Arab businessmen may begin openly conducting business with Israel, thus recognising its existence and acknowledging Israel as a state which has thus far been a taboo in the Arab world. This is a major achievement for Israel and the US.
By Anchal Vohra
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior adviser to the US president, chanted the mantra of “prosperity” as he revealed the economic plan to resolve the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict at the conference held in Manama, Bahrain, last week.
While the talk had started with a bang, the conference ended in a whimper. Mainly because Mr Kushner and very likely President Trump, failed to understand that at its very core, the Palestinian struggle is not about a lack of development or a financial crisis but for a desire for statehood.
Mr Kushner said that, the Trump administration has come up with a “new framework” – Economic dividend before political resolution – to build a mood for peace in a region where most of what was proposed before had failed. Experts, however, widely concluded that there was nothing new in the plan. Much of it which had been tabled at different stages earlier by institutions like the World Bank.
Mr Kushner intends to create an investment-friendly atmosphere in Palestine which would allow a cash inflow of $50 billion, almost half of it for the development of Palestine and the rest for the neighbouring nations hosting Palestinian refugees. He said that the idea was for the stakeholders to see the benefits to be derived out of economic deals to prepare them for compromises to be made on a political settlement later.
However, he refused to reveal how exactly he would resolve the sticking issues around which peace talks thus far have revolved. He did not say a word on the Palestinian demands of a sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital and the right to return for Palestinian refugees.
Since at least the last two of these have been deemed irreconcilable by Israel and the current US administration unabashedly leans towards Tel Aviv, it is hard to imagine the Palestinians accepting any formula offered by Kushner or Trump.
The Palestinians, both the Palestinian Liberation Organisation [PLO] in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, dismissed Mr Kushner’s plan. They said America was trying to “bribe” them into submission and settling for crumbs. They asked the US to instead disclose the political component of the deal. Money, said Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, can be organised by the PLO independently from the same Arab donors who would largely fund Mr Kushner’s $50 billion.
The Palestinians were further incensed by Mr. Kushner’s assertion that any peace deal would certainly not be based on the Arab peace initiative which called for a two-state solution and borders as existed before Israel’s annexation of territory in 1967.
Donald Trump, a businessman who has perhaps still not turned into a politician, is mistaken to think that the Palestinians would compromise on their political rights in exchange for a few billion dollars. The policies of his government, cutting-off the funds given to the UNRWA, have certainly made things harder for the Palestinian refugees but even the countries hosting them have outrightly rejected Mr Kushner’s monetary inducement.
Lebanon, grappling with a severe economic crisis, refused the offer of about 6 billion dollars, its share out of the fifty. Lebanon’s political parties, often divided, rubbished the suggestion in a united voice. Lebanon has a fragile political system based on a sectarian division of power. The Palestinians it is hosting are Sunni Muslims. Lebanese politicians told ORF that accepting them as citizens, which is the quid pro quo Mr Kushner expects, is unacceptable to Lebanon’s political class as it would alter the demographic balance in the country, in turn impacting its politics.
The Saudis and the Emiratis tacitly backed the deal favouring Israel and have supposedly cracked their own deal with the US – opening up to Israel in exchange for the US taking on Iran. But, even they were forced to tread cautiously at the conference.
America’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem last year, in effect recognising it as Israel and not the future state of Palestine’s capital, as well as recognition of Syrian Golan Height as an Israeli territory, has embarrassed the Arabs. It still might not affect their understanding with the US but it has put them on a back foot, at least publicly.
At the recently held 14th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the Saudi city of Mecca, the Islamic world spoke against any compromise that falls short of the Arab Peace initiative which entails a two-state solution.
Jared Kushner and by association Donald Trump’s vision, was widely ridiculed, described as an idea devoid of any understanding of a conflict which has had generations of global statesman baffled.
The only achievement, it seems, for the US and Israel have been that some Arab businessmen may begin openly conducting business with Israel and by that recognising its existence. This could be the first step for some Arab nations to acknowledge Israel as a state which has thus far been a taboo in the Arab world. As the conference ended, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister told Israeli press that Israel is a country in the Middle East. How often do we hear a senior Arab official say that?