The Greenblatt Fallacy

There is nothing inherently wrong with any American administration advertising its political initiatives, especially when they are as important as devising a credible roadmap for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But the Trump Administration is a class of its own. It moves forward with plans any observer of the Middle East’s primary political and strategic cause, the question of Palestine, easily sees as facile, ill-conceived, and blind to the Palestinian reality on the ground. In its less than two and a half years, the administration has convinced itself that it is on the right course to finally ameliorate the complications of the hundred-year dilemma simply because it is going about it differently than any other administration since the United States began to take interest in the Middle East.

Such is the case with explanations of the current machinations the Trump Administration is proposing as a roadmap for resolving the conflict. A perfect example is the latest essay published by CNN on June 16 by the White House’s envoy Jason Greenblatt titled “Bahrain workshop on Palestinian economy is the opportunity of a generation.” At first glance, and as has become the norm with administration emissaries when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis, the essay reads as if it were written by an Israeli official instead of a representative of American foreign policy. His arguments extolling the upcoming workshop in Bahrain (June 25-26) to discuss economic opportunities that he says are meant to improve the lot of Palestinians lack any mention of their national rights to an independent state in which they can exercise their own sovereignty, whatever their economic conditions. More importantly, it fails to mention the primary obstacle to Palestinian wellbeing and economic development: the Israeli occupation.

At first glance, and as has become the norm with administration emissaries when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis, the essay reads as if it were written by an Israeli official instead of a representative of American foreign policy.

In fact, one wonders why Mr. Greenblatt or anyone else in the administration cares so much about the Palestinians to lift them up from supposed abject poverty and despair caused by a failing leadership. After all, the Trump Administration has for the last two years almost done away with any commitments to the betterment of Palestinians, in refugee camps and in the occupied territories. It has reneged on paying funds to such an erstwhile organization as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), suspended the work the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) used to do in the occupied Palestinian territories, and practically put official US-Palestinian relations in the hands of a pro-Israel envoy.

Reading the essay, one cannot escape feeling grateful that Mr. Greenblatt wants to protect the Palestinians’ poor souls from their leaders who have preyed on them since time immemorial. His lines conjure images of European settlers and colonizers feeling it their duty to help civilize the savages of Africa and spread western values among the hordes roaming the jungle. Mr. Greenblatt’s job is noble indeed, if it weren’t for the obvious condescending attitude that the Trump Administration’s plan to hold the Bahrain economic meeting is the only “framework for a prosperous future for Palestinians.”

Mr. Greenblatt is not the only angel in the Trump Administration who wants to show Palestinians an economic paradise. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and main advisor and envoy with the keys to heaven for the Palestinians, was unequivocal a couple of weeks ago when he opined that the Palestinians must start by improving their economic conditions before they are ready to govern themselves. A third apostle of good tidings for the Palestinians is American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman who, while extolling the virtues of good economics, wants to allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, the very area whose Palestinian inhabitants the Bahrain workshop is supposed to help.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and main advisor and envoy with the keys to heaven for the Palestinians, was unequivocal a couple of weeks ago when he opined that the Palestinians must start by improving their economic conditions before they are ready to govern themselves.

Mr. Greenblatt also had good words describing President Trump as anxious to find Palestinian interlocutors who care about their people and are “excited, energized and desirous of getting a deal done.” It is hard to see how the Palestinians can perceive Trump and his envoys as do-gooders and fair dealers considering what these have wrought so far, from gutting all US assistance to them, to illegally granting Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem––a final status issue––and moving the American embassy there, to acquiescing to the criminal siege of Gaza. For Mr. Greenblatt to pontificate about his, and the administration’s, soft heart toward the Palestinians is nothing short of chutzpah augmented with hubris and arrogance.

As for the Bahrain meeting, and whatever its supposed virtues, many important points need to be made. First, it is hard to ignore the Trump Administration’s declarations and policies relating to Israel and the Palestinians and not be convinced that the Bahrain workshop is but a bribe, no matter Mr. Greenblatt’s denials. He states that an “economic plan cannot be successful without a political agreement, just as a political agreement would have little chance without an effective economic plan.” If this is indeed the case, then why not provide the right political settlement first that satisfies the Palestinians’ right to self-determination in an independent state? If this were to happen, then maybe the Palestinians would be very eager to seek economic help as a people with rights to run their own affairs.

It is hard to ignore the Trump Administration’s declarations and policies relating to Israel and the Palestinians and not be convinced that the Bahrain workshop is but a bribe, no matter Mr. Greenblatt’s denials.

Second, how does Mr. Greenblatt and the administration think the Palestinians can be economically prosperous with Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the siege of Gaza, and the presence of about 600,000 messianic settlers in violation of international law and United Nations resolutions? As it is, settlers have become major harassers of Palestinian farmers, destroyers of crops, and disruptors of daily living. The Palestinians under occupation have suffered from disruption of everyday activities, delays on roadblocks, military operations, arrests and killings, and, in the case of Gaza, frequent incursions and bombings of enterprises. If, as Mr. Greenblatt states, many Arab countries are ready to invest large treasures in helping build Palestinian entrepreneurship, how can such largesse ensure the freedom of movement that development and innovation require as the Israeli occupation continues?

Third, the funds that are supposed to be forthcoming, presumably from oil-rich Arab countries, will obviously be the tool to blackmail the Palestinians to accept others’ wishes and diktats. No one watching the now open meeting of the hearts between Israel and many Gulf countries doubts the distinct possibility that the Palestinians will be unable to withstand the pressures to accommodate a settlement with Israel that falls short of their national aspirations. If Palestinians have learned anything from their arduous experience with Arab regimes, it is not to let themselves be fully tethered to one or the other.

Mr. Greenblatt lays the blame on the Palestinian leadership for failing to improve the lot of the Palestinians. He singles out the Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Saeb Erekat for a blistering take-down as if he were the symbol of all turpitude besetting the Palestinians. (It is strange, indeed insulting, that Mr. Greenblatt addresses him by his first name only and identifies him merely as the Palestinian peace negotiator, in the process stripping him of his present official legitimacy and ability to represent the Palestinians as a political entity.) While there is corruption in Palestine, Mr. Greenblatt conveniently forgets that the Palestinian Authority is hostage to Israel’s military occupation. Israel even collects taxes on behalf of the PA and scrutinizes all of its economic activities. To Greenblatt, Erekat and his cohorts also failed to “achieve peace and Palestinians continue to fall further behind,” apparently just because Palestinian officials didn’t feel like working for peace. Absent is Israel’s decades-long intransigence, made possible by the protection it has always had from successive American administrations, and now, by the complete endorsement of the Trump Administration.

Mr. Greenblatt conveniently forgets that the Palestinian Authority is hostage to Israel’s military occupation. Israel even collects taxes on behalf of the PA and scrutinizes all of its economic activities.

Finally, Mr. Greenblatt’s essay exposes the administration as a major defender of the interests of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He states that the peace plan that the administration promised will be released “when it has the strongest chance for success.” With Israel having a caretaker government and awaiting new elections in September, such a chance may be long in coming; and that is if Mr. Netanyahu manages to get a large enough majority in the Knesset that allows him to form a strong government. Until then, Mr. Greenblatt and the administration will busy themselves with convening a workshop in Bahrain which the Palestinians will not attend and whose fortunes appear as bleak as those of a Trump peace plan that does not satisfy the Palestinians’ basic human rights and national aspirations.

Imad K. Harb is the Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC. To learn more about Imad and read his previous publications click here