by Kathryn Shihadah
There is a giant herd of elephants circling the Trump-Kushner Peace Plan, and theyâre not going away. The fragrance of pachyderms is unmistakable, but Trump administration, the Netanyahu government, and Israel partisans have decades of experience in ignoring whatever is inconvenient to their agendas.
That unmistakable throng of elephants is theÂ disenfranchisement and subjugationÂ of the Palestinian people that has gone for a hundred years, and is presently so flagrant that numerous human rightsÂ organizationsÂ andÂ expertsÂ have called itÂ apartheid.
And while the Trump administration claims it wants a future of peace, this Plan will not bring peace.
Shortly after the Planâs release, KushnerÂ boastedÂ on Fox & Friends, âThis is an 80 page proposal, with a map. Never been done before.â Pachyderm prints are on every page (and the map), starting with the very first sentence:
âIsraelis and Palestinians have both suffered greatly from their long-standing and seemingly interminable conflict.â
To start the document with this statement is to ignore a fundamental truth: the creation of Israel â the Zionist project âÂ wreaked havocÂ on the people of Palestine, and continues to do so today.
âSince 1946, there have been close to 700 United Nations General Assembly resolutions and over 100 United Nations Security Council resolutions in connection with this conflict.â
Missing factoid: Almost every one of the 800+ resolutions (Kushner left out 45 UN Human Rights Council resolutions) connected with this conflict, wasÂ critical of IsraeliÂ policies and actions that defied international law.
âThese resolutions have not brought about peace.â
The resolutions have not brought about peace because (elephant alert)Â Israel has defied every one of them.
âFor comprehensive peace to be achieved, it is up to the Palestinian people to make clear that they reject the ideologies of destruction, terror and conflict.â
Palestinian people arenât committed to conflict â they are committed to resistance against occupation and apartheid (resistance is legal, butÂ occupationÂ andÂ apartheidÂ are illegal). For comprehensive peace to be achieved, Israel must abandon the elephants of discrimination and violence, and adhere to international law.
âThe economic plan will empower the Palestinian people to build the society that they have aspired to establish for generations. It will allow Palestinians to realize a better future and pursue their dreamsâŠBy developing property and contract rights, the rule of law, anti-corruption measures, capital markets, a pro-growth tax structure, and a low-tariïŹ scheme with reduced trade barriers, this initiative envisions policy reforms coupled with strategic infrastructure investments that will improve the business environment and stimulate private-sector growth.â
This suggests that the Palestinian people have been unable to build a great society because they lack a pro-growth tax structure and other first-world, art-of-the-deal schemes. While Kushnerâs words dazzle, they ignore the myriad, incessant turmoil andÂ economic hardshipÂ created byÂ occupation,Â apartheid, andÂ blockade. Israel hasÂ initiated wars,Â withheld foodÂ andÂ medicine, andÂ traumatizedÂ generations of Palestinians.
A 2016Â publicationÂ by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted:
The relationship between the Israeli economy and that of the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains that of two dissimilar and unequal economies, whereby the large, dominant economy practices policies that keep the small economy weak and dependentâŠdepriving the Palestinian people of their ability to produce and, in the process, cultivating a dependence on the Israeli economy and donor aid.
Without the occupation, the Palestinian economy could easily produce twice the GDP it currently generates, while the chronic trade and budget deficits, as well as poverty and unemployment, could recede and the economic dependence on Israel could end.
âThis Vision has been developed to reduce over time the Palestiniansâ dependence on aid from the international community.â
Palestinians have been aid-dependent because farmers have beenÂ restrictedÂ access to their fields,Â fishermen the sea, andÂ workersÂ their jobs; Israel has collected taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and thenÂ refusedÂ to hand funds over; Israel denies access to neededÂ medicines,Â building supplies, andÂ parts to repairÂ crucial equipment likeÂ power plantsÂ andÂ flour mills; and Israel has oftenÂ destroyedÂ orÂ confiscatedÂ items that wereÂ donatedÂ to the Palestinian people.
