The most disturbing aspect of U.S. President Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ developed by multi-millionaire son-in-law Jared Kushner, extends far beyond the self-defeating logic on which it's been built.
Put aside the paradoxical act of defunding and cutting U.S. aid to Palestine, then shedding crocodile tears about how Palestinians desperately need the forthcoming Bahrain crowdfunding 'workshop.'
Or the inherently destabilizing assumption that an independent and prosperous Palestinian economy could ever grow within the tight grip of Israeli occupation.
Or the wishful thinking that Kushner knows ordinary Palestinians' needs and aspirations better than they know themselves, and were it not for the Palestinian Authority, Palestinians would agree to sell their quest for freedom and dignity in return for a mess of pottage. Polls show that 80% of Palestinians reject the Trump peace plan.
The most disturbing aspect of the already-failed deal is its disastrous effect on the overall peace process paradigm. In simple terms: Palestinians are losing faith fast with the foundational idea of peace through negotiations.
The humiliating and extremely biased parameters of the deal – and its methodology of battering Palestinians into submission and defeat – is causing wide and ever-growing disillusionment amongst Palestinians with the peace process itself and the path of negotiations.
Recent polls indicate the prevalence of skepticism and a dramatic decrease in support for the two-state solution. More Palestinians are giving up hope on any prospective settlement to be realized through diplomatic means, especially when Kushner’s deal is becoming the standard expression of this peace paradigm.
Forcing what U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo himself calls an "inexecutable" deal on Palestinians - through bribery, coercion and punitive measures - and framing it as Palestinians’ last chance to get anything, undermines moderate Palestinian voices and amplifies immensely violent rejectionism.
Kushner’s red herring proposal pulls the rug from under Palestinian leaders who, for decades, have remained steadfast and faithful to the two-state idea at great personal and political risk. The peace camp is now shamed and silenced for having invested faith in and wasted decades on negotiations that led to Kushner’s deal, while hardliners are now conveniently and gleefully shouting at them: "We told you so!"
Furthermore, Palestinians now see that someone like President Mahmoud Abbas, whose controversial legacy was centered around his obedient fulfillment of Israel and the international community’s demands to police the occupation, and provide unrequited security and stability to Israel at the expense of Palestinians, not only got absolutely nothing out of this, but is now being fought, demonized and drained of resources by the Trump administration.
Add to this how Netanyahu’s ongoing piracy against PA tax revenue, which has paralyzed the PA and compromised its ability to pay its own employees (160,000 civil servants, including 65,000 members of the security forces) – further spreads anti-peace sentiment amongst the salary-dependent, and now impoverished, base of the PA itself.
On the other hand, the abusive and degrading parameters of Kushner’s peace plan, aimed at "finishing off" the irritating obstacle of Palestine are dramatically empowering the most extreme voices in the conflict at the expense of the peace camp.
Most prominent among these is the new Islamic Jihad leader and Iran's loyal man, Ziad Nakhalah, who has found a quick and easy ride upwards, a rising star on the back of the failing status quo and the Kushner deal.
Nakhalah’s pro-war and violent approach mean he is widely detested by Palestinian factions, including Hamas, who disregard him as a stubborn, unstable and politically inexperienced figure dedicated to blow up the status quo.
Nakhalah’s expedient success isn’t dependent on the brilliance of his agenda or rare personal characteristics as much as it’s contingent upon the failure of others. Such as the failure of Hamas to improve Gaza’s living conditions and lift the blockade through ceasefire talks with Israel, or the failure of the PA to realize a fair and practical solution to the conflict through peace talks.
What concerns Hamas the most is that Nakhalah’s ambition is limitless. He’s not competing against Hamas or any other Palestinian factions as much as he’s competing to outshine Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah himself - and become Iran’s No.1 man in the region, no matter what it takes.
Last Friday, after Nakhalah ridiculously claimed that without Iran and its "generous support," Palestinians would have become "slaves to the Israelis" long time ago, he reiterated that his movement is capable of launching more than 1,000 primitive projectiles on Israel every day for months.
The Trump peace plan is now becoming Nakhalah’s best card to play. He feeds on popular despair, disillusionment and disappointment to build towards nihilistic conclusions - that another war is better than the continuity of the unlivable status quo.
Last week, Nakhalah applauded Abbas' remarks that "all those deals [i.e. Kushner’s] will go to hell." He called it a "historic recognition" - that negotiations were always a terrible idea, and a warning to Palestinians never to venture down that path again. Nakhalah emphasized the degrading biases of the Kushner deal to draw bizarre moral inferences about the entire peace camp, as a collective race towards defeat.
The same catastrophic rhetoric that "negotiations led us nowhere, armed resistance is the way" that followed Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2007 is now making a strong comeback, thanks to Kushner’s deal.
Back then, Israel refused to let the PA claim Israel's withdrawal as an achievement of the peace process. That gave Hamas the opportunity to claim that political and diplomatic solutions are futile and will liberate no Palestinian territory, whereas the enemy only understands the language of force. Their star rose exponentially.
It took three devastating wars on Gaza and tens of thousands of casualties to develop an understanding between Netanyahu and Hamas that armed confrontations should be studiously avoided when calm could be bought through frequent improvement measures to the lives of Gaza’s besieged population.
But as that ceasefire paradigm stopped paying off, and thennow facing an indefinite halt as Netanyahu desperately seeks reelection in September, Nakhalah can now declare that the only choice on the table left is anarchic violence.
As the biases of Kushner’s peace plan will continue to sow feelings of defeat, humiliation and isolation amongst Palestinians, Nakhalah’s ascendance to a gruesome kind of stardom is inevitable.
The only way to slow him down, until serious peace talks are on the table again, is to at least revive other options to improving the status quo – most urgently in regard to Gaza’s cease-fire talks and Israel's confiscation of PA tax revenues. But the Trump administration's trajectory is in the opposite direction.
The Kushner plan's core idea is to formalize the defeat of the Palestinians. That will only ensure more recruits flocking to the Palestinian anti-peace camp, which will effectively guarantee the outbreak of more conflict, which will be exploited by the foolish, the desperate, the power-hungry and by outside powers like Iran to become a conflagration. Only a process that improves Palestinian lives without extracting such a complete capitulation can stop this escalation.
The Palestinian peace camp has to hope that the political complications that both Trump and Netanyahu face mean they'll step away from the deal, and that they can keep their camp alive until the scales of the peace process are balanced once again.
Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2
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