Opinion

Jared Kushner's Plan for Palestine Is Even Crazier Than You Thought

Kushner's 'economic peace' plan repeatedly claims that occupied Palestine can model itself after Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. That's certainly ambitious – but also ignorant, absurd and even dangerous

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is interviewed by Reuters at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019
\ Kevin Lamarque/ REUTERS

Jared Kushner’s glossy "economic peace" plan has been widely, although not universally, panned.

Critics have attacked the plan from innumerable angles: from the photographs used to promote it, culled from USAID programs whose funding had been ended by the Trump administration, to the recycling of old, largely discredited ideas, associated with previous Israeli and U.S. plans that promoted economic development before a political plan. 

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None of these peace plans, including those that prioritized economic development ahead of a political program, have worked.

One key claim of the plan, largely overlooked by critics, are Kushner’s case studies, which are repeatedly referenced throughout the document: Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

These case studies are central to Kushner’s economic plan. If the models as analogies to Palestine do not work, then it could be argued, neither can his peace plan. 

As we shall argue, Kushner’s attempt to apply Asian economic success stories to Palestine is like comparing apples to oranges. 

Leaving Taiwan to the side for the moment, which is a special case, Kushner’s Asian economic models have all had a history of being independent states at some point; even if some of them like Japan and South Korea, were occupied by U.S. and Allied forces during wartime, the U.S. had a clear plan to restore their sovereignty after the war. 

But Palestine is neither a sovereign state, nor is it clear that Israel or the U.S. want it to become one. Kushner has said nothing about the occupation, or ending it. He even told Axios that he was not certain the Palestinians could govern themselves

Kushner’s plan is opaque on the key question of Palestinian territorial integrity, a foundational issue for economic policy and development. Will Israel be required to give up the settlement blocks in any future peace deal, or reform laws that give settlers the right to confiscate Palestinian lands?

Palestinian Bedouins next to their belongings after 12 of their tents were destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers near Jericho in the West Bank's Area C, where Israel exercises full control. August 18, 2015
AFP

David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, told The New York Timesthat Israel had the "right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank." This was widely interpreted as a signal that the U.S. may be planning to allow Israel to retain - in other words, annex - the settlement blocks. Area C, which amounts to 61 per cent of the West Bank, where most of the settlements are located, is largely off-limits for Palestinian economic development.

And the entire Gaza Strip has been subject to an air, land, and maritime blockade since 2007, where Egypt’s policies also cut off trade and free movement from that direction. 

In contrast, Japan, South Korea and Singapore achieved spectacular economic growth rates in a relatively short period after independence, and were able to sustain this growth path over the long term because they were independent. 

Singapore, for example, achieved First World status in less than half a century after independence in 1965, transforming itself from an entrepôt to a high-performing economy built on technological innovation and human resource development, despite its lack of natural resources, its small size, and its troubled political history.

Today, this tiny city-state boasts a per capita income of almost U.S. $60,000, making it one of the most prosperous in the world. 

Singapore is not merely a "financial hub" or a "regional trading center" that Palestine could emulate if it were integrated into the economies of its neighbours as suggested on page 18 of the "Peace to Prosperity" economic plan. Singapore has been an independent state since 1965.

One of the keys to its success, after its separation from Malaysia, was the ability of its government to make its own decisions that were in the interests of its own people. It was not subject to the laws of another country. 

Aerial view of the business district and city at twilight in Singapore
Travelerpix / Shutterstock.com

Of great relevance to Palestine and Israel is Singapore’s public housing policy, enshrined in the overarching principle of universal ownership for all Singaporeans. Various financial schemes, such as subsidies and a range of grants, are available to the more vulnerable populations who cannot afford outright housing purchases.

Today, four-fifths of the population live in public housing, a far cry from the dispossession of many Palestinians, many of whom continue to live in makeshift housing in refugee camps where they are dependent on aid from UNRWA that the Trump administration has also cut.  

Most important of all, Singapore’s policymakers pushed social cohesion by avoiding the emergence of ethnic enclaves, through the strict implementation of ethnic quotas in public housing estates. These quotas ensure that the different ethnic groups - Chinese, Malay and South Asian - are proportionately represented at the neighborhood and even block levels.  

Unlike Israel or the West Bank, there are no mono-ethnic or settler enclaves in Singapore. This policy on social housing lies at the heart of inter-ethnic solidarity in Singapore, and has effectively ended the racial tensions that once gripped the city-state in the 1960s.  

South Korea and Taiwan are particularly intriguing examples for Kushner to have brought to Bahrain.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-Wen, third from left, during a ceremony to commission two U.S. guided-missile frigates into Taiwan's navy, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, November 8, 2018.
AFP

Although Taiwan is not widely recognized by the international community as an independent state, its government, in contrast to the Palestinian Authority, has full control over its economy, including its airspace, land, and maritime borders. Taiwan also enjoys autonomous trading relationships with a variety of countries including China, India, Australia, Japan, Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands, among others. 

While South Korea and Taiwan are relatively small countries without a rich natural resource base like Palestine, both countries underwent major land reform programs: Taiwan between 1949 and 1953, and South Korea in 1949, under the tutelage of the U.S. The extensive land redistribution programs in both countries broke the stronghold of potentially obstructive landlords, settlers and other disruptive social groups. In doing so, a base for entrepreneurial activity was created.   

Kushner’s economic plan does not address the settler economy in the West Bank. Nor does it mention whether confiscated Palestinian lands would be returned to their owners. Nor does it address the fragility of Palestinian land ownership in Area C, where 18 per cent of the West Bank has been designated a closed military zone for IDF training, and where there are over thirty Israeli settlements established in contravention of international law. 

Having successfully redistributed land to small farmers in South Korea and Taiwan, a class of rural entrepreneurs emerged whose livelihoods were derived from a mix of farm and off-farm sources. Rural incomes increased through a critical mass of small- and medium-size rural-based enterprises. In turn, these multiple enterprises spurred growth, productivity, employment, and equity. 

a Palestinian teenager sits in an alley as children play in front of their family house, in the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City. April 21, 2019
Adel Hana,AP

By 1980, non-agricultural production rose in both countries, reflecting a fundamental change in the Taiwanese and Korean economies. For the first time, Taiwanese and Korean labor entered the industrial sector. Significantly, increased participation of the labor force in the wider economy led to increased incomes and to a relatively equitable distribution of wealth in these countries. 

Today, South Korea is home to the some of the world’s biggest industrial conglomerates, known as chaebols, and Singapore is ranked as the most competitive economy in the world. Taiwan’s economy today is a dynamic capitalist economy driven by industrial output directed towards the global market demand for electronics, machinery and petrochemicals.  

It ranks 13th in the world in terms of economic freedom and boasts a per capita income of US$53,023 in terms of purchasing power parity.

The lessons of these Asian economic success stories is fairly straightforward: sovereignty was key to transforming these states into Asian economic power houses embedded in strong states that could drive development policies.

Without this fundamental ingredient, even the best laid economic plans are bound to fail. At worst, these plans will perpetuate economic deprivation, unrest and violence.

Victor Kattan is Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore and an Associate Fellow at the Faculty of Law. Twitter: @VictorKattan 

Teresita Cruz-del Rosario is a Senior Research Associate at the Asian Research Institute at the National University Singapore and international development consultant for the Asian Development Bank. Twitter: @delrosatess