Kushner, Greenblatt, Friedman and the absent Palestinian president

Three of President Trump’s envoys – Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman – spent this past weekend in Israel. They worked on Friday and marked the end of the Sabbath in a West Bank settlement. Afterwards, they returned for a second meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The subject: Trump’s so-called deal of the century. Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt began their journey in Saudi Arabia, continuing to Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. They didn’t go to Ramallah, where they had been declared personae non gratae. The perplexing thing is that although Kushner and Greenblatt were sent to discuss a plan that concerns the Palestinians, they view Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as an absentee landlord. Just as Syria’s fate is being decided by America, Russia, Turkey, and Iran without Syria’s participation, the current deal is being forged between the Arab states and Israel without Palestinian engagement. Moreover, the current round of talks takes place against the background of the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem and the murder of more than 100 Gazans by IDF snipers. This did not prevent Trump’s senior advisors from being received with great pomp in the courts of Arab kings and dictators.

The heads of the “moderate” Arab states where Kushner and Greenblatt visited expressed few reservations about the one-sided American move of the embassy to Jerusalem, an act that emptied any would-be negotiations of all content. They adopted Trump’s position as expressed in his first official press conference with Netanyahu at the White House: “I am looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.” The Arab states’ position was cunning in its ambiguity: “We will accept what will be agreed upon by the Palestinians.” In other words, we Arab rulers will not oppose the deal of the century, but you, Americans, will have to bring the horse to the water, even if it will take some whippings.

Saudi Arabia is prepared to sacrifice the Palestinian ‘pawn’ in order to save the Saudi ‘queen’ from the Iranian threat, just as Hamas is prepared to sacrifice the West Bank in order to maintain its rule in Gaza. But the separation between the PA and Hamas, between the West Bank and Gaza, gives the Americans wiggle-room. They exploit the humanitarian situation in Gaza to advance Trump’s ‘ultimate deal,’ which returns us to the pre-Oslo era and the ‘Gaza first’plan. Abbas has more than a little responsibility for the present crisis. He stopped paying salaries to unemployed PA officials in Gaza and cut back severely on electricity and health services. This provides an opening for Israel, Egypt, and the Americans to pursue a final separation between the West Bank and Gaza. But Abbas is confident that it will be impossible to rehabilitate Gaza without his involvement and that the deteriorating situation will force Israel into another round of bloodshed with Hamas. For its part, Israel is trying to delay the next war by reducing sniper fire. It is also floating the idea of building a pier in Cyprus for the processing of goods heading to and from Gaza (they currently go through Israel), along with a plan for a solar power plant near the Erez checkpoint. In effect, it is trying to persuade Hamas to accept a “quiet-for-quiet” formula, thereby thwarting Abbas’s desperate attempt to perpetuate the economic siege on Gaza and force Netanyahu to negotiate.

Kushner’s rare interview with the Palestinian Jerusalem daily Al-Quds (June 24, 2018) was meant to inform Abbas (and anyone else) that the US is “not counting on him” and would launch its peace plan with or without him. In fact, Kushner appealed to the Palestinians over Abbas’s head and questioned his willingness to end the Israeli–Palestinian conflict: “To make a deal, both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.” Kushner did not even mention a Palestinian state or Israeli settlements, referred instead to economic peace. The interview looks toward the day when the ailing 82-year-old Abbas leaves the stage, along with his 25-year-old mantra of “an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.” Kushner wants this formula to go away. He urges the Palestinians to change the diskette and see reality through an ‘economic’ rather than a ‘political’ prism.

For four years, Netanyahu has worked ceaselessly to neutralize the land-for-peace idea by stubbornly declining to discuss the fundamentals of the conflict with Abbas. He crossed swords with, and survived pressure from, Obama and Kerry. The latter pretended to know what was good for Israel, just as Kushner pretends to know what’s best for the Palestinians. Nonetheless, as soon as Obama finished his term and Trump came to power, things changed. Trump and Netanyahu are one, and what Netanyahu asks, Trump executes with great enthusiasm. Netanyahu is marking 12 years of continuous rule and has formed the most extreme government Israel has ever known. Apparently, it’s easier to ignore Abbas than the Palestinians as a people. Even when the Palestinian presidentmakes an exit, the Palestinian people will remain stuck in Israel’s throat. The solution, according to Netanyahu, is undoubtedly the ‘deal of the century,’ which seems to have the support of Arab allies from the Sunni axis.  Nevertheless, without a united Palestinian leadership to implement it, it will remain a draft on paper.

The Kushner-Greenblatt duo is not satisfied with the enlisting support of the Sunni axis, but seeks to create a new Palestinian leadership that would shake off the ‘historic’ approach and accept economic peace. However, the US faces obstacles. Many candidates are competing to inherit Abbas’ position. Muhammad Dahlan, from the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza, is supported by the Emirates and Egypt but shunned in the West Bank. His rival from Hebron, Jibril Rajoub, has support in the West Bank but is unwelcome in Egypt. There is also Mahmoud al-Aloul, who returned from exile in Tunisia with Arafat. And apart from these legionnaires, who are fed up with Fatah infighting and Israeli jails, there is Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister and World Bank official, who enjoys the trust of the Americans but has little support on the ground.

Because of the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas and the absence of a political horizon, democratic elections for the Palestinian Authority will not take place. The competition between heads of the various organizations, while the Gulf States meddle in choosing Abbas’s successor, promises an uncertain period in which the chaos in Gaza could spill over to the West Bank. Any candidate who consents to the Trumpian-Israeli ‘deal of the century’ will receive the dubious titles of National Traitor and Collaborator. The storm that Trump is currently brewing in the Middle East is a direct continuation of the havoc he is producing in his own country and the world as a whole: trade wars with Europe and China; draconian laws against immigrants; denial of climate change; the embracing of tyrants like Putin and Kim Jong-Un; and the backing of racists in Europe. Few will escape the Trump tornado.

Netanyahu can take encouragement from the Sunni axis, Europe’s swelling nationalism, and Trump’s crazy tweets, especially his attacks on the legal authorities and the press, but when all is said and done, Bibi finds himself immersed in the burgeoning chaos of Gaza and the West Bank. It is a chaos of his own making, and he need blame no one else. Twelve years of Likud rule have buried the Palestinian State. On its ruins is arising the New Israeli Apartheid State.

* Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman

About Yacov Ben Efrat