Jared Kushner has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East! We don’t know what’s in it yet, because that’s a secret. We do know that it includes an “economic aspect” and that he has not actually talked to any representatives of the Palestinian Authority. We have also heard that “It is not expected to mention a two-state solution….but explains how Palestinian self-determination will manifest itself.” Now, you might think it odd to have a “peace plan” that doesn’t directly address the fundamental issue at heart of the conflict; that is to say, the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and their lack of self-rule. But this is line with the conventional wisdom. Let’s look at things from the Israeli perspective for a moment. The Kushner Plan might be Top Secret, but we do know the preconditions being floated from Netanyahu and Likud. We know that just a year ago the current Israeli government moved to solidify Israeli rule over the settlements, making any kind of withdrawal ever less likely. Israel has argued that it must retain either direct control or a “security presence” in the Jordan Valley, meaning that any hypothetical Palestinian State would not control either it’s main source of water or any of it’s foreign borders. East Jerusalem has been unilaterally annexed by Israel, and the Israeli government is also demanding that any future Palestine must be fully demilitarized. This doesn’t even address the question of the millions of Palestinian refugees, the descendants of people expelled from their homeland in 1948, who Israel has categorically refused to accept have a right to return. There is of yet no indications that Jared Kushner has any plans to challenge Israeli positions on any of these issues.
The point of all this is not to say that Jared Kushner’s “Peace Deal” would be unfairly skewed towards Israeli interests (though it would be), the point is that it is a Peace Deal that would not bring about peace. It would not solve a single one of the actual issues causing violence in the West Bank and Gaza. And while it is tempting to blame this on Kushner’s ignorance of international affairs or the Trump Admnistration’s incompetence, this disconnect between Peace and peace has increasingly become a staple of most mainstream American discourse on Israel and Palestine.
We saw this expressed in the idea that moving the U.S Embassy to Jerusalem is a good idea because it sends a message to the Palestinians that Jerusalem will be off the table in any negotiations and will thus teach them a lesson about what they can “reasonably expect”. Under this theory, once Palestinians have been taught that most of their demands are unobtainable, they’ll concede and agree to whatever demands we make. I can imagine scenarios in which this does make it more likely that a peace agreement is signed between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, though I’m skeptical. That said, even if you manage to convince Abbas to sign off on the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, it’s not going to actually improve the situation on the ground. Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem are kept in limbo by Israel—they have conditional residency status that can be revoked at any time, and while they are technically eligible for citizenship, in practice this is nearly impossible to achieve. Israel wants to keep the “Holy and Undivided City of Jerusalem” but it doesn’t want to deal with the “demographic threat” posed by the actual people of the city. By placing our imprimatur on the status quo, the United States government has attempted to remove the question of Jerusalem from any peace talks. We may well succeed in that. But the day after the Agreement is signed, Jerusalem will still be an apartheid city, and nobody seems to be worried about where that will lead.
Nothing, however, better exemplifies this approach than last year’s Mohammed bin Salman’s Triumphal Tour of America last year. The spectacle of U.S media and political elites falling over themselves to fawn over the Crown Prince was, well, grotesque, but also fascinating in the glimpse it gave into the way the obsession with Israel has warped people’s views. When Salman said he would support the Two State Solution, it was hailed as a major breakthrough in Jewish-Muslim relations, never mind that the Two State Solution is effectively impossible barring major concessions regarding settlements from Israel. It’s also not particularly shocking; as pro-Israel partisans have always loved to point out, the Arab elite has never particularly cared about the plight of the Palestinians, and there’s been increasingly open cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran over the last few years. Which is really the crux of the matter.
