There has been so much coverage of the absolute fiasco of a “peace and prosperity” conference in Bahrain that I feared there was nothing new to say about it. But Steve Mnuchin, bless his soul. saved the day for me. As a Wall Street pitchman, he knows how to flog a stock or a company and get clients to buy. But in this case, he was selling steaming hot bullshit as the NY Times characterized his comments:
Investors expressed such excitement about someday pouring money into projects on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “it’s going to be like a hot I.P.O.”
This is, of course, utter nonsense. At least in the case of an IPO you have a company or product to sell. In the case of Palestine, there is nothing to sell. As Gertrude Stein said of her hometown, Oakland, “there is no there there.” You simply can’t sell a mirage.
The Times coverage wasn’t much better. It did note the Palestinians rejected the conference and boycotted it. But it was full of such nonsense as this:
Judged on its own terms, the White House-led conference on improving the lives of Palestinians, staged this week in Bahrain as the first step toward a long-promised American peace plan, was a smashing success.
It proved that the Israel-Palestinian conflict “actually is a solvable problem, economically,” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, declared proudly — though that proposition was never actually in doubt.
It put the conflict back near the top of the international agenda, at least for a day and a half. And it may have also created a powerful new constituency for a resolution, by bringing together billionaire fund managers and the heads of banks and multinational corporations like AT&T, who seemed to be grappling with the subject for the first time.
Even on the terms set by Kushner it could not be said to be a “success.” While there were projects pitched (which have been proposed numerous times in other similar proposals) and sums of money thrown around, no one made any commitment to do anything. No one put money down on a specific project. There isn’t even a provision for doing so if a donor state wanted to as under the terms Kushner laid out, fundraising was not discussed.
The conference never “proved the Israel-Palestine conflict was a solvable problem, economically.” It is, in fact, not solvable only on economic terms, as analysts and critics have pointed out abundantly in the world media.
As for “putting the conflict back near the top of the international agenda,” it may’ve done that, but not in the manner sought by Kushner. It displayed the arrogance and stupidity of the Trump-Kushner approach. It showed what won’t work. It offered an object lesson on what not to do if you are serious about negotiating peace in the region.
As for “creating a powerful new constituency” for peace among the world’s financial oligarchs, that’s utter nonsense. Wall Street types were in Manama because there were potential deals to be made. They knew that if this economic boondoggle ever made it past the starting gate, they would need to show their faces right at the beginning if they wanted a share of the gravy train that would follow. They could care less about the particulars of the conflict or resolving it.
One of the few western journalists covering the event was Jack Moore of The National (UAE). This massive Twitter thread eviscerated the entire proceeding and did so with suitable horror and gallows humor. It must be read to gain a true picture of the tone and atmosphere there:
After two weird days as one of the few journalists inside the Four Seasons in Bahrain, I was left speechless by the Davos-esque Conflab on Palestinian Prosperousness, or “economic workshop,” hosted by Jared Kushner & co. Where do I begin? A thread.
— Jack Moore (@JFXM) June 27, 2019
An important point that’s not been sufficiently noted in other media accounts is that the Manama conference was not designed to offer a way forward in resolving the conflict. Its goal was precisely the opposite. Trump’s Middle East triumvirate of Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman, all avid supporters of Israeli settlements and the annexation of Palestine lands, don’t want a solution under any terms the world would recognize. Instead, they’re advocating an Israeli winner-take-all solution. Their plan would ratify ethnic cleansing and leave a rump Palestine that would not be a nation. Rather, it would be an enclave with no power to act on its own behalf in any way that would be called sovereign.
The Kushner plan also serves another important purpose: the principals who devised it have to be aware that it has been and will be soundly rejected by Palestinians and all other parties serious about finding peace. But despite such rejection, the “peace through prosperity” offering serves to muddy the waters. It throws the world off the path of a two-state solution, which is one of its goals. What Kushner has done is something like what the Russians did in sabotaging the last presidential election. Theirs was a clever strategy: it did not approach the election with a sledge-hammer touting Donald Trump as the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. Putin and his cronies knew that would only engender suspicion and cause their plans to fail.
So they approached the problem from the side instead of head-on. They examined every major social and political issue dividing America and sought to weaponize these divisions in a way that would magnify the cynicism of the electorate. This, in turn, would drive the number of voters down, especially prospective Clinton voters. That’s what elected Trump.
In similar fashion, Manama is designed to corrode the foundations that had been underpinning the two-state solution. The Trump team knows that once there is no such possible solution, there will be only two options remaining: Israeli annexation or a one-state solution. They’re banking on the world refusing to embrace one-state and instead turning to the Israelis and annexation as the “last man standing.”
Once Israel annexes Palestine it will have achieved what the South African apartheid regime tried and failed to do: steal the land from an enfeebled indigenous majority and force it to accept the rule of an ethnic–or in Israel’s case, a religious–minority. This is the essence of colonialism. Unlike all the European states which colonized Africa, Asia and Latin America and eventually ceded the colonies their freedom, Israel is banking on being the only colonial state to never to cede such control. There are only two things standing in their way: Palestinians and the rest of the world. The latter, however, has never offered serious resistance.
The other important achievement of the Bahrain summit is that it ratifies normalization between Israel and the Sunni states in the region. Essentially, the latter have sold their legacy like Esau for a bowl of pottage. That legacy included decades of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and dedication to securing the liberation of Jerusalem from Israeli rule. Now, all this is gone, or nearly gone.
Once these Arab states have abandoned Palestine for the sake of an alliance with Israel against the Iranian Shia foe, there is no going back. Their betrayal of the cause of the Palestinians is a permanent sundering of the Arab world. Along with the full Kushner embrace of Israeli interests, he has secured the dissolution of the Arab cause.
That’s why the media outlets who treat Kushner as a feeble-minded fool are wrong. He knows what he’s doing. Or if he is a fool, he’s accidentally latched onto a brilliant strategy that threatens to secure Israeli regional hegemony for decades to come.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.