Who, you ask, has the energy left to bemoan the calamities that have befallen Palestinians since President Trump occupied the White House well over two years ago? Their struggle for national independence, you will add, is a lost cause. Everything is rigged against it, everything points to its looming demise. Right?
Not so fast, Palestinians — to whom surviving calamities are by now ingrained in their habits of spirits — will, in response, recommend for your perusal the pithy cable sent from London in 1895 by Mark Twain to the press corps in the US, after his obituary had been mistakenly published there. “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” the celebrated humourist quipped in his missive. Still, predictions of gloom and doom about that struggle are not altogether out of left-field, given the assault (no other word will do here) mounted on it by the current administration in Washington.
Over the last five decades or so, every American administration arrived in office bearing its own policy vision for peace in the Middle East, aimed at achieving an end to belligerence between Jews and Arabs, most notably between Israelis and Palestinians, the mainstay behind that belligerence, beginning with the Rogers Peace Plan in December 1969, devised by William Rogers, who served as Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, and ending with that in July 2013 of John Kerry, Secretary of State under Barack Obama. Eight presidents have occupied the White House since Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, but none arrived bearing a more invidious vision than the one conceived by the current president.
The vision? Strip Palestinians of their national rights, reduce their long struggle for independence to a mere humanitarian crisis that needs economic, not political solutions, and then compel them to accept your diktats. Should they exhibit recalcitrance, well then the screws will be tightened. Jerusalem? UNRWA? Aid cut off to schools, hospitals, infrastructure? Name it. The message effectively will be this: Eat humble pie and take on the chin — or else.
Look, this is not just a reversal of traditional American policies but a subversion of traditional American values, for what Palestinians yearn for today, and have struggled over the last century to achieve, taps into the universal aspirations that America’s own Founding Fathers have enshrined in the Constitution — human dignity and political liberty, both inalienable rights that people everywhere are endowed with by their Creator.
No people will — no people should — accept incursions on, let alone denial of these rights in return for mere “economic prosperity”, which the US, the sponsor of the economic conference in Bahrain, scheduled for June 25-26, envisions as the terminus of these rights. (The au courant term is “economic peace”.) Thus, don’t blame ordinary, everyday Palestinian folks for being exceedingly browned off at the whole enterprise.
That Palestinians have been driven to feel so dismissive of it shouldn’t come as a surprise, certainly not to, well, ordinary, everyday American folks, who, since junior high, had touched base with the spirit inherent in Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, “Those who would give up liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Were this 18th century polymath, who was one of the Founding Fathers, around today, he would immediately recognise “economic peace” — pitched by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, as the linchpin, not an adjunct of the “deal of the century”) as being that “safety” that he had warned against in his maxim.
Writing in The Atlantic on June 3, where she slammed the whole effort to dragoon Palestinians into signing on the dotted line, Kori Schake, Deputy Director General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who has held high positions in the US Defence and State Departments, said: “Expecting people to forgo their aspiration for human dignity and political representation is a message contrary to American values, and might be contrary to American foreign policy.”
Don’t condemn Kushner, who is not a diplomat, let alone a skilled one, for not knowing that his deal carries within it the germ of its own failure — even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, resorting to diplomatic babble, called it “unexecutable”. But, wait, here’s what else was said about them, and feel free here to gasp at the dopiness of it all. “When I speak to Palestinian people, what they want is they want the opportunity to live a better life,” Kushner said. “They want the opportunity to pay their mortgage.”
Gosh, Jared, what about the phone bills? Will economic peace cover that too?
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.