UNCTADÂ reportedÂ in 2019 that between 2000 and 2017, Israelâs occupation of the West Bank cost the Palestinian people approximately $47.7 billion â over $2.5 billion a year. As Israel controls agriculture (more below), exports, natural resources, and tourism, it deliberately siphons money away from the Palestinian economy and into its own coffers.
The way to reduce Palestiniansâ dependence on aid is to free them from occupation and blockade so they can work and produce, instead of standing at checkpoints and fighting a system that is stacked against them.
âGaza has tremendous potential but is currently held hostage byâŠterrorist organizations committed to Israelâs destructionâŠ[that are] fueling a war machine of thousands of rockets and missiles, dozens of terror tunnels and other lethal capabilitiesâŠGaza is run by terrorists who provoke confrontations that lead to more destruction and suïŹering for the people of GazaâŠ
As a result of Hamasâ terror and misrule, the people of Gaza suffer from massive unemployment, widespread poverty, drastic shortages of electricity and potable water, and other problems that threaten to precipitate a wholesale humanitarian crisis.â
While Hamasâ rule leaves much to be desired, Hamas is not the cause of Gazaâs humanitarian crisis. Gaza is under a brutal blockade because its people dare to resist theÂ de factoÂ occupation of their land. Some militants shootÂ mostly-homemade rocketsÂ toward Israel in defiance â these âlethalâ rockets (which beganÂ afterÂ Israeli violence) have killed aboutÂ 50Â Israelis inÂ 19 years, while Israelâs army (theÂ most powerfulÂ in the Middle East) has killed overÂ 7,000Â Gazan Palestinians in the same time period and at leastÂ 461Â West Bankers and East Jerusalemites.
In the rush to demonize Hamas, Israel and its supporters (includingÂ Jared Kushner) once again disregard inconvenient facts: Hamasâ efforts are nothing more or less than resistance against oppressive, illegal Israeli policies; Hamas operations have beenÂ restrained; and â contrary to Israeli hype â its actions areÂ not provocations but responsesÂ to Israeli provocation (not the least of which is the catastrophic blockade); Hamas has onÂ multiple occasionsÂ offeredÂ long-termÂ ceasefire deals, to which Israel hasÂ respondedÂ with violence; and most brokered ceasefires (79%) have beenÂ brokenÂ by Israel.
Hamas and other resistance groupsâ actions have been less deadly than Israelâs by a large margin. Witness theseÂ statisticsÂ from Israeli human rights organization, BâTselem:
âPeacetime,â Sept 2000 â Dec 2008
Israeli incursion into Gaza, 2008-9 (âto stop rocketsâ)
Israeli incursion into Gaza, 2012 (âto stop rocketsâ)
Israeli incursion into Gaza, 2014 (âto stop rocketsâ)
Gaza/Israel since 2014
It is perhaps not surprising that multiple human rights organizations have placed the blame for theÂ humanitarian crisisÂ squarely on Israelâs shoulders.
For a Timeline of deaths in the conflict goÂ here.
Basic expectations of the Kushner Plan are unsound, blatantly partisan, and tell only the convenient parts of the story:
âPeace should not demand the uprooting of people â Arab or Jew â from their homes. Such a construct, which is more likely to lead to civil unrest, runs counter to the idea of co-existence.â
This is a handy position to takeÂ afterÂ Israel hasÂ illegally transferred 600,000 JewsÂ onto West Bank and East Jerusalem land stolen from Palestinians. âNo population transferâ would have been a useful policy in 1948, to stop the Zionist army fromÂ depopulating hundreds of Palestinian villagesÂ andÂ exiling 750,000 Palestinians,Â and thenÂ refusingÂ to allow them to return. Transfer of population into occupied territory has been against international law since the Fourth Geneva Convention was ratified in 1949.
The transfer of Israeli Jews from their settlements back to Israel (also stolen) no doubt would cause âcivil unrest,â but it was a grave error to position them in someone elseâs land to begin with.
