Bahrain workshop must avoid repeating previous mistakes
An international economic workshop organized by the US as the foundation for President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan for Palestinians and Israelis can only work if a basis for peace and justice already exists.
So far, everything the Trump administration has done in terms of the Israel-Palestine conflict suggests it does not really care about the concerns of Palestinians, who have themselves made failure even more certain with their self-destructive policy of rejectionism.
Leaders on all sides of the fractured Palestinian movement have declared they will boycott the workshop, which is to take place in Bahrain on June 25-26.
It would be foolhardy to believe that improving the economic situation of Palestinians before ending Israel’s violations of their civil rights and international laws will somehow make it easier to achieve peace. It is a strategy that has already been tried and has failed many times.
The idea of pursuing an economic soothing of Palestinian suffering under Israel’s brutal oppression originates with Israel and Trump’s advisers, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. Kushner and Greenblatt are strong defenders of Israel, but apparently they know very little about its history. What they are doing is a rehash of an economic plan that was put forward by Israel in the 1970s, not to achieve peace but to undermine what was then the rising power of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its leader, Yasser Arafat.
It is worth looking back at that failed strategy, maybe to avoid making the same mistakes that undermined peace and provoked more violence.
Arafat rose to international prominence after the October 1974 Arab League summit in Rabat stripped Jordan of its authority over Palestinian interests and declared the PLO “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
What Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are doing is a rehash of an economic plan that was put forward by Israel in the 1970s.
The following month, Arafat delivered a powerful speech to the UN General Assembly, in which he argued the PLO was fighting for justice against Israel’s violence and terrorism. Equating peace with justice, Arafat argued that the core of the conflict was Israel’s refusal to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
Until that point, Israel was enjoying the arrogance of power, reinforcing its occupation of lands captured during the six-day war in June 1967 and building a wave of new settlements on Palestinian lands with the support of the US.
Arafat’s rise and his embrace by the international community was a shock that forced Tel Aviv to devise a plan to undermine him. The plan was to give Palestinians economic support in exchange for surrendering certain civil rights.
In 1977, Israel elected Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun terrorist organization during the 1940s, as prime minister. Begin recognized the threat that Arafat and the PLO represented to Israel’s expansion in the Occupied Territories, so he launched a plan to empower an Islamist movement to rival Arafat’s secular leadership, beginning in the Gaza Strip, where Arafat had the least influence.
Begin enabled quadriplegic religious leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to build that anti-Arafat movement, and he assigned the task to Ariel Sharon, who was accused of massacring 69 Palestinian civilians at the village of Qibya in 1953.
What Begin and Sharon really wanted to do was undermine Arafat and stifle the growing momentum for Palestinian statehood.
Israel recognized Yassin’s “humanitarian” organization, Mujama Al-Islamiya, and gave it funding. Begin and Sharon hoped Yassin would oversee Palestinian lives in the Gaza Strip under a system called the Village Leagues, which was intended to eventually expand to the West Bank.
Yassin reportedly used the Israeli money to operate a network of schools, medical clinics, social service agencies, and religious institutions, providing direct services to the poverty-stricken Palestinian population.
The Village Leagues became a breeding ground for Palestinian collaborators, who were blackmailed or bribed into reporting on the activities of other Palestinians associated with Arafat and the PLO. According to reports, many of them held leadership positions in the Village Leagues while being friendly to Israel.
The Israeli military gave the leagues’ members protection from PLO retribution, as well as widespread powers. As many as 200 of them were given weapons training by Israel. Israel’s Shin Bet is said to have recruited paid informers from this network, with Israeli sources estimating that the number of informants was in the thousands. The Israeli Military Governorate employed as many as 19,000 Palestinians, with 11,000 of them working as teachers, clerks and administrators.
Of course, we know what happened after that.
On Dec. 8, 1987, an Israeli military truck collided with a civilian vehicle, killing four Palestinians. Relatives and friends protested the deaths and the failure of Israel to punish those responsible. Within days, the protests spread throughout the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In what became known as the First Intifada, armed Islamists empowered by Yassin’s Village Leagues launched Hamas. Yassin was declared a co-founder.
Arafat saw his authority dwindle as Hamas grew in strength. As the Intifada raged, Arafat was prompted to enter into secret peace negotiations with Israel in 1988.
There is no doubt that any effort to improve the economic standing of Palestinians living under Israel’s apartheid oppression can be a good thing. But, as history has proven, economic benefits can never replace genuine peace and a people’s drive for justice.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached at his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania