The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Forget peace. Trump and Israel want Palestinian surrender.

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It’s tough to recall a recent U.S. diplomatic initiative as universally derided as Jared Kushner’s “Peace to Prosperity” workshop held in Bahrain. President Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser convened the two-day event, which ends Wednesday, as a key plank of his drive to forge the “ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians. But to a wide range of American, Palestinian and Israeli experts, the proceedings in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, illustrated everything that’s wrong with the White House’s approach to Mideast peace.

On paper, Kushner’s vision for raising $50 billion in investment in the region for a raft of infrastructure and business projects may seem unobjectionable. But the source of these funds remains unclear and unlikely to be resolved this week. Moreover, a significant number of the proposals detailed in a 96-page pamphlet released by the White House this past weekend are revising or rehashing old plans already dreamed up by foreign governments, the World Bank, the Rand Corp. and others. These efforts mostly failed, noted my colleague Claire Parker, “in the absence of a mutually satisfying political agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That absence remains all the more glaring now. In the document outlining the White House’s economic vision, there was no mention of Palestinian statehood or ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories — two fundamental Palestinian demands that have been at least acknowledged by previous American administrations for close to three decades. Neither right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Trump and his lead Middle East envoys seem interested in the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, recently appeared to champion the Israeli annexation of areas in the West Bank.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner launched June 25 the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Bahrain. (Video: Reuters)

Not surprisingly, Palestinian officials chose to boycott the initiative in Manama, rejecting any talk of economic aid without a meaningful political solution. Their decision came after the Trump administration systematically antagonized and alienated potential Palestinian interlocutors with a slew of actions over the past two years that undermined Palestinian interests and buttressed Netanyahu’s domestic political position. Key administration officials routinely take to Twitter to berate and bully Palestinian negotiators but never contradict their Israeli counterparts.

As a result of the Palestinian boycott, Israel didn’t send an official delegation, either. “You need two to tango, and the two of them are not here,” one Western diplomat in Manama told my colleague Loveday Morris.

Instead, the conference in Bahrain features a set of glitzy plenary speeches and panels, including various business leaders and bigwigs such as International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and former British prime minister Tony Blair. A handful of delegations from Arab governments are in attendance, largely in recognition of their close ties to Washington.

“Those attending the event are doing so for largely cynical reasons. The Trump administration is under pressure to show some result from the more than two years of work that Kushner and his team have supposedly invested in their ‘deal of the century,’ ” wrote Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. diplomat and senior vice president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. In an emailed memo, Feierstein concluded that “it’s likely that, after two days of sweaty rhetoric in Bahrain’s steamy capital, the participants will return to their normal affairs and the exercise will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Kushner and other American officials are aware of the main complaint. “To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political resolution to the conflict,” Kushner said during opening remarks Tuesday night. But he and his colleagues have deferred announcing the details of their political plan at least until after new elections and the formation of the next Israeli government, a process expected to conclude by November.

Many analysts expect that a White House so closely aligned with Netanyahu’s right-wing camp may never put forward anything that demands serious Israeli concessions, let alone a proposal to formally end the occupation. Instead, it may be paving the way for quite the opposite.

“What Kushner has presented ahead of the Bahrain summit is devoid of any political content. And it has deliberately refused to address the fundamental political aspirations of the Palestinians for national self-determination,” tweeted Harry Reis of the New Israel Fund, a liberal U.S.-based nonprofit that supports civil society groups in Israel. “That is because it is not designed for the Palestinians. It is not designed to be implemented. It is designed *in order to* produce a Palestinian ‘no.’ Why? To lay the groundwork for Israeli unilateral #annexation.”

Highlighting the political mood of the moment — and the sense of triumphalism felt by the Israeli government — Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times this week urging Palestinians to “surrender” their quest for a homeland in return for the economic handouts being sought by Kushner. Danon suggested that the aspiration for a Palestinian state “engenders a culture of hate and incitement” and that he would like to see “a national suicide of the Palestinians’ current political and cultural ethos.”

It’s strident rhetoric, not least given the enduring Israeli military occupation that shapes and restricts the lives of millions of Palestinians. It also underscores how misguided the Trump administration’s venture in Bahrain is.

“For decades, the Palestinian people have languished in quasi-autonomous areas where their lives are sadly subservient to Israeli needs,” wrote Hady Amr, a former U.S. State Department official and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Trump’s cart-before-the-horse approach turned the basics of freedom on its head. Sure, our Boston Tea Party had an economic core, but it helped spark our Declaration of Independence, not a British conference on the American economy.”

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