As an aside, when Palestinians participated inÂ civil unrest circa 1939, protesting British rule and the population transfer of Jews into Palestine, they wereÂ brutally suppressed. In 1987, Israeli soldiersÂ employedÂ âforce, might, and beatings,â in addition to live ammunition to subdue unarmed demonstrations against the occupation. The Great March of Return in Gaza, a massive and ongoingÂ peaceful protest, has been answered with sniper fire. When Palestinians are the ones with grievances, no attempt is made to appease and avoid civil unrest.
âThis Vision provides for the transfer of sizable territory by the State of Israel [to the Palestinians] â territory to which Israel has asserted valid legal and historical claims, and which are part of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people â which must be considered a significant concession.â
This statement completely ignoresÂ Palestiniansâ legal and historical claims to the land â their ancestral homeland. And while the claim of Jewish Israelis is based on aÂ religious documentÂ and a short-livedÂ mini kingdomÂ 3,000Â years ago, Palestinians have lived on the land recently enough to have Ottoman-eraÂ ownership recordsÂ andÂ deeds. Meanwhile, Israel controlsÂ all of the land.Â A large number of Palestinians haveÂ expressedÂ willingness toÂ settleÂ for justÂ 22%Â of what was once theirs. Is this not a significant concession on the part of Palestinians?
Of course, resolving a problem with these complexities isnât easy, but no resolution will be valid when the arbiter is disingenuous.
âSince the moment of its establishment, the State of Israel has not known a single day of peace with all of its neighborsâŠThe United States will strongly encourage Arab countries to begin to normalize their relations with the State of IsraelâŠThese countries are expected to end any boycott of the State of Israel and oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (commonly referred to as BDS) movement and any other eïŹort to boycott the State of Israel.â
The statement that âIsrael has not known a single day of peace with all of its neighborsâ provokes another elephant alert: Israel started or caused its wars (IsraelÂ launchedÂ the Six Day War, the 1973 war wasÂ wagedÂ by countries trying to regain land that Israel had unlawfully taken over, and Israel has invaded LebanonÂ several times). In addition, both Jordan and EgyptÂ recognizedÂ Israel long ago.
Ordering Arab neighbors to normalize relations with Israel in the current environment overlooks the legitimate reasons for theÂ global BDS movement: Israelâs noncompliance with international law (not anti-Semitism).
Conflict with Israelâs neighbors was inevitable since the state was created on land belonging to another people group, who were pushed out to become aÂ burdenÂ on their neighbors.
FirstÂ Israel must make the appropriate changes.Â ThenÂ its neighbors â and the world â may consider normalizing relations.
âThe [education] initiative will empower the Palestinian people to realize their ambitions. Through new data-driven, outcomes-based education options at home, expanded online education platforms, increased vocational and technical trainingâŠ students can fulfill their academic goals and be prepared for the workforce.â
Again, the Trump-Kushner plan neglects the true reason why Palestinians canât ârealize their ambitions.â Under occupation, students oftenÂ canât get past checkpointsÂ in time for classes; school days are regularly interrupted by Israeli militaryÂ tear gas attacks or invasions, followed by arrests of students and/or teachers; a huge number of students have beenÂ traumatizedÂ by Israeli violence.
âWhile Palestinians have among the highest graduation rates in the region, many Palestinian schools are stretched beyond their capacity, with too few teachers and classrooms to support their students.â
In this statement, the Plan glosses over the fact that Palestinian students are succeeding at an impressive rate under impossible conditions. Their academic achievements should lead to a prosperous society, but it does not â because of the elephants.
The statement also fails to mention that overcrowding is due to Israeli forcesâ regular practice ofÂ demolishing and refusing building permitsÂ for West Bank schools. In Gaza, over half of the schools were damaged during an Israeli assault in 2014 â and many are still not rebuilt, since Israel regularlyÂ blocks the deliveryÂ of construction materials.
âUnfortunately, Palestinians currently experience one of the highest youth-unemployment rates in the worldâŠBy providing the Palestinian public sector with policy advice on best practices, encouraging private-sector attention to this problem, and promoting a comprehensive strategy to empower youth and women, more women and youth will join the Palestinian labor force.â
Senior Advisor Kushner is under the impression that Palestinians canât flip their graduates into successful careers because they need foreign billionairesÂ to give them advice. This is the height of arrogance.
