Israel-Palestine and the Bahrain conference – Jared in wonderland

by Peter Rodgers

Whatever happens with Donald Trump’s presidency, the future of his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is assured. A career as writer of romantic fiction is his for the asking.

Finally, there was something in writing, something to talk about. The first part of the long-awaited US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revealed by Kushner for the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain on 25-26 June.  Never mind that the principals to the conflict were not officially present for the birthing of the “New Vision for the Palestinian People and the Broader Middle East”. Never mind that the glossy brochure was vacuous rather than visionary. Never mind that it was the bribe, not the deal, of the century.

In the world of Trump it’s all about the dream. Imagine a bustling tourist centre in Gaza and the West Bank, Kushner declared. “Imagine people and goods flowing securely throughout the region as people become more prosperous.” Imagine indeed. And how will such a vision splendid be realised? Through buzz phrases and mythical foreign investment of US$50 billion to “unleash” the economic potential of the Palestinians, to “empower” them to “realise their ambitions,” and to “enhance” Palestinian governance. Palestinian GDP would double, a million new jobs would be created.

Fine words flowed about education and training, health, employment, infrastructure, transportation, trade, communication, legal and regulatory frameworks, quality of life, and so on and so forth. A US$5 billion superhighway would link the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank and Gaza, run by its nemesis, Hamas. A new Singapore, a new Dubai, a new Sweden would rise from the congested alleyways of Gaza and the abraded hills of the West Bank.

Worthy perhaps, but utterly hallucinogenic. It ignores Israel’s asphyxiating hold over Palestinian life, commerce and communication. The word occupation has vanished from the lexicon. The vision proclaims the need for the Palestinians to develop 4G and 5G technology. There is no mention of the role that Israel plays in impeding this. That Israel only lifted a ban on 3G wireless technology for Palestinian mobile services in 2018. In the words of one Israeli commentator, “It’s as if the plan was designed for a Palestinian economy that exists in an imaginary universe or on the moon, without a realistic discussion of how many aspects of the Palestinian economy are linked to Israel”.

The plan mentions governance but steers well clear of the issue that lies at the very heart of this—and the conflict that has split blood and treasure for the past seventy-plus years—Palestinian statehood. Perhaps that will leap out of the cake in part two of the Kushner “vision”. But the Palestinians have already seen the plan for what it is. A grand bribe to persuade them to decouple economic well-being and political aspiration. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, declared the plan dead on arrival. Engaging with it, he said, was tantamount to a Palestinian declaration of surrender. To which, Israel’s ambassador to the UN responded encouragingly, “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?”

With the Bahrain conference focused on declaration rather than detail, Kushner hailed it as a “tremendous success.” He reportedly told a Saudi newspaper that his “very detailed and reasonable plan was well received by attendees” from all over the world.

Others, within and beyond the region, had a very different take. An Israeli journalist reported criticism of the plan as “amateurish hodgepodge” which promised “projects that cannot be implemented, funded by money that does not exist and contingent on a peace deal that will never happen”. The economic bonanza was not a confidence building measure but a “con job and insult rolled into one”. It dangled dollars in front of Palestinian noses, implying they could be bought, and set up a chain of events which will lead to the Palestinians being blamed for the plan’s “inevitable failure”.

A former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Dan Kurtzer, now Professor of Middle East Studies at Princeton University, tweeted, “I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.”

Kushner will probably lose little sleep over this. Dismissing Palestinian criticism of the US approach, he noted that the Palestinian Authority did not “have a great track record of getting a deal done. I’ll keep doing it the way we want to do it”. That “way”, it seems, is to redefine the Palestinian “problem” as largely, if not wholly, an economic one. Forget about contested history, forget about contested borders, contested aspirations. Throw enough money at the Palestinians and they’ll forget who they are. They’ll be so busy basking on the beach in Gaza or strolling through its shopping malls that politics will be a thing of the past. Dream on Jared.

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 4 July

Image: Pixabay

What does MBS stand for?

The world loves acronyms – abbreviations from the initial letter or sometimes syllables in phrase or a word. How much easier to text three letters than spell out three words? But will the reader know what MBS stands for? Melbourne Business School, Mind Body Spirit? It depends on the context, of course.

In this case, it is neither. MBS is the nickname of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman. I prefer MbS, following the use of upper and lower case in the spelt-out name (‘bin’ meaning ‘son of’) but the Style Manual says  initialisms, which are not pronounced as a word as are acronyms (for example, OPEC*), should be all capitals. That said, I don’t think they had Arabic names in mind when they made this ruling.

So what does The Crown Prince stand for? To read more on this go to Peter Rodgers’ blog post Mohammad bin Salman – Saudi Arabia’s reformer or wrecker? in Pearls and Irritations.

*Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (note the ‘z’ in organisation: in proper nouns following the preferred spelling of the entity or person)

Terrorism and words: a reality-check on Isis

 

injuries-from-furniture-tip-over-accidentsIf truth is the first casualty of war, common sense is the first victim of terrorism.

There are no better examples than the hyper-ventilated assertions which followed the recent bombings in Brussels. France’s President Hollande declared that ‘all of Europe has been hit’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned that his country faced ‘a very real threat’. Here, Malcolm Turnbull ticked off the Europeans for their sloppy security. Prominent journalist Greg Sheridan, channelling Donald Trump’s absurdity that ‘Belgium and France are literally disintegrating’, wrote that the attacks represented a ‘damn [sic] burst’ which left the ‘structures of the world … trembling’.

If we didn’t know better we might easily mistake messrs Hollande, Cameron, Turnbull and Sheridan and regrettably many others as Isis recruiting agents. Their comments are a dream for the organisation’s propagandists. Worse, they paint a picture of the threat from Isis that is not borne out by the reality.

Isis terror threatens individual safety. Does it really threaten the security of European or Western states more broadly? There is a vital difference between the two ‘s’ words. Isis is a truly appalling outfit which commits heinous deeds. It has around 30,000 fighters and controls large tracts in Iraq and Syria. But without a navy, without an air force, how exactly does that translate into threat potent enough to make ‘the world’ tremble?

Fortunately, there is still wise counsel to be had. President Obama’s 2016 State-of-the-Union address should be required reading for all those prone to excitability:

… over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.

Some of the best commentary on Brussels came from The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins. The political and media over-reaction, he wrote, ‘converted a squalid psychopathological act into a warrior-evoking, population-terrifying, policy-changing event’. It also illuminated an appalling double-standard given that the ‘atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus’.

For Americans, and quite possibly many others in the ‘trembling’ West, household furniture poses at least as great a danger as terrorism. Micah Zenko  from the reputable Council on Foreign Relations has written that in the decade after 9/11 an average of 29 Americans were killed each year in terrorist attacks. Figures compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that about the same number were crushed to death each year by unstable television sets and furniture.

Unwelcome news for the hyper-ventilators; important perspective for everyone else.