Analysis

Bahrain Debacle Marks Crash of Trump Team’s Campaign to Diss Palestinians Into Submission

Kushner’s Peace for Prosperity includes Utopian projects funded by non-existent money as part of peace deal that won’t happen

U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., May 3, 2017.
CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS

The unveiling of the U.S. administration’s long-awaited production of Peace for Prosperity, premiering in Bahrain on Tuesday, garnered mixed reviews, to say the least. Barak Ravid of Axios and Israel’s Channel 13 described it as “impressive, detailed and ambitious – perhaps overly ambitious.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Dan Kurtzer offered a slightly different take: “I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing,” he said.

The plan, released in a colorful pamphlet on the eve of the Bahrain economic summit, is being portrayed by the White House as a vision of the bountiful “fruits of peace” that Palestinians might reap once they reach a peace agreement with Israel. Critics describe it as an amateurish pie-in-the-sky, shoot-for-the-moon, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink hodgepodge that promises projects that cannot be implemented, funded by money that does not exist and contingent on a peace deal that will never happen.

But the main problem with Peace for Prosperity isn’t its outlandishly unrealistic proposals – such as the $5 billion superhighway between the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel will never agree to; or its occasional condescending and Orientalist attitude towards Palestinian society  - their great hummus could attract millions of tourists; or even its offer to manage and foster Palestinian institutions and civil society in a way that can be viewed either as implicit state-building or as imposing foreign control on a future Palestinian government.

>> Read more: 'There is no purely economic solution to the Palestinian economy’s problems' ■ Trump's Bahrain conference - not what you imagined ■ Kushner's deal holds some surprises, but it's more vision than blueprint ■ The billion-dollar question in Trump's peace plan

The Palestinians would have been suspicious in any case, even if Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama were President. They have always been wary of the term “economic peace”, especially when detached from the real nitty-gritty of resolving their dispute with Israel. Nonetheless, if the President was anyone other than Trump, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would have more or less emulated Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction: Somber nodding of the head, then a non-committal reaction to Peace for Prosperity, followed by effusive but general praise for our lord and savior Donald Trump. Israelis and Palestinians would have attended the Bahrain conference, while doing their best to suppress their inner guffaws.

If it was anyone by Trump and his peace team - which often doubles as Netanyahu’s cheerleading squad – the Palestinians might have allowed themselves to believe that A. A comprehensive peace plan isn’t just a mirage and is indeed forthcoming. B. The deal won’t be tilted so far in favor of Israel that it will be declared stillborn on arrival and C. That it isn’t a ruse meant to cast Palestinians as congenital rejectionists and to pave the way for an Israeli annexation of “parts of the West Bank”, as Ambassador David Friedman put it when he pronounced Trump’s imperial edict conceding territory to Israel, which even Palestinian minimalists claim as their own, in advance of any actual talks.

But because the plan bears Trump’s signature, it was received in most world capitals with shrugs, as yet another manifestation of the U.S. administration’s preposterous handling of foreign policy – see North Korea, Europe, Mexico, Venezuela et al. Israel, of course, didn’t miss the opportunity to regurgitate the cliché about the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

A Palestinian man steps on a painting depicting U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against U.S.-led Bahrain workshop in Gaza City, June 24, 2019.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

For Palestinians and their supporters, however, Kushner’s bid was but the latest in the Trump team’s never-ending stream of slights, slanders and slaps in their collective faces. In Palestinian eyes, the economic bonanza isn’t a CBM – confidence building measure – but a con job and insult rolled into one. It dangles dollars in front of Palestinian noses, implying they can be bought, and it sets up a chain of events at the end of which Jason Greenblatt will inevitably accuse them on Twitter of being hysterical and dishonest while praising Netanyahu’s bold leadership and pioneering vision. They’ve been there, and done that.

