Is Jared Kushner Right? Can Middle East Peace Be Bought?

News Image By Jonathan Tobin/ March 01, 2019
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The senior adviser to president Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, is on fundraising tour this week, but it's not to raise money for his father-in-law's reelection bid or to bolster his family's real estate empire. He's visiting the Middle East, with a special emphasis on wealthy Arab states, where he is soliciting investments that he hopes will be the seed money for a new era of peace.

Kushner has spent the better part of the last two years putting together a plan that will attempt to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Few people give the scheme -- whose details remain secret and which will probably be made public after Israel's April elections -- a chance of success.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has made it clear that it won't negotiate, and has refused to even speak with the Americans since Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem last May. There's no reason to expect that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is capable of saying yes to any deal, let alone one proposed by this administration.

The administration's assumption that Arab nations have the power to either persuade or bribe the Palestinians into giving up their century-old war on Zionism is equally mistaken. The Palestinians continue to view peace as a zero sum game in which any recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, is a defeat for their cause. If the Palestinians wanted to settle for a two-state solution, then they would have already accepted one of the previous Israeli offers.

But by embracing the notion of investment in the territories, as well as for Jordan and Egypt, Kushner is showing that he's not completely clueless. While it would be foolish to expect that this by itself would lead to peace, he's right to think that an effort to promote economic development is a prerequisite for hope for a future solution on any terms. That's a point Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made in the past.

Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Palestinians in the West Bank have suffered under the rule of the PA and its Fatah leadership. The same is true in the even worse Gaza Strip that has been ruled by the Islamists of Hamas since 2007. Both regimes are deeply corrupt, operating primarily to enrich themselves and protect their power. 

Far from encouraging economic development, both governments actively discourage any effort or enterprise that is not controlled by them. The failure of former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an American-educated technocrat with no ties to terror, illustrated just how difficult it is to encourage good government in a political culture where terror is still lauded.

That leaves the Palestinian people trapped in an environment where anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda aimed at perpetuating the conflict dominates the media and education systems. It also largely eliminates the process of business and wealth creation that would normally act as a break on the impulse to sacrifice the Palestinians' well-being for the sake of a useless war on Israel's existence.

That's why it makes sense for Kushner to seek to get the Gulf States and other Arab countries to put their money where their mouth is with respect to promoting peace. If a massive surge of investment were injected into the Palestinian areas, it couldn't help but promote a more realistic attitude towards Israel, and create opportunities that will make them less interested in continuing the fight. That investment would also help prop up Jordan and Egypt's tottering economies, and work to keep those two nations in the peace camp.

But the problem with Kushner's tour is that rather than seeking to create an environment in which peace might be made more likely, the effort to promote investment in the Palestinian economy is linked to the final-status negotiations, which have no chance of success.

In a rare public hint from Kushner about the goals of his plan, he told Sky News Arabia that "the goal of resolving these borders is really to eliminate the borders. If you can eliminate borders and have peace and less fear of terror, you could have freer flow of goods, freer flow of people and that would create a lot more opportunities."

While the free flow of goods and people sounds like a vision of peace, there's no reason to believe the Palestinians will give up their long war merely for the sake of prosperity. To the contrary, as the PA and Hamas have both made clear, any peace plan that is predicated on the Palestinians giving up their existential war against Israel for a better economy is going to be dead on arrival.

While Marxist theory may hold that people primarily act in their economic interests, the Palestinians have disproved that thesis time and again. Peace has always been in their interest, but that hasn't stopped them from continuing violence and resistance. 

And as much as many Arab nations want to shelve the conflict against Israel, which they now recognize is as counter-productive for their interests as it is futile, their rulers know that their people won't accept formal peace with Israel on these or perhaps any terms in the foreseeable future.

What Kushner has done is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Instead of tying a peace deal to investment, economic development is what will make peace theoretically possible, rather than merely a reward or a bribe to those you want to sign on the dotted line. The process of transforming the territories is not something that can be added on as a sweetener to a deal that the Palestinians are not ready to make.

While we wish Kushner luck in raising money for this investment, it's also a reminder that his efforts are doomed to failure as long as he is attempting to pretend that the Palestinians are more interested in prosperity than they are in waging war on Israel.

Originally published at - reposted with permission.

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