Because so many people in this country view the entirety of the Middle East through an Israeli lens, there’s a tendency now to see Saudi Arabia as “good” because it’s opposed to Iranian influence. This has proven very helpful for bin Salman and the Sauds, who have been able to enlist American aid in fighting an endless series of proxy wars to establish religious/political dominance in the Middle East. I would submit that America does not have a vested interest in helping the Sunnis “beat” the Shia, but many would disagree. And in the cold calculus of realpolitik, one can even make a case that we should support Saudi Arabia because at least they’re ostensibly our ally. What is insane, however, is the degree to which people are allowing wishful thinking to set policy.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, said of bin Salman last year that “In a region long dominated by hateful despots, MbS envisions a very diff future for Muslims, Jews, Christians & all in MidEast”. Leaving aside that bin Salman’s promises of religious and political reform at home have been tenuous in the extreme, the utopian picture of the Middle East being painted by Saudi apologists is a ridiculous one, in which Israel coexists happily with a network of Sunni Arab autocracies, ruled by benevolent and Western-educated dictators and Kings. Leaving aside whether this would be desirable, it will also simply not work. The assumption here seems to be that Saudi Arabia will use it’s immense wealth and power to pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting whatever deal is offered. From what few details have leaked about the Kushner Plan, this seems to be a pivotal part of it, and certainly, Saudi Arabian support could be very helpful in theory. But there is no indications that the terms being offered would be remotely acceptable.
When the Palestinians are informed that the Special Autonomous Zone of Ramallah, Jenin, and Nablus now constitutes a Palestinian State, and don’t worry, the King of Saudi Arabia supports it, they are not going to give up their aspirations for self-determination. Back in 2017, bin Salman supposedly proposed a Palestinian state confined to the Gaza Strip, with the West Bank and East Jursalem remaining under Israeli occupation for the foreseeable future. To state the obvious, this would not actually constitute a real “peace plan” under any sane definition. But Jared Kushner met with the Crown Prince shortly before he made his proposal, and it seems unlikely there is no connection. The fact that the leadership of one of the world’s most brutally absolute theocracies sees Israel as a natural ally who should be courted should tell Israel’s American defenders far more about Israel than it does about bin Salman.
In the last few years, the United States has slashed aid to Palestinian refugees and shut down our diplomatic contacts to the Palestinian Authority in both Washington and Jerusalem. Jared Kushner is a longtime settlement activist who is currently crafting a plan to bring peace to Israel and Palestine without actually talking to any Palestinians. There is no reason to think that any “deal” that he creates will violate any of the parameters laid down by Netanyahu and the Israeli/American Right. And what those parameters amount to is a ratification of apartheid and the de jure creation of bantustans. If Israel retains control of the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, and the major settlement blocs, than it is is impossible for any contiguous Palestinian state to be created. At best you would have a series of autonomous districts, hemmed in by walls and checkpoints and subject to security control by Israel. You may notice that this is essentially just a description of the status quo. I have my doubts that any agreement penned by Kushner would ever be ratified, even with Saudi Arabian influence backing in. But if it did, would it matter? Ever since Oslo we’ve been conditioned to chase the mirage of “The Deal”, forgetting that agreements are just paper and governments are just convenient fictions. A peace agreement that just tries to maintain the status quo would be unethical and immoral but it also would not bring about peace. Palestinians would still be evicted from their homes. Settlers would still terrorize their neighbors. Israelis would still die in terrorist attacks. And the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the West Bank in the name of demographic security would grind on, with all the ancillary violence and destruction that that entails.
Now, obviously, a lot of right-wingers know this. Their plan is for Israel to be an apartheid state and they’d like a “peace agreement” as a fig leaf. But bin Salman and these one-sided peace deals have been embraced by many centrists and liberals as well. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising. In the US, we tend to see things from such an Israeli-centric point of view that I genuinely don’t think we understand how far from reality these “negotiations” have drifted. The bipartisan position of both major parties in America is that the indefinite military occupation must be supported without question. Efforts at nonviolent opposition to Israel have been met with federal and state laws. To most Americans with political power, Palestinians don’t really exist. Many of the people who support the peace process most strongly today are Liberal Zionists who I think sincerely want to see an end to the violence.
But they’re delusional if they think it can come about through unilaterally forcing one side to surrender.