President Trump has made a unique contribution to the annals of international relations. He has replaced realpolitik with realestatepolitik.
Because Trump knows about almost nothing but real estate, he tends to look at problems through the lens of a developer. He treats his denuclearization negotiations with North Korea much as he might a complex property transaction. At the Singapore summit a year ago, Trump promised Kim Jong Un “super-everything” if Kim just gave up his pesky nukes. “As an example,” the president said, “they have great beaches. You see that whenever they are exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, boy, look at that view, wouldn’t that make a great condo?”
To the surprise of no one but Trump, Kim did not rush to trade in his weapons of mass destruction for beachfront condos. Kim has little stake in the development of his impoverished realm since he has spent his whole life in a gilded world of walled compounds where every luxury is available on demand. What he does care about is the survival of himself and his regime — and, in his mind, that can be guaranteed only by nuclear weapons.
Despite the abysmal failure of realestatepolitik in Korea, Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, another callow real estate scion, are now attempting to apply it to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This week, Kushner will convene an economic development workshop in Bahrain to convince Palestinians that, in essence, they should trade their dreams of dignity and statehood for a glittering economic future. Israel’s U.N. ambassador just encapsulated the Trump-Netanyahu approach with a column demanding: “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?”
To make surrender an enticing option, the White House unveiled a gauzy “Peace to Prosperity” presentation of the kind that Trump and Kushner might, in other circumstances, use to pitch a new golf resort. The plan promises to raise a cool $50 billion — source: unknown — to “establish a new foundation for the Palestinian economy,” generate “rapid economic growth and job creation,” open “the West Bank and Gaza to regional and global markets,” construct “essential infrastructure,” promote “extraordinary private-sector investment in entrepreneurship, small businesses, tourism, agriculture, housing, manufacturing, and natural resources,” enhance “the quality of the education system,” and “transform the Palestinian healthcare sector."
Kushner’s pledge to enhance “the quality of the education system in the West Bank and Gaza” would be more credible if his father-in-law had not stopped supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which administers 711 schools for Palestinian children. To add insult to injury, the White House touts its plan with photographs from projects in the West Bank funded by the United States Agency for International Development — and defunded by Trump. The only foreign assistance that Trump is interested in is the kind that he received from Russia in 2016. Yet Kushner would have us believe that someone else will pony up the $50 billion to bring his wish list to life.
Lack of funding is actually the least of Kushner’s problems. The Kushner plan puts the unpaid cart before the nonexistent horse in what is essentially a war zone. The plan doesn’t mention that 60 percent of the West Bank is under Israeli control. Or that the Gaza Strip is blockaded by Egypt and Israel to prevent Hamas from accumulating war materiel. Israeli security checkpoints and import and export restrictions make it difficult for the Palestinian economy to grow. The Palestinians don’t even have access to their own airport or any ability to travel freely between Gaza and the West Bank. And neither Palestinians nor Israelis show much interest in making peace, which, as the plan admits, is a precondition for economic progress.
Another major obstacle to economic development is the pervasive corruption and lack of capacity among the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The Kushner plan airily promises to “improve government operations” and “build the institutions” but does not explain how the United States can transform Palestinian governance. The George W. Bush administration tried and largely failed — and that was before the Hamas takeover in Gaza.
Kushner has written a political blueprint — no doubt as realistic as his economic plan — that will be released at a later date. In the meantime, his apparent hope is that Palestinians will be so enticed by all of the riches dangled before their eyes that they will overthrow their obstinate leadership and make peace with Israel. In truth, of course, Palestinian leaders are often much more moderate in their outlook toward Israel than their own people. Yet they are not attending this conference. Neither are official Israeli representatives.
Kushner’s plan would not be any more fantastic if he had offered to move all of the Palestinians to North Korea to enjoy that country’s transformation into a denuclearized Singapore on the Yalu.
The inevitable failure of the Kushner plan could have serious consequences if it paves the way for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex much of the West Bank with Trump’s blessing. In the business world, the Trump clan’s schemes often led to financial losses. In geopolitics, they might lead to loss of life.