This has been the Trump approach from the outset: Uncontained admiration for Israel and its leader coupled with unhidden disdain for Palestinian leaders and contempt for their “unrealistic” dreams. Trump’s peace team swears by Israel’s security needs as if they were part of the bible or U.S. Constitution; the ongoing 52-year military occupation of millions of Palestinians, on the other hand, seems to have escaped their attention.

For the first ten months of Trump’s tenure, the Palestinians put up with his administration’s unequivocal pledges of allegiance to Israel as well as the White House’s departure from past custom and continuing refusal to criticize any of its actions – not to mention the appointment of a peace team comprised exclusively of right-wing Netanyahu groupies, which Palestinians initially thought was surely a practical joke.

Trump’s announcement in December 2017 that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there was both game-changer and deal-breaker as far as the Palestinians were concerned. While Netanyahu and most of Israel were celebrating Donald the Daring and the long-awaited recognition of their eternal capital, Palestinians realized they were facing a President radically different from any of his predecessors - one willing to break the rules in Israel’s favor and to grant his bestie Bibi tangible victories, before, during and after elections - without asking for anything in return.

The Palestinians have boycotted the Trump administration ever since, embarrassing Friedman, Greenblatt, Kushner and ultimately Trump in the process. They, in response, have increasingly vented their anger and frustrations at the Palestinians, and not just in words and Tweets alone: The administration shut down the PLO’s office in Washington, declared Jerusalem “off the table” and indicated that the refugee issue should follow it, cut aid to UNRWA and is endeavoring to dismantle it altogether and slashed assistance to Palestinian humanitarian organizations.

In March 2018, in a move strongly supported by Israel and vigorously endorsed by Evangelicals and other right wing supporters, Trump signed the Congressionally approved Taylor Force Act that prohibits U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to pay monthly stipends to the families of what the Act describes as  “terrorists”. Palestinians, who, to many people’s regret, regard such terrorists as heroes and martyrs, noted that the passage of the Taylor Force Act embarrassed Israel and spurred it to legislate its own way to withholding Palestinian tax money for the very same reason.

Throughout the process, Trump and his peace team have lectured the Palestinians as a teacher reprimands an obstinate child. The Palestinians need to face reality, to lower their expectations, to land back on earth, Kushner and colleagues insist. Not only will they never realize their dreams and aspirations, they should also forget their core demand for an independent state free of outside control and not confide inside Israeli-controlled gates. Israelis are worthy of such independence, the Palestinians are told, but you are not.

Trump approach is a product, first and foremost, of his own inexperience, arrogance and unwillingness to learn anything from a past in which he wasn’t in charge. It is fed by anti-Palestinian prejudices prevalent in his peace team as well as his advisers and most of his political supporters. Trump and his underlings basically adhere to the arguably racist tenet encapsulated in the Israeli saying “The Arabs understand only force.” The more you pressure them, the greater the chance they will succumb.

Women protest against the U.S.-led workshop in Bahrain in the Moroccan capital Rabat, June 23, 2019.
AFP

At this point at least, it hasn’t worked out that way. Bahrain, by any measure, is a humiliating bust. As Trump and his aides contemplate the reasons for their abject failure they are likely to blame stubborn Palestinians who don’t know what’s good for them, along with radical Muslims, perfidious Europeans, idiot liberals and all the other usual suspects.

In a better world, they would take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and possibly have an epiphany. They can make an immediate adjustment that will cost them nothing but possibly achieve dramatic results. Instead of incessantly rebuking, reproaching, reprimanding, threatening and intimidating the Palestinians in a way that garners cheers from Christian messianics and Jewish zealots, they could try and treat them, as Aretha Franklin sang, with just a little respect. And perhaps, if it isn’t asking too much, take down their fawning for Netanyahu a notch or two.

It might not be enough to reconcile irreconcilable differences or to make peace, but it will signal that Trump is finally getting serious about his claim to be the peacemaker the world has been waiting for. Alternatively, the Palestinians will continue to frustrate his designs and pray to Allah for his quick departure.