Bahrain Conference: If only the Palestinian leadership really wished for peace
The following article has been published in The Australian by Alex Ryvchin.
The economic component of the Trump administration’s intensely awaited plan to achieve an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been released.
Formally titled Peace to Prosperity, the proposal contains a three-pronged program of investment and reforms to transform the Palestinian economy and society through the injection of $US50 billion ($71.8bn) of foreign investment, opportunities for ordinary Palestinians in employment, education, even recreation, and the establishment of a transparent and competent Palestinian administration, without which businesses will have no confidence to invest and Palestinian institutions will continue to wither.
The plan assumes, correctly, that peace building and viable Palestinian self-government will require far more than glamorous signing ceremonies on manicured lawns. In offering unprecedented opportunities while maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on the bloated, inert Palestinian leadership, US President Donald Trump has overthrown the old discredited order of attempting to get the Palestinians to negotiate in good faith by extracting upfront concessions from Israel.
Yet the latest proposal, astute as it may be, is destined to fail, just like more conventional diplomatic efforts of previous administrations. This is because the Trump plan, like all others, is founded on an irredeemable fallacy: that the Palestinian leadership wants to end the conflict.
Long before the Trump plan was tabled or its contents were revealed, it was predictably rejected out of hand by the Palestinian leadership. Any plan that promises to “empower the Palestinian people” and “improve the public sector’s ability to serve its people” is a threat to the status quo by which the leaders of the Palestinian movement have attained personal status and wealth while shedding all accountability to the people they claim to serve.
Saeb Erekat, the perennial “chief negotiator” for the Palestinians, announced a boycott of the regional conference in Bahrain at which the plan is being presented. Erekat’s three-decade career as a negotiator has resulted in three rejections of a two-state solution, which would have delivered the Palestinians statehood over territory equivalent in size to 100 per cent of the area of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in east Jerusalem, an end to the blockade of Gaza and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
The equally longstanding and self-serving Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, who lauded Saddam Hussein for “standing up for Arab rights, Arab dignity, Arab pride” following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and notoriously opposed the historic Oslo Accords because they recognised Israel, called the Bahrain conference “delusional, irresponsible” and “an insult to our intelligence”.
Ashrawi has a Sydney Peace Prize to her name and the adoration of Bob Carr and parts of the global left, but not a single, tangible legislative or diplomatic achievement in three decades of public life.
The petulant refusal of the Palestinian leadership to even consider a proposal intended to offer ordinary Palestinians an alternative to war, conflict and victimhood is a betrayal and a crime but is impeccably consistent with earlier Palestinian responses to international efforts aimed at giving them statehood.
When in 1937 the British first proposed resolving competing Jewish and Arab claims to the land through partition and the creation of a first-ever independent Arab Palestinian state, alongside a Jewish state on just 4 per cent of the British Mandate territory, the reaction of the Palestinian leadership was an outright “no”, backed by widespread violence and calls for the “liberation of the country and establishment of an Arab government”.
When the UN held consultations throughout the country in 1947, again seeking to mediate peacefully rival claims to the land, the Arab leaders boycotted the proceedings.
Periodically, some Palestinian leaders have admitted that their strategy of boycott backed by violence has been utterly ruinous. Palestinian jurist Henry Cattan admitted the 1947 boycott had been “unfortunate”.
Palestinian unionist Majdi Shella admitted the Palestinians “have a long tradition of boycotting everything. Sometimes boycotting is the easier road. If you want to do nothing, boycott.”
Yet the Palestinians have refined their instinct for rejection and political self-immolation to such an extent that they appear to know no other path.
This is why Palestinian rioters destroyed greenhouses left to them by the Israelis following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. This is why last year Palestinians in Gaza set fire to the Kerem Shalom border crossing through which medicine, aid and consumer products intended for the Palestinians are transferred.
Far from holding Palestinian leaders accountable for their betrayal of their own people, instead supporters of the Palestinian cause in the West uncritically have backed the latest Palestinian boycott, thereby making themselves complicit in the entrenched culture of violence, corruption and bigotry of the Palestinian leadership.
After all, just as Palestinian leaders have been enriched by their own obstructionism, one wonders what anti-Israel activists would do with themselves if the Palestinians ever chose peace and prosperity over perpetual conflict.
Perhaps the most telling statement on the Trump proposal came from a senior Saudi diplomat who called the Palestinians “irresponsible” for refusing even to entertain a proposal intended to provide immense benefits for their own people.
“History and Allah have brought a real opportunity,” the diplomat said. “The blood conflict had lasted too long. The Saudis and all Gulf states plus Egypt and Jordan realise that the age of war with Israel is over.”
It took the Arab nations three failed invasions of Israel and decades of economic warfare and fruitless diplomatic skirmishes finally to recognise that the Jewish state is neither temporary nor a threat to their interests. One wonders how many more decades of boycott and bloodshed will be needed before Palestinian leaders finally chart a new and constructive course.
Alex Ryvchin is co-Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the author of The Anti-Israel Agenda – Inside the Political War on the Jewish State (Gefen Publishing House, 2017).