âWhile agriculture accounts for approximately eight percent of Palestinian employment, this sector has not met its potential due to limited access of Palestinian farmers to land, water, and technology. An improved business environment in the West Bank and Gaza and access to more land will create an enormous opportunity for farmers to expand their operations.â
Why in the world would Palestinian farmers have âlimited accessâ to their own land? Itâs a simple question with a simple answer: Israel has built aÂ wall that separates farmers from much of their farmland.Â The International Court of JusticeÂ declared the wall illegalÂ in 2004 (when it was less than half built) and ordered it torn down. In spite of this, Israel has continued construction along a route that effectivelyÂ seversÂ Palestinians from the nearly 10% of West Bank land â much of it agricultural â that lies outside the wall.
A 2016Â publicationÂ by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted some of the measurable effects of the occupation on Palestinian agriculture:
Since the onset of the occupation in 1967, the Palestinian people have lost access to more than 60 per cent of West Bank land and two thirds of its grazing land. In Gaza, half of the cultivable area and 85 per cent of fishery resources are inaccessible to Palestinian producersâŠ
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)Â reportsÂ that inside the wall, the Israeli expropriation for expanding illegal Israeli settlements and Jewish-only roads âinclud[es] the most fertile and best grazing land.â
For those Palestinians who are able to access their land during the harvest season, much or all of their crops can be lost âdue to violence and threats by settlersâ â who areÂ aided and abettedÂ by the Israeli military.
Up toÂ 1 million olive treesÂ andÂ 2.5 million fruit treesÂ have been uprooted since 1967, many due to illegal Israeli settlement expansion and the construction of the wall,Â othersÂ as aÂ formÂ ofÂ vandalism.
All told, the occupation caused a drop in agricultural sector from over half of the Palestinian GDP prior to 1967, to just 6% by 2012.
In addition, Israeli military and illegal settlers destroy or vandalizeÂ infrastructure,Â buildings, andÂ water systems, and the Israeli government restricts the import of fertilizers, seedlings, and certain types of livestock, ensuring âthat most of the advantages present in the Israeli agricultural sector are beyond the reach of Palestinian farmers.â
Again, the assistance Palestinians need is not advice from billionaires, but freedom from Israeli domination and oppression.
âThe parties [must] recognize mutual water rightsâŠ[s]hared aquifersâŠ and jointly seek to provide easily available,Â reasonably priced water to both parties.â
The wording in this statement suggests that Israel and the Palestinians endure roughly equal water hardship and suffer from exorbitant prices.
In reality, one of the âpartiesâ already has more than enough water, the other too little, too expensive, and too toxic. Again, UNCTAD spells out the cause:
Palestinian farmers are denied the right to construct wells to meet the growing demand for water, even when that water originates almost entirely in the West BankâŠ[O]rganizations, such as Oxfam, report that Palestinian assets, including sources of water, have often been vandalized by Israeli settlersâŠ
Environmental degradation is also caused by settlers, through the discharge of untreated wastewater into nearby wadis and release of solid domestic and industrial waste from settlements onto Palestinian lands. In addition, several incidents of dumping of hazardous and toxic waste in the West Bank have been documented.
Israel confiscatesÂ 82% of Palestinian groundwaterÂ for its own use or that of its settlers, piping it efficiently to Israelis, but avoiding Palestinian villages. Many poor Palestinian familiesÂ spend up to 40%Â of their meagre income on trucked-in, high-priced water.
In addition, the Israeli military routinely destroys Palestiniansâ ownÂ water pipesÂ andÂ wells. And as a variation on the theme, the Israeli military usesÂ skunk waterÂ to break up protests or as collective punishment. (some US police forcesÂ have imported the product).
