Opinion

Who Is a Palestinian? Jared Kushner Will Decide

If there are no Palestinian refugees, as Trump's adviser son-in-law puts it, why do they need a right of return?

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner disembark from Air Force One at Morristown, New Jersey, June 29, 2018.
Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Even Alan Dershowitz, the great defender of the Israeli right, said openly that it’s hard to defend Israel following the enactment of the nation-state law. Even he was shocked to discover what officials in Jerusalem mean when they say “a Jewish state.” Dershowitz’s awakening may herald the end of the golden age of “Jewish legalism.”

But that day has yet to come, and meanwhile Jewish legalism still reigns not just in Jerusalem but also in Washington, as was evident from the White House’s desire to revise the mandate of UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees. Not, heaven forbid, for the sake of the Palestinian refugees; quite the contrary, it was to enable them to “reach their full potential,” as a senior Trump administration official said.

>> UNRWA under attack: Trump tries to destroy a Palestinian achievement to force a deal

The heart of Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and senior adviser, goes out to the Palestinian refugees. “Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are,” he wrote in an email to Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s (Jewish) Mideast envoy, and his staff. In another email, he wrote that UNRWA “perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

Granted, Kushner was born in the winter of 1981 and hails from New Jersey, but it turns out that he too was promised a dove of peace, in the words of the famous Israeli song “Winter 1973.” He’s breaking the silence about UNRWA’s crimes. For the exact same reason, he urged Amman to abolish the refugee status of 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan. He’s the Martin Luther King of the Palestinians in that country.

That was sarcasm, of course. This decision has nothing to do with the Palestinians’ welfare. Kushner and his staff are merely duplicating the logic that led the administration to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. It’s a blatant attempt to clear the negotiating table of the last remnants of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s core issues. First Jerusalem, and now the right of return.

Instead of solving the problem of the Palestinian refugees, they’re abolishing the problem posed by “the refugees.” If there are no Palestinian refugees, why do they need a right of return?

Amira Hass explained with chilling clarity in Haaretz that UNRWA’s continued existence is a Palestinian political achievement indicating recognition of the refugees’ right to return to pre-1967 Israel. But as Hass herself notes, “the Clinton and Obama administrations can’t be suspected of supporting UNRWA to promote the Palestinian refugees’ return to their homeland.”

More than anything, this recognition of their right is for the purpose of negotiations, for use as a bargaining chip. But Kushner seeks to humiliate the Palestinians – or as the right likes to say, to destroy their hope – in order to seal a deal cheaply.

Still, something here doesn’t add up. After all, the Palestinian Authority effectively conceded the right of return – even if it hasn’t said so publicly – and sufficed with Israel’s acceptance of a symbolic number (10,000, according to the “Palestine Papers” published by Al Jazeera). So what are they cooking up here?

This maneuver by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, via Kushner, can’t be understood except as an attempt to prevent millions of Palestinians from moving to the future Palestinian political entity. Or in other words, to prevent them from realizing their right of return even to the Palestinian state.

Dershowitz still hasn’t fully understood Jewish exceptionalism as taught in the school of Netanyahu. The Zionist longing to be “like all the other nations” is for universalist, cosmopolitan, rootless leftists; what’s permissible to Jews is forbidden to others. The “Palestinian state” will at most be “half a state,” and it will be limited not just militarily, but also in terms of immigration. Who is a Jew? Israel will decide. And who is a Palestinian? Israel will decide that too.