EVEN before it opened in the Bahraini capital last week, the Manama conference intended to showcase half of Jared Kushner’s much ballyhooed peace initiative for the Middle East had been downgraded to a workshop.
This was partly because an inkling of the fantasy on offer persuaded most participants to downgrade their representation.
The US president’s senior adviser cum son-in-law may have been proud of his initiative to placate the Palestinians with an unfunded $50 billion bribe, possibly in the expectation that their rejection of it would provide yet another occasion for regurgitating the old lie about the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It turned out, however, that even the US administration’s usually uncritical allies in the Gulf showed little interest in a financial plan contingent on a political proposal that is yet to be outlined.
Israel too, generally revelling in the most manipulable and eager-to-please US administration the Likudites have ever come across, kept its distance from Manama, offering only to keep an open mind. There is hardly any chance that an open mind would extend to Kushner’s proposed $5bn transport corridor between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but the Israelis are well aware it will never come to that.
Few showed interest in the ‘financial plan’ for the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials pre-emptively rejected the Bahrain conclave, but that is hardly surprising in view of the Trump administration’s undisguised hostility, reflected in its decisions to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem, endorsement of the annexation of the occupied Golan Heights, and the withdrawal of American funds from organisations that sustain Palestinian existence under occupation, including the refugee agency UNRWA. Ironically, images from some of these defunded initiatives appeared in the glossy brochure distributed at the gathering in Manama.
The credibility of Kushner’s proposal was further undermined by the fact that its co-architect is David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, whose statements often go beyond even what Benjamin Netanyahu himself would dare to publicly propose.
Kushner was quoted as saying on the eve of the get-together in Bahrain that the two-state solution was a busted flush, necessitating fresh thinking. He’s not mistaken on that score; recent polls suggest that more than 50 per cent of Palestinians have lost hope in the prospect of an independent state 25 years after the promise of the Oslo accords. The obvious alternative would be a single, binational, democratic state. But that very idea is anathema to the proponents of the Zionist project, whose ideal of an exclusively Jewish state is incompatible with a large Palestinian population in a country where all citizens have equal rights.
Yet all but the most delusional adherents of apartheid must realise that it is unsustainable in the long run. The idea of injecting large amounts of money into the occupied territories as a means of indefinitely prolonging the occupation will find few takers among the Palestinian population, large sections of which see the Palestinian Authority as not only corrupt but also a collaborator with the Israeli security apparatus.
In an opinion column to The New York Times last week, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Dalon, did not dispute Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat’s contention that participating in Manama would be akin to surrender, instead asking: “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?” Inevitably, he reheats the myth about the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel’s existence — which in fact was part of the Oslo deal — and suggests that “surrendering will create the opportunity to transform Palestinian society” and lead to its ‘liberation’.
That sounds much like an official in apartheid South Africa addressing the black majority. It even has echoes of the slogan the Nazis put up at the entrance to Auschwitz, ‘Arbeit macht frei’. Towards the end of a scholarly article in the Israeli daily Haaretz last month, Yoav Rinon, an associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes: “In the light of the essential similarities between German identity and Jewish-Israeli identity along their various stages of construction, we may conclude that we are sliding down the same slope, which leads, for precisely the same reasons, to the same abyss of racism and fascism.”
Such an opinion would, had it appeared in a British or American paper, inevitably been decried as an instance of anti-Semitism. There cannot be much doubt, though, that Kushner’s efforts, on behalf of his father-in-law’s administration, are broadly geared towards preserving Israeli hegemony over the occupied territories. As things stand, Israel’s likely aim is to annex all it wants of the West Bank, and eventually throw the scraps to Jordan (and Egypt in the case of the Gaza Strip). That may be a bridge too far even for those Arab states that have been complicit in the subjugation of the Palestinians. But alternative ‘solutions’ also remain elusive.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2019