Palestinians Miss Another Opportunity

editor - 22 August 2019

It was former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban who once famously stated: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. Today, an increasing number of Arab leaders are realising they may have a unique opportunity they should not miss. It is the Palestinians who are missing yet another opportunity to achieve the independence for which they yearn.

In late June (2019) a conference was held in the Bahraini capital Manama to launch the United States ‘Peace to Prosperity’ initiative. The conference was attended by some Arab finance ministers, heads of international financial organisations, and private sector business executives and investors from dozens of states.

The $50 billion ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighbouring Arab state economies. It aims in 10 years to create a million new jobs, slashing unemployment and improving living standards in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said his plan for the Middle East was “the opportunity of the century” for the Palestinians, but their acceptance was a precondition to peace.

“Agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary precondition to resolving the previously unsolvable political issues,” Kushner said. “To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political solution to the conflict — one that guarantees Israel’s security and respects the dignity of the Palestinian people.”

“My direct message to the Palestinian people is that despite what those who have let you down in the past say, President Trump and America have not given up on you,” Kushner said. “For too long the Palestinian people have been trapped in an inefficient framework of the past,” said Kushner, criticising the “conventional wisdom” about peacemaking. “In meeting after meeting and conference after conference I hear the same broken record of negativity about why progress is not possible,” he said. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people were being left behind. He said his goal was to encourage those assembled to “begin thinking about these challenges in a new way.”

The proposal has been rejected by the PLO because it does not include a framework for resolving their conflict with Israel.

The Palestinian political leadership utterly rejects normalisation of relations with Israel. At one extreme, the radical Islamic parties such as Hamas utterly reject the existence of a Jewish political entity of any kind and openly seek the violent annihilation of the State of Israel. The more secular PLO/Fatah elite based in Ramallah demands the creation of a Palestinian state within the ‘1967 borders’, even at the expense of economic advancement of their people (hence their boycott of the Trump-sponsored ‘Peace to Prosperity’ initiative).

“We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country, we need peace, and the sequence of (the plan) – economic revival followed by peace is unrealistic, and an illusion,” Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara explained on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab finance ministers in Cairo. “First of all, give us our land and our freedom.”

US Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour called the Bahrain conference a ‘circus’ and defended the Palestinian boycott. ‘How many more attempts will it take to convince people that Palestinians’ rights are inalienable and not for sale?’

I personally witnessed the PLO’s intransigence a few weeks ago, when I participated in a meeting with the PLO’s Negotiation Affairs Department at the PLO headquarters in Ramallah, together with a delegation of lawyers from Singapore, Australia and the Netherlands. At the meeting, the PLO representatives presented the PLO’s case. Essentially, they argued that the Israeli occupation is the sole cause of Palestinian suffering. Remove the occupation, and their problems will be resolved. They refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism or to acknowledge any Palestinian responsibility for their own plight. The cause of their problems is the existence of the State of Israel, and the only solution is full Israeli withdrawal to the ‘1967 lines’ (with a possibility of land swaps).

Despite the Palestinian boycott, the Bahrain conference may nevertheless bear fruit. According to Jeffrey Sonnefeld, who moderated many of the sessions in Bahrain, the Bahrain conference was – perhaps because of the absence of the Palestinians and Israelis – a greater success than generally acknowledged. “The Bahrain summit’s projection of a spirit of hope, from Palestinian and Israeli business leaders and their peers around the globe, provides a welcome response to the growing dismay among younger people in the region – and a counter to growing cynicism about the failures of Israeli and Palestinian political leadership. Weary of decades of violence, younger people are demanding change and are open to a direct appeal from their Arab neighbours. The plans discussed in Bahrain offer younger people a path to become relevant and effective.”

There are many divergent opinions and aspirations within Palestinian society. Many ordinary Palestinians, while desirous of Palestinian autonomy, are frustrated by the corruption and intractable political ‘rejectionism’ of their leaders, and would like to see closer cooperation (economic, political and personal) between Jews, Palestinians, Israelis and Arabs.

For more information about the Palestinians, we recommend you read The Palestinians – Myths and Martyrs by Johannes Gerloff, available from ISNB: 978-3944603124.

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