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The Neocolonial Arrogance of The Kushner Plan

  • Rashid Khalidi
  • July, 2019
  • 194
  • Plan for Palestine


You cannot do without us, Lord Curzon condescendingly told the Indians over whom he ruled as British imperial viceroy more than a century ago. As the Trump family rubbed shoulders with the Windsors during their recent visit to London, there was no mistaking the difference between the real aristocracy and the trumped-up one. However, Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law and senior adviser responsible for crafting a Middle East peace plan, does have something in common with Lord Curzon and his colonial ilk.

In an interview with Axios shown on HBO on June 2, shortly before he arrived in the UK, Kushner cast doubt on the feasibility of independent Palestinian self-rule, declaring, “we’ll have to see,” adding, “the hope is that they over time can become capable of governing.” When asked if Palestinians should ever be able to enjoy freedom from “Israeli government or military interference,” he said only that this was “a high bar.” After suggesting that Kushner had consulted few if any Palestinians over the two years during which his peace plan was in the works, his interviewer asked if he understood why the Palestinians did not trust him. Kushner responded curtly, “I’m not here to be trusted.”

This was not the first time the Palestinians have been told they cannot govern themselves, that they are obliged to remain under foreign tutelage, and do not warrant being consulted about their national future. In 1919, another British imperialist, Lord Balfour, wrote-in a confidential memo to Curzon himself-“in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

The 1917 declaration associated with Balfour’s name, the basis of the British Mandate that led to the establishment of Israel, excluded the Palestinians-whom Balfour never mentioned by name-from the political and national rights it accorded to Jews. In the Axios interview, Kushner echoed Balfour’s words, repeatedly excluding Palestinians from political and national rights. Kushner and his colleagues, White House adviser Jason Greenblatt, and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, have consistently stressed that theirs is essentially an economic development initiative for the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, meant to operate under existing conditions of almost absolute Israeli control. So far, it has no disclosed political element, except the clear indication that Palestinian statehood and sovereignty are ruled out. All the Palestinians deserve, in Kushner’s view, is “the opportunity to live a better life… the opportunity to pay their mortgage,” under Israel rule.

Understandably, almost universally, Palestinians-along with many international commentators-see such an approach as simply paving the way to a normalization of never-ending occupation and creeping annexation under conditions of extreme legal discrimination between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs: a situation resembling nothing so much as apartheid South Africa.

Astonishingly, for someone who is supposedly a successful businessperson, Kushner is apparently ignorant of the economic consensus that describes a Palestinian economy as strangled primarily by the systematic interference of the Israeli military occupation that he advocates maintaining. The Trump administration has added to this economic stranglehold with its decisions to cut both direct US aid to the West Bank and Gaza and its support for UNRWA. Meanwhile, the US continues to support the Israeli blockade of Gaza, aided by Egypt, with disastrous effects on its 1.8 million people, including chronic power and water shortages, minimal sewage treatment, more than 50 percent unemployment, and a complete lack of freedom of movement.

These are only some of the ways that the administration of which Kushner is part has made its contempt for the Palestinians apparent. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it has unilaterally taken an issue Israel is treaty-bound to negotiate with the Palestinians off the table, and reversed seventy-plus years of US policy, while ignoring an international consensus that the city’s final status would be subject to a mutually acceptable peace agreement. The Trump administration has also explicitly avoided endorsing a two-state solution or any form of Palestinian sovereignty, positions Kushner reiterated in his interview. It closed the Palestinian mission in Washington, D.C., and cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority. It claimed that, contrary to the status of all other refuge...

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