On Saturday, the White House released the economic part of their “deal of the century” to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. In putting a call for economic stimulus before a plan to end Israel’s occupation — the cause of our economic strife — it was a classical move of putting the cart before the horse, and it was as embarrassing as expected.
The attempt to bribe us out of our right to self-determination was destined to fail. But the economic plan also revealed something that has been less obvious: the Trump Administration with its misbegotten deal is not only bad for Palestinians. It’s catastrophic for Israel.
It’s ironic because we’re used to thinking of the Trump Administration as pro-Israel. What else could you possibly call an administration that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and asks for nothing in return? Or that declares the Golan Heights to be part of Israel to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a campaign boost? Or that systematically cancels US funding to the Palestinians?
But the truth is, while all of these one-sided freebies appear pro-Israel, Trump’s Middle East team — helmed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, and another of Trump’s lawyers, Jason Greenblatt — is destroying Israel. And anyone who cares for Israel should be deeply concerned.
The mastermind behind the deal is Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer and current U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a material supporter of the Israeli Beit El settlement next to my house near Ramallah. Last week, Friedman gave Israel a green light to annex large parts of the militarily occupied Palestinian territory in a New York Times interview when he said, “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
To some, this may sound “pro-Israel” in that it is green-lighting another campaign promise of Netanyahu’s, and giving Israel cover to pursue annexation. But the truth is, this kind of talk places Israel at an existential risk. An Israel that annexes the West Bank is either not a democracy — if it ratifies its rule over millions of Palestinians who don’t have the right to vote — or not a “Jewish state” — if it grants those Palestinians equal rights, for soon we will be the majority “between the river and the sea.”
Put simply, Trump’s dealmakers, like his deal, are undermining the ability for Israel to exist.
It’s not lost on the younger generation of Palestinians, either. If my MIT-graduate and Harvard-sophomore daughters’ generation could have come to grudgingly accept Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, they are not likely to accept an Israel committed to their perpetual disenfranchisement. Instead, they feel it’s time to look Israel in the eye and say pointblank, “Congratulations, you win. You get it all. You get Israel, the West Bank, West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Gaza, the settlements, the water, the airwaves, and you also get us! Now, we heard you have free health care in Israel; where do we pick up our medical cards? And we want some of that free education too.”
In other words, the young generation of Palestinians are being pushed by these US blunders to convert their struggle for freedom and independence into one for equal rights between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. It may be a struggle that may take one hundred years, but it will surely not leave Israel in a recognizable form.
Anyone who cares for Israel’s future as a state must surely oppose Friedman’s statements and the future they augur.
But it’s not only Friedman who has engaged in purportedly pro-Israel measures that actually harm Israel. The public face of Trump’s “deal” is his son-in-law Jared Kushner. In a barrage of public statements, Kushner has dismissed Palestinian statehood, questioned the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves, and insisted that this “deal” is the equivalent of a “business plan” for the region.
And the cheerleader of the “deal,” Trump’s former real estate lawyer Jason D. Greenblatt, has made a habit of tweeting about the “open minded” Palestinian businessmen (though there is just one Palestinian Uncle Tom known to date -) who are willing to accept the Trump team’s economic bribes in exchange for our people’s right to self-determination.
In a recent opinion piece at CNN.com, Greenblatt took aim at lead Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat for speaking out against the US’s ill-fated “economic workshop” in Bahrain. “It is disheartening to see the supposed leaders of the Palestinians attack Palestinian entrepreneurs and Palestinian supporters in general for supporting a better future for their people,” Greeblatt wrote.
As someone on the ground and active in the Palestinian business community, these words are simply delusional. In my business network of a few thousand Palestinian investors, executives, entrepreneurs, and workers, not one waited for any direction from anyone before speaking out against this structurally flawed US approach to peace making.
But bullying the official representatives of the Palestinians is yet another way the Trump team, trotting around the region like real estate moguls scouting properties in Manhattan, are harming rather than helping Israel. The next US President will now have to convince our leaders why they should be trusted, after four years (if not eight!) of this kind of humiliation.
In parallel, they have undermined any Palestinian advances to date. All three insist on comparing their “deal” to a bankruptcy case, a real estate deal, or corporate restructuring.
The language of diplomacy, the rules of international law, and the decades of work that has been done to date, seems totally lost on them.
It’s not just embarrassing. It’s deeply dangerous. Israel is heading to a cliff, a cliff that has a name: the two-state solution. And Israel’s closest friend, its lifelong ally the US, is not demanding that Israel stop the car and get out before falling over the cliff; instead, this US administration has jumped into the driver’s seat and is pressing as hard as it can on the accelerator.
The Palestinian private sector is watching this saga unfold, dumbfounded. How can such senior officials be ignorant of the fact that what is blocking Palestinian economic development is not money but the boot of Israeli occupation pressing on our necks? Instead of accepting reality, these officials compose tweet after tweet placing total blame on the occupied people.
And as for my generation, the one that tried to build an economy while under two decades of the US-monopolized Oslo “Peace” Accords, we were making concrete progress on invoking domestic change in the Palestinian leadership, with elections planned for this year. However, with these haphazard US moves, any internal Palestinian governance progress has been postponed.
Worse, the Trump team’s ignorance and bullying has us rallying around those we have never before agreed with. For those like me who have never been a fan of this Palestinian leadership, which is still in need of significant reform, we are speaking in one voice today: We are all Dr. Saeb Erekat.
By pushing us to the brink with their insulting lies and embarrassing proposals, the Trump Administration has eliminated one of the only hopes for reform in the Palestinian government — just one more way in which they are endangering Israel.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is Chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at ePalestine.com. @SamBahour.
Originally published at https://forward.com on June 25, 2019.