Rejection is not a strategy that works for Palestinians
US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner hosted the Peace to Prosperity Conference in Bahrain last year, which offered Palestinians $50 billion in economic aid to rebuild a Palestinian state if they would return to the table and negotiate with Israel.
Instead of attending the conference, the Palestinians boycotted it, denounced the plan, insulted Kushner’s economic proposal and rejected Trump’s overall proposals even before they were published.
It was another intentionally missed opportunity. Palestinians could have commandeered the event just by being there, without even accepting Kushner’s plan. They could have dominated the message, redefined the international discussion to favor their arguments, and still argue that Trump’s efforts were one-sided, unsatisfactory, and unfair.
What ended up happening was that while the Palestinians issued scathing and personal verbal attacks against Trump, Kushner and Israel, Kushner was able to use the event in their absence to strengthen his diplomatic and political ties with several Arab world leaders including the UAE and Bahrain.
I was at that conference and it was clear that Kushner had stacked the deck. He was surrounded by Israeli journalists who were accommodated at the conference and given access not only to Kushner but to Arab leaders.
When I tried to ask a question after he took questions from six Israeli journalists, he turned away. But I did what the Palestinians failed to do. I put Kushner on the spot and yelled loudly: “Mr. Kushner, you complained that the Palestinians refused to attend and yet here I am a Palestinian American journalist trying to ask a question and you won’t answer.” He stopped, turned to me and allowed me to ask my questions. I forced him to acknowledge me as a Palestinian and he could not say no.
The point is that if Palestinians allow Kushner and the Trump team to run roughshod over their rights, they will do exactly that. Why shouldn’t Trump and Kushner cast us aside if we refuse to engage with them, playing the one diplomatic card that has proven over and over again to be ineffective and non-productive — rejection?
The point is that if Palestinians allow Kushner and the Trump team to run roughshod over their rights, they will do exactly that
Israeli and Jewish leaders did attend and I am sure spent many hours meeting the representatives of the many Arab world government leaders and Arab businessmen who were there. They outlined how their economic plan was important to the peace process and could change the Palestinians’ future. I am sure they also pointed to the absence of the Palestinians to argue that they do not really want peace and continue to lean toward extremism — during the conference Palestinian leaders were trying again to bridge their difference with the leadership of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
When Trump unveiled his peace plan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inflated its significance and made it seem more important than it really was. But again, the Palestinians were not at the White House to detail the plan’s deficiencies, and instead pursued a self-destructive “rejectionist” position.
By being absent again, the Palestinians surrendered the political stage to Israel. It allowed Israel and Netanyahu to again falsely argue that they desire peace, but it is the Palestinians who refuse to engage in even peaceful discussions.
No one said the Palestinians had to endorse the Trump plan, but they could have used the White House unveiling to make their salient points about its unfairness and point out that the real obstacle to a just peace has been Netanyahu.
They could have made Netanyahu look like the anti-peace extremist but instead they allowed him to dominate the formidable and elaborate stage that Trump and Kushner crafted, making him look like the peacemaker and the Palestinians the extremist rejectionists.
Is anyone surprised that the UAE would try to step in and block Netanyahu’s annexation plans by offering Israel normalization? Is anyone surprised that, after being denounced by the Palestinians, Bahrain would follow the UAE and recognize Israel too?
The fight for peace and justice is not just one about truth, facts or even history. It is about managing the public’s perceptions, defining diplomacy to showcase your self-interests, and winning public support. Peace is about strengthening relationships between governments as much as it is about drawing up agreements of peace.
The Israelis are the masters of managing perception, not just through the investment of millions of dollars in media manipulation and public relations spin but by presenting themselves as the advocates of peace and allowing the Palestinians to present themselves as unreasonable anti-peace rejectionists.
Whoever masters perception both manages the narrative that the world sees and influences the conduct of key players in that political theater.
The Palestinians have been fighting a losing war for more than 70 years, one that spans several generations and has obscured the historical facts in contested public deliberation.
Palestinian refusal to recognize their failures, or pursue an alternative strategic plan other than rejection, has sealed their fate in a growing avalanche of marginalization.
The Palestinians have made it easy for Israel to look good. They have made it easy for the Arab world to make peace with Israel. They have made it easy to lose even more than they have lost already.
It’s not too late to throw out the leadership in Ramallah and in Gaza and elect new leaders who are willing to recognize that through compromise and engagement they can negotiate far more than they are being offered today.
Unfortunately, the election process has been stymied by government dysfunction and failed leaders who have found a way to survive in despondency.
The Palestinian leadership can blame the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan all they want for making peace with Israel, and assert that they have been betrayed. But that’s an excuse that more than anything deserves to be rejected.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania