credible candidate and successful president.

This article was published at Tikun Olam.


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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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