The Trump administration rolled out the economic details of its peace plan on Sunday ahead of its "Peace To Prosperity" Workshop which opens in Bahrain this week. The problem is that the intended beneficiaries, the Palestinians, are having a meltdown.
"The Trump team is trying to restrict the Palestinian economy with the chains of occupation," the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates declared Sunday, calling the plan "the obnoxious Trump Declaration."
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The PA had already decided to reject it before they knew what was in it. "The deal of the century, or the deal of disgrace, will go to hell," PA president Mahmoud Abbas said on May 27 at a ceremony in Ramallah. "The economic project they are working on for next month will also go to hell."
It has been fighting to wreck the Bahrain conference since it was announced (the fact that it’s now being called a "workshop" indicates the PA has enjoyed some success). And it has announced its rejection of any projects coming out of the conference, even if they are "painted in Arabic," that is to say, initiatives funded by the Gulf States, not America.
Labeling the conference "a Holocaust against the Palestinian people," Abbas’s Fatah movement has urged violence against Israel on the days it is to take place. Fatah deputy chairman Mahmoud Al-Alous, cited as possible heir to Abbas, (now in the 14th year of his 4-year term) describes the called-for violence as "national activities of rage."
The Palestinians have been on an extended tantrum since President Donald Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Trump exasperated them further with a series of unprecedented moves, including cutting off funding to UNRWA (which perpetuates refugee status from generation to generation), shuttering the PLO’s Washington mission, and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan.
These actions left the PA spluttering. Abbas called the U.S. ambassador to Israel an "offensive human being," and PA senior negotiator Saeb Erekat told then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to "shut up." More substantively the PA declared a boycott of the Trump administration in December 2017.
Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PA has enjoyed a politically enviable position. Those agreements signed between Israel and the PLO proved self-defeating for Israel, confirming the belief in the eyes of the world that Palestinian actions, no matter how destructive—indeed self-destructive—were a justified reaction to the supposed "root cause" of the conflict: Israel’s "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza.
For 26 years, until the Trump administration came along, that default position remained unchallenged, even when Israel unilaterally retreated from Gaza and the PA rejected Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to give up virtually all the West Bank, continuing to demand "the right of return," i.e., the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
Now that it has been challenged in ways it had never foreseen, the PA is becoming more self-destructive than ever, even though the clock is running out on a looming economic disaster. In February, Abbas spurned all taxes collected on the PA’s behalf by Israel after Netanyahu announced he would withhold an amount equivalent to that which the PA pays to terrorists and their families. (Israel collects about $2.5 billion for the PA, half of its annual tax revenues.) Its self-inflicted economic crisis has forced it to cut the salaries of 160,000 of its employees by half, 65,000 of them part of its security apparatus.
Were the PA to embrace Bahrain, its economic problems would be solved in a flash. The Trump plan would create a $50 billion fund ($27.5 billion of which would be earmarked for projects in the West Bank and Gaza). It includes a suite of 179 business and infrastructure projects with investments in health care, power, water, agriculture, education, and tourism. One of the more ambitious proposals is a $5 billion highway and rail corridor linking the West Bank with the Gaza Strip.
"This is going to be the opportunity of the century if they have the courage to pursue it," Kushner told Reuters.
The PA’s refusal to deal with its economic problems is just one more instance of the hardly concealed fact that it cares not a whit for the welfare of its people. They are mere pawns in its political game. "You call them a government? I call them mafia," Ali, a 22-year-old Arab resident of Hebron, recently told Middle East Eye, a news site covering the region.
Virtually no one in Israel expects the deal of the century to come to fruition. Regarding Secretary of State Pompeo’s leaked comment to a group of Jewish leaders in May that "one might argue" Trump’s proposed deal is "unexecutable," columnist Ruthie Blum responded, "No kidding." But she, along with other Israeli commentators, finds the plan could nonetheless have far-reaching positive implications for Israel.
In Israel Hayom, Tel Aviv University professor Eyal Zisser outlines some of those potentially happy results. For the first time, Arab states aren’t listening to the Palestinians. In the past, Zisser observes, "the Palestinians simply had to nod in a certain direction for the Arab world to heed their desires and whims and dutifully follow the dictates of the PLO and its leaders." This time the PA pressured other Arab states in vain. "The decision by Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Gulf States to attend the US-led economic summit in Bahrain, therefore, is a resounding slap in the face of the Palestinian Authority and expresses an utter lack of faith in its path and leadership," he writes.
Kushner noted the change, too. "It is a small victory that they are all showing up to listen and partake," Kushner said. "In the old days, the Palestinian leaders would have spoken and nobody would have disobeyed."
The plan also means that the starting point of future negotiations will no longer be massive Israeli concessions that previous administrations, from Clinton to Obama, were ready to pressure Israel to give the PA. Trump’s proposal, Zisser writes, will not demand a Palestinian state or Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and will look to settle the Arab refugees in the countries where they currently live. This gives Israel a much better bargaining position in the future, despite the almost inevitable demise of the current plan.
Finally, the Trump plan has the virtue of exposing the intransigence of the supposedly "moderate" PA leadership. Says Nikki Haley: "At this point it is hard to see an opportunity in which Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is even going to come to the table, and I think that … it shows Abbas’s true colors."