âThe [healthcare] program will provide new resources and incentives to transform the Palestinian healthcare sector and ensure the Palestinian people have access to the care they need within the West Bank and Gaza. This program will rapidly increase the capacity of Palestinian hospitals by ensuring that they have the supplies, medicines, vaccines, and equipment to provide top-quality care and protect against health emergencies.â
Once again, the Kushner Plan insinuates that Palestinians lack proper health care because they lack enlightenment or competence.
In reality, the healthcare sector in Gaza is in disarray becauseÂ hospitals have been bombed,Â medicinesÂ andÂ equipmentÂ have been withheld by the blockade, and huge numbers ofÂ critically woundedÂ people seek medical help â many withÂ devastating injuriesÂ fromÂ Israeli weapons that are likely illegal. Over the years, the Israeli military has shown a pattern of denyingÂ Palestinian women in laborÂ permission to go to the hospital; Israeli soldiers chase away ambulances (even fromÂ small children), ultimatelyÂ leaving Palestinians to die.
To top it off, the Trump administration recentlyÂ cut off aid to hospitalsÂ in East Jerusalem.
These are some of the factors that haveÂ causedÂ an infant mortality rate in the Palestinian territories of 18.8 per 1,000 births (in Israel mortality is 3.7/1,000), and an average life expectancy for Palestinians of 74 (vs. 83 for Israelis).
â[S]ports and athletics can help Palestinian youth foster new tiesâŠand Palestinian teams can be a source of entertainment and pride for all Palestinians. This project will expand options for competitive, healthy activities for Palestinians through the construction of public athletic facilities in the West Bank and Gaza. This project seeks to inspire the next generation of Palestinian athletes dreaming to be on, and training for, future Palestinian teams competing on the world stage.â
Sports and competition are already in the hearts of Palestinians â they donât need Jared Kushner to inspire them. What they do need is an end to the occupation thatÂ denies them permitsÂ to participate in events, holds them back from competing in theÂ Olympics, andÂ maims their bodies. EvenÂ children playing soccer on the beachÂ are unsafe under Israeli oppression.
â[Palestinians face] transportation challenges. The lack of ports has raised the costs of Palestinian economic activity. Though the State of Palestine will include Gaza, security challenges make the building of a port in Gaza problematic for the foreseeable future.â
This notion is illegalÂ accordingÂ to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Gaza has 25 miles of shoreline, but the Israeli-American coalition would forbid Palestinians from building a port. This is not how self-determination and sovereignty work. The Plan would essentially enforce the devastating, 13-year-old,Â illegalÂ blockade, and license the now 53-year de facto occupation, as Israel would control all Palestinian imports and exports.
âGenerations of Palestinians have lived without knowing peace, and the West Bank and Gaza have fallen into a protracted crisis.â
Did Palestinian bad luck cause them to âfallâ into a âprotracted crisisâ? No, Palestinians have had a protracted crisis forced upon them â by Israel. They have resisted in every way they know how, but to no avail.
Reading the Kushner Plan, one would never know that the devastation, the desolation within Palestinian society was created by Israel. In 181 pages and a map, there is no acknowledgement Â that the Zionist project brought great injustice to generations of Palestinians.
âYet the Palestinian story will not end here. The Palestinian people continue their historic endeavor to build a better future for their children.â
Correct: Palestinians have endeavored for generations to build a future that includes justice, freedom, and equality â and they have no intention of giving up.
âIf implemented, Peace to Prosperity will empower the Palestinian people to build the society that they have aspired to establish for generations. â
Incorrect: Palestinians donât need a plan imposed on them by Western businessmen â they need justice, freedom, and equality, which Israel has steadfastly withheld.
âUltimately, however, the power to unlock it lies in the hands of the Palestinian people. Only through peace can the Palestinians achieve prosperity.â
A better statement might be, âOnly through justice can there be peace and prosperity. Israel and the US have the power to bring justice.â
âWhile the vision is ambitious, it is achievable. The future of the Palestinians is one of huge promise and potential. The Palestinian story does not end here. Their story is just being written.â
The storyÂ isÂ just being writtenâŠby a partisan, privileged group that has nothing but disdain for the Palestinian people. They promise no peace, only more elephants.
Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She blogs atÂ Palestine Home.Â