OPN_190515 Jared Kushner-1557923792012
President Donald Trump's Senior Adviser, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, departs the Capitol after a meeting with Senate Republicans, in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Here’s one for the books — not to mention for fans of Carlo Collodi’s timeless 1883 children’s novel, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio': The Palestinians have got more aid than any group of people in history’.

This claim was proffered by Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser and co-architect of the soon-to-be revealed “deal of the century”, in a speech he delivered at the Soref Symposium dinner on May 2, hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “There is a lot of impatience with the Palestinian issue”, said Kushner. “People have been funding this thing for a long time. They’ve gotten more aid than any group of people in history, and what we have to show for it is really not much at this point, unfortunately.”

When such a wild claim is made by such a high official in the administration, it attracts the attention of someone like the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, whose column, The Fact Checker, is highly respected an widely quoted. Thus, while we scratched our heads pondering Kushner’s fantastical notion, that Palestinians were the ungrateful recipients of largesse that exceeded that extended any other people in history, Kessler went to work. His conclusion? The claim is bogus. Kushner’s speechwriters, by resorting to what is satirically known as “creative accounting” — the exploitation of loopholes in the world of finance that enables you to unscrupulously present misleading figures as credible ones — had cooked the books.

One case in point: Much of the US “development aid” (and keep an eye on the word ‘development’ here) for the West Bank and Gaza actually went to training, arming and financing Palestinian security forces, whose focus, as Kessler wrote, was to “enhance security for Israel rather than bolster the economy of the Palestinian areas”. But, hey, it was given to the Palestinians, so tabulate it as aid!

Only in a surrealistic realm, such as that inhabited by Alice in her wonderland, could anyone imagine that Palestinians would have received more aid than Israel had done. According to the State Department’s foreign aid data base, for example, US aid to Israel totalled a staggering $228 billion (Dh838.58 billion) between 1951 an 2017 — and this is a constant rather than an inflation-adjusted figure, which would raise its purchasing power today. Let’s cherry-pick here: In 1974, for example, the amount exceeded $10 billion while in 1979 it reached $13 billion. (And that’s aid just from the US, so forget the “reparation” payments Israel has been receiving from Germany since the 1950s) “These figures were so unexpectedly high”, wrote Kessler, “that we [he an his research assistants] confirmed them with the State Department to make sure the calculations were correct”.

Now if you are convinced, as Jared Kushner appears to be, that aid to Palestinians topped all this, well, you and I live on two different planets.

A big power should be bound not just by strategic interests but by ethically-based, well-defined rules when verbalising its perception of facts in international affairs. That is so because, given its status, the example it sets in these relations can greatly influence the very tenor of the global dialogue of cultures.

Even-handed media

If the United States, for its own reasons, strategic or otherwise, feels the need to short-change the Palestinians, denying them their national — indeed, human — right to be a free, independent people in their own ancestral homeland, by shifting from its putative role as an even-handed mediator to an unbashful Israel advocate, then so be it. But it has an obligation, again given its status, to be forthright. Resorting bald-faced fabrications in order to belittle Palestinians, to say that despite the enormous aid the US had extended them all these years — aid unprecedented in history — what Americans “have to show for it is really not much”, as Kushner put it in his speech, should be beneath it.

Glenn Kessler gives Pinocchio “prizes”, on a scale of one to three, to those officials caught subverting the public debate by resorting to mendacities, as a salute to Collidi’s fictional character, the wooden puppet in the novel, noted for his incessant tendency to lie, which in turn caused his nose to grow.

The Washington Post fact checker concluded his column last Sunday thus: “In his remarks, Kushner presented an unbalanced view of history. The Palestinians have certainly been the beneficiary of international largesse for many years. But to claim they have received more aid than any group in history ignores the fact that Israel has received far more, year after year, just from the United States. He receives three Pinocchios”.

Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.