Israeli occupation the elephant in the room in Bahrain

Israeli occupation the elephant in the room in Bahrain

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at Manama’s Four Seasons hotel, the venue for the US-hosted Peace to Prosperity conference, in Manama, Bahrain. (Reuters)

The document that the White House released a few days before the convening of the Bahrain workshop — “Peace to Prosperity: A New Vision for the Palestinian People and the Broader Middle East” — is a synopsis of the economic plan that President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is revealing in Manama to a largely skeptical and reluctant audience.

In the very first paragraph, the report says: “Generations of Palestinians have lived without knowing peace, and the West Bank and Gaza have fallen into a protracted crisis. Yet the Palestinian story will not end here. The Palestinian people continue their historic endeavor to realize their aspirations and build a better future for their children.”

But the entire document/vision fails to mention, even once, the one thing that has prevented generations of Palestinians from knowing peace or realizing their aspirations: Israeli occupation. It is as if their suffering is of their own doing and no one else is to blame. The word “Palestine” is missing too and one can be sure that those who wrote the economic plan were deliberate in omitting references to Israel’s occupation, the Palestinians’ struggle to rid themselves of it and their aspiration to have their own independent state.

Kushner has said before that he and his team wanted to take a new approach to one of the most complex conflicts of modern times. He also brushed aside the historical excess baggage that comes in dealing with the Palestine-Israel conflict. With his real estate business background, Kushner and company believed that a deal could be struck based on economic incentives only, while ignoring the realities created by over five decades of occupation.

The economic plan provides forensic evidence of the ideological idiosyncrasies and approach to resolving the conflict, which lay clues as to what the political part of the plan will look like; that is, if it even exists or will be disclosed in the future. 

But, to be fair, the economic plan itself is a valuable document and an interesting road map toward invigorating the Palestinian economy — once the state of Palestine is born and the Palestinian people are free to rule themselves. Kushner and company have suggested a hypothesis, albeit a creative one, that may be useful in the future, but certainly not now.

Yes, the region desperately needs peace and prosperity and the nascent Palestinian state will require generous investments in its infrastructure, which has been crippled by decades of Israeli aggression. But the elephant in the room, which is occupation, is so omnipresent that ignoring it risks making the Bahrain workshop a waste of time. 

Kushner and company have suggested a hypothesis, albeit a creative one, that may be useful in the future, but certainly not now.

Osama Al-Sharif

Ironically, the event is taking place with both the Palestinians and the Israelis absent. And it is no secret that most of those attending were there not because they wanted to be, but as a diplomatic nicety to the US administration at a time when the region is engulfed in a series of crises.

By ignoring the political aspect of the conflict, Kushner and company have proved themselves to be politically naive and overreaching in doing their homework — while failing at it too. Palestinian abstention notwithstanding, the Israeli far right under Benjamin Netanyahu is showing no interest in the entire exercise, and for good reason: Why should it when it received free gifts from the Trump administration even before the “deal of the century” was conceived. 

Removing Jerusalem from the negotiating table, defunding UNRWA, burying the two-state solution and recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory — the latter being the icing on the cake — had debunked any legitimate effort to find a just and lasting solution to the Palestine-Israeli conflict and beyond. With these free gifts, Netanyahu and his extreme-right partners have no incentive to sit and negotiate a deal. They may even go so far as to annex major chunks of the West Bank before Trump’s term in office expires.

For the rest of the world, still living in the real universe, the Bahrain workshop will be viewed as one more failed attempt, as disingenuous and fanciful as it may be, to resolve the region’s most complex conflicts. Its core remains Israeli occupation and Israel’s refusal to abide by international resolutions and conventions. For the Palestinians, their struggle will continue and their yearning for peace and prosperity will never waver.

One could thank Kushner and company for one thing though: Their ineptitude and failure to respect the Palestinians and appreciate their suffering have given much-needed publicity to the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause all over the world. One can find tons of indictments of the Kushner plan on social media and in the world’s press by activists and commentators from all over the globe, including Israel and the US. To put it in Trumpian language: People are getting educated about the Palestinians and their plight under occupation like the world has never seen before.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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