Photo Credit: The Hill video screen grab via Twitter
Thirteen Palestinian businessmen who defied the Palestinian Authority's call for boycotting the recent US-led "Peace to Prosperity" economic conference in Bahrain are now being targeted by Mahmoud Abbas's security forces in the West Bank. Some of the businessmen have been forced to go into hiding. Pictured: Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the conference about boosting the Palestinian economy, reducing unemployment and improving Palestinian living conditions, on June 25, 2019.

Inon Dan Kehati leads a group known as The Home, a grassroots organization promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, working on the inside, with the people who are directly and personally affected. They see the problems blocking efforts towards peace created by outside interference of self-appointed peace envoys and promises of money coming from the United States and the European Union — money that ends up lining the pockets of the Palestinian Authority.

And now they see Jared Kushner’s peace plan, or at least the economic part of it: Peace To Prosperity
Kushner claims that the Palestinian Arabs have no reason not to trust Trump.

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But is that true?

I asked Kehati about how, from his perspective, the Palestinian Arabs feel about the plan.

Q: what do you make of what is going on in Bahrain, especially the idea of dealing with the economic part and working from the ground up instead of trying to create a state first?

Kehati: I don’t think it can bring any momentum or any progress to the (peace) process. Any foreign involvement here, especially western involvement, is just interfering.

Q: Among the people you work with, both Jews and Arabs, do they share a similar pessimism that Trump (and especially Kushner) are getting involved in things that are beyond their ability (and right) to try to control?

Kehati: Most Palestinians that I know, they want prosperity and definitely what Kushner says, that the Palestinian people want prosperity and want better conditions and economic grown and stuff is very true. But the way that it comes from the US — most likely the PA will make an obstacle so that it will fail eventually. I don’t see how it can work.

As long as the PA is there, nothing is going to change. The PA is also playing a double game because they are the Israeli arm regarding managing security in Judea and Samaria — but it is a dictatorship at the end of the day.

Q: So the Palestinian Arabs actually are siding with Abbas against Kushner’s “Peace To Prosperity” plan?

Kehati: Yes, the Palestinians, I am afraid, do agree with Abbas on this issue. Simply to speak about economic prosperity and about money that basically will not go downward to the people is something that does not appeal to Palestinians.

I think that Abbas might take advantage of this conference, and the fact that its basically speaking about economic issues that will definitely not go down to the people — and abuse it to gain more support from the Palestinians, even though 9 out of 10 Palestinians don’t see Abbas as their president or as their leader.

That is the western thinking that does not speak to the emotions and the basic needs of the Palestinian people, but speaks from a western financial perspective about something that is more complex. Again, a total failure to understand the deep motives behind the Palestinians.

The thing is about human rights — we are not talking about political rights. Freedom of movement, freedom to travel and easing of the military rule: these are the things that speak more to the Palestinians. This is money that basically would go most likely to corrupt leaders or dictators or just corrupt people. This money will not flow downwards.

Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli scholar of Arabic culture who works with Kehati and his group, has written about the conference in Bahrain along similar lines.

He addresses the question Why are the Palestinians so opposed to the ‘Deal of the Century’?.

On the one hand, whether coming from the nationalistic claims of the Palestinian Authority or the religious perspective espoused by Hamas, neither group will recognize the validity of a Jewish presence in the land. Add to that the actions the Trump administration has taken in recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and removing support for the “Palestinian refugees.”

Palestinian resistance to western involvement is more than just a rejection of foreign involvement per se. Echoing Kehati, Kedar also sees a rejection of the western approach to solving these kinds of problems:

PLO spokesmen are up in arms because, in their opinion, dealing with the economic issues before solving all the other problems – Jerusalem, the refugees, borders, Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, water, sovereignty – are a result of the American conception that money, work and economic development can solve everything. [emphasis added]

Involving other Arab countries would seem to be the way around that problem. But according to Kedar, there is more to the Palestinian rejection than just opposition to the involvement of the West:

Another serious flaw in the “Deal of the Century” is that it involves additional Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. This is totally unacceptable to Palestinian Arab spokesmen because years ago, Arafat established the rule that “independence is a Palestinian decision,” meaning that the Palestinians are the only ones allowed to decide on their own destiny and future.

Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki also believes that that Trump administration doesn’t get it and that the offer of economic aid is not going to work:

The administration makes a big mistake. It shows lack of understanding of the psyche of the Palestinians when it starts with material benefits as a carrot, so that Palestinians can see what they would be missing if they reject the political part of the plan.

This is something that is likely to create the exact opposite reaction among the Palestinian public that the administration hopes it will elicit.

Not every analyst is as pessimistic.

Yoni ben Menachem, an Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, and a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center, thinks that Palestinian opposition to Abbas outweighs their opposition to the Bahrain Conference.

He has been commenting on his Twitter account, where he has expressed his belief that the Palestinian protests opposing the conference have been minimal:

Reporting on the protests have not been so clear-cut. According to The Times of Israel, hundreds protested on Monday. On Tuesday several thousand took to the streets in Nablus to protest against the conference, but around Ramallah there were only about 30 who showed up. Similarly, in Bethlehem, the protesters numbered only in the dozens.

Ben Menachem believes that the corruption and incompetence of Abbas have in fact undercut his ability to disrupt the conference and the steps that will follow. In an article about The Palestinian Failure in Bahrain, he notes that Abbas originally called for a general strike, then instead called for 3 days of demonstrations instead, perhaps recognizing how little influence he really has.

The failure of Mahmoud Abbas has become the street talk in the territories, and he may give the Trump government the impetus to begin unilaterally implementing parts of the economic plan discussed at the Bahrain conference. Mahmoud Abbas did not go out of his way to thwart the Bahrain conference and acted as if he understood that the game was over and that he could not stop the gathering. The PA has not formulated a national plan to deal with President Trump’s “bargain of the century” and is content to make do with denunciations and threats. [Translated from the Hebrew with Google Translate]

Whether this is an overly optimistic view remains to be seen, with various factors in play along with the established traditional Palestinian suspicions outlined above. And as Kehati points out, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will not make things easy.

Besides, there still remains the Arabs in Gaza, where Hamas — which is no less corrupt and incompetent than the PA — rules with a stronger hand.

I corresponded with someone who told me about a friend, a simple Palestinian Arab who doesn’t care about Bahrain. The PA and the Ramallah NGOs do not speak for him, and he doesn’t know what the Bahrain peace plan is. All he wants is a job and to bring home food for his family. These are the people, not the officials and those who join their protests in the streets, who will ultimately decide the fate of Trump’s deal.

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