Liberty Expose: Kushner's Empty Palestinian Peace Plan

Ever since his father-in-law became President of the United States, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner has set his sights on being the one to negotiate a deal that would usher in an era of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Several former Presidents have attempted to broker and end to the fighting but have failed because of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and Palestinian support for terrorists who murder Israels. After almost three years of waiting, we finally know what the special adviser to President Donald Trump has in store for the embattled region and unlike the rockets and missiles the two Middle Eastern rivals fire back and forth at each other, this plan is a dud so far.

The goal of the “Peace to Prosperity” Plan is simple: build the Palestinian economy to become a powerhouse that can compete on the international stage. To achieve this, the official White House document outlined three initiatives. 

The first initiative is to assist the Palestinians in establishing laws, regulations, a pro-free trade market and develop the territory’s infrastructure so it can compete and trade with regional partners. The territory’s economy has remained stagnant due to restrictions placed by its adversary. According to the UN's Conference on Trade and Development (2017), Palestine only has “1 in 5 hectares of cultivable land utilized and more than 9 out of 10 hectares lacking irrigation” which is not helped by “an import ban on suitable fertilizers, and other restrictions by Israel” which caused the territory’s output of crops to drop 11 percent. Furthermore, the real Gross Domestic Product (rGDP) of Palestine remains stagnant at it’s 1999 level. These import bans, the subsequent lack of growth have resulted in high unemployment and the destruction of homes by Israeli settlers perpetuates a fragmented society that has no hope of achieving upward mobility. 

To break this cycle of unsustainable economic activity, Kushner’s plan would seek to open up the West Bank and Gaza to the international market by pumping in nearly $50 billion of foreign money. Much of this money would supposedly come from investors from both the public and private sectors who see Palestinian development as a worthy business venture. The goal would be to elevate Palestinian industries so it can compete with other economies, in addition to connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip via a $5 billion corridor.

Second, improve Palestinian access to education and healthcare by equipping these sectors with the latest technology in order to increase the standard of living. Both of the Palestinian territories remain devastated by war and displacement, particularly the Gaza Strip which regularly exchanges rocket fire with Israel. Operation Protective Edge, launched by Israel in 2014, caused Gaza to experience “the worst destruction, devastation, and displacement since the start of the Israel Occupation in 1967” as it resulted in the deaths of over 2,100 Palestinians (mainly civilians), 11,231 injuries, orphaned 1,500 children and damaged half of the territory’s universities, schools and preschools. The Strip is still rebuilding from this devastating conflict and Israel has been of no help.

Finally, ensure that Palestine has a government that can effectively manage its affairs and make it financially independent. The White House document points to how Japan, South Korea and Singapore went from being weak states to regional juggernauts by establishing institutions to meet the needs of their people. This initiative is tethered to the other two initiatives as it seeks to reform Palestine’s legal and tax codes to be more accommodating for business (foreign and domestic), integrating recent developments in e-governance and building a transparent government. 

Overall, these are all commendable goals that would help Palestine develop. But there is one crucial part missing from this whole arrangement: will Palestine finally be recognized as a state or will it merely continue to be a broken territory. Granted this is reportedly just a part of a much larger plan that may also answer the question of Palestinian statehood. Nonetheless, no one is really expecting this to finally bring about peace. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, added to this skepticism by stating that Israel “has the right to annex at least ‘some’ of the occupied West Bank.” If the Trump administration’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital did not squash hopes for a lasting peace, the ambassador’s words most certainly did. 

It can be argued that we already tried an economic-centric peace plan in 1994 which essentially failed to achieve any lasting change for Palestine. The Paris Protocol, as it was known, was an attempt to tether the economies of Palestine and Israel but really made the former more dependent on the latter. Israel’s trade policy was favored despite it’s GDP being vastly larger than Palestine’s. The inability of the Palestinian government to actually exert influence over its own macroeconomic and monetary policy, instead having to rely on the Bank of Israel for their exchange rate, meant that sovereignty was merely an illusion.

The question of whether or not Palestine should be a full fledged state has been a contentious issue in American politics. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have historically been supportive of Israel; but over the last two decades, these two sides have been growing further apart. Republicans are more likely to favor Israel by a margin of 79 percent, while Democrats are more sympathetic to Palestinian as only 27 percent share the same opinion as majority of Republicans. Indeed, when Donald Trump relocated the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, Republicans praised the President while the Democrats admonished him for stoking the flames of the conflict. 

Ultimately, Israel does have a right to exist, but Palestine most certainly does as well and free of foreign occupation. Sadly however, any attempt at peace will not happen under Trump at the helm of the U.S., or with Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel. Both leaders favor a settlement program that has been condemned by a total of 128 other countries and declared illegal under numerous United Nations resolutions (both in the General Assembly and the Security Council). 

The likelihood of the U.S. finally bringing an end to one of the fiercest political struggles with any peace plan is minute. Kushner’s plan, while it does seek to build up Palestinian infrastructure which is an admirable goal that is sorely needed, is an empty shell if it does not give Palestine full sovereignty over its territory. This is not the 1992 U.S. Presidential election in which Bill Clinton hammered H.W. Bush by saying “It is the economy, stupid.” No one will want to invest billions of dollars into a project if it just gets blown up by an Israeli bomb. The Palestinian people will only be able to prosper when its people are able to govern their own lands, free from the threat of Israeli settlement projects bulldozing their dreams away.