The Palestinian Public Rejects Kushner’s Plans

In their newly acquired zeal to improve the lives of Palestinians, the special advisor to the US president, Jared Kushner, and his team of White House experts devised the “Peace to Prosperity” economic vision and presented it with pomp and circumstance at a workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25-26. The plan promises to unleash the supposedly dormant talents of Palestinians and enhance their capacity to launch a development drive that would over the next ten years transform Palestinian life. Kushner and his team ignored the structural impediments of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, siege of the Gaza Strip, and purposeful weakening of the Palestinian economy; they seemed to reason that if Palestinians accepted grants, loans, and private investments, luck would be on their side to quickly make their supposedly autonomous areas wildly successful economic zones.

Except that the Palestinians themselves think otherwise. They believe that Kushner and his cohorts are on a quest to abolish their national cause and right for an independent state. In a recent survey of Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) during June 27-30, respondents overwhelmingly rejected the Trump Administration’s economic plan and expressed dissatisfaction with how the administration has approached their national cause. The survey of 1,200 adults from 120 randomly selected localities could not have been more timely: it was conducted immediately after the convening of the Manama meeting. It is important to remember that the Palestinian leadership refused to attend the event and that Israel was not invited to it, although Israeli journalists and personalities attended.

A Wide Trust Gap

According to the survey, Palestinians’ views directly contradicted Kushner’s patronizing attitude, with 90 percent of them saying they do not believe or trust the Trump Administration. Indeed, how could they support such a plan when, since taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump has crafted one policy after another to prove his loyalty to Israel’s right-wing zealots by humiliating Palestinians, cutting off assistance to some of their humanitarian programs, and disparaging their rights? How could any self-respecting Palestinian believe that Trump, Kushner, and company have Palestinian interests at heart when the administration—against international law— recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem as its capital, moved the US embassy there, and declared its readiness to accept Israel’s annexation of occupied Palestinian territories?

Broad Rejection of Manama

Seventy-nine percent of Palestinian respondents to the survey approved of the Palestinian leadership’s rejection of the Manama workshop. To be sure, this seemed to be one of the few aspects of agreement between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and ordinary Palestinians. Three-quarters of respondents indicated that they want the PA to reject the Trump Administration’s peace proposal as announced. Another area of agreement is the support (62 percent) for the PA’s refusal to accept a partial transfer of customs revenues that Israel collects on its behalf––since Israel maintains control over entry points––although respondents understand that such rejection could lead to the collapse of the authority. These points of convergence show a unified Palestinian position on national issues, one that contradicts the pontifications of Kushner and his assistant, Jason Greenblatt, regarding the supposed failure of Palestinian leaders to advance Palestinian economic interests.

Kushner’s Empty Promise

The PSR survey reported that 68 percent of Palestinians think that the economic vision Kushner presented in Bahrain has no chance of being implemented; another 76 percent doubt that the plan, if implemented, would lead to Palestinian prosperity. Correcting Kushner’s wagon-before-the-horse approach, 83 percent chose independence over economic prosperity; only 15 percent said otherwise. Close to three-quarters of Palestinians believe that economic prosperity cannot be achieved under Israeli occupation. Another 85 percent do not think that accepting what they know of a Trump peace plan would end the occupation. Illustrating their mistrust in the Trump Administration, two-thirds of Palestinians are opposed to the PA’s resumption of negotiations with Washington, which were suspended by the PA in December 2017 after the Jerusalem decision, while 72 percent believe Trump’s putative peace proposal would allow Israel to annex a large part of the West Bank.

Troubled Relations with Washington

What should worry the Trump Administration and the Israeli right-wing establishment is the steady lack of enthusiasm for a two-state solution among Palestinians. Only 47 percent of respondents still support it while 50 percent oppose it. Fifty-six percent believe it is no longer practical or feasible because of the expansion of Israeli settlement in various parts of the West Bank while 71 percent doubt the prospect of a Palestinian state beside Israel in the next five years. The survey also showed that 31 percent of Palestinians would like to scrap the two-state option in favor of a one-state solution, perhaps because they know that annexation of parts of the West Bank is in the offing, some of which would be absorbed into an expanded Israeli state—an eventuality that should be nightmarish for Israel and the United States. Such a scenario would accentuate the dual character of the Israeli state and further expose the current system of apartheid that considers Palestinians second-class citizens.

Palestinian Disillusionment

Additionally, what the survey revealed is a Palestinian public that has grown disenchanted with prospects for peace. Only 36 percent of Palestinians favor reaching a peace deal with Israel through negotiations, down from 39 percent three months ago. Alternatively, 34 percent prefer waging an armed struggle against occupation, up from 30 percent during the same period. These ratios will arguably become worse––that is, less preference for negotiations and more support for armed struggle––under a new Israeli government that would follow the upcoming Israeli elections in September, which 57 percent of Palestinians believe will be formed by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This should not be good news for the Trump Administration whose hubris and ignorance continue to animate pie-in-the-sky economic dreams for the Palestinians instead of addressing the most important cause for their poor economic conditions: the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the criminal siege of the Gaza Strip.

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

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