Palestinians resist US plan for more efficient Israeli occupation

Palestinians across political factions reject the Trump administration’s plan. This billboard reads, “The Deal of the Century will not pass,” in Gaza City on 18 June. 

Mahmoud Ajjour APA images

There have been protests in several Palestinian and Arab cities in the days leading up to the Bahrain conference this week.

On Saturday, the White House unveiled the economic component of the Trump administration’s so-called Deal of the Century, that it plans to showcase at the conference.

In an interview with Reuters, US presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said that to reveal the political component of the Trump administration’s peace proposals simultaneously with the economic aspect would have been “very, very hard” for people to digest.

The choice to reveal the economic plan first was due to its “less controversial” nature, he added.

Kushner’s admission of how controversial the political plan will be can only mean it reinforces the status quo, or perhaps worse.

The 40-page economic plan details the Trump administration’s vision to “establish a new foundation for the Palestinian economy” while actively failing to address that which destroys it: seven decades of Israeli settler-colonialism.

It proposes injecting $50 billion of “investments” into the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighboring countries.

The plan fails to mention, however, who would foot the bill to buy Palestine for peanuts.

It ignores the brutal effects of Israeli military occupation and treats the Palestinian predicament as a mere lack of investment.

But the Palestinian issue was never an economic one, nor simply a tale of unexplained “adversity and loss,” as the White House describes it.

At its core is Israeli oppression and theft.

The elephant in the room

As The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah told Al Jazeera English on Saturday, “the basic issue of Israeli military occupation, colonization [and] apartheid is really the elephant in the room.”

Israel controls every aspect of Palestinian life in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For example, the White House plan mentions “logistical challenges” Palestinians “routinely encounter” that “imped[e] travel.”

In reality, Israel imposes a biometric ID system at its military checkpoints all over the occupied West Bank to enforce a pass system on Palestinians that amounts to a high-tech version of what existed in apartheid South Africa.

Kushner’s plan to build a railway between the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip would not dismantle this racist architecture but simply streamline it.

It is reminiscent of how Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt lauded “the updated facilities and security procedures” at the Qalandiya checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.

He called for similar “progress” at other checkpoints. There couldn’t be a clearer example of what South African anti-apartheid veteran Archbishop Desmond Tutu called polishing the chains of the oppressed.

There are other absurdities in the plan; for example, the White House cites the “limited access” Palestinian farmers have to “land, water and technology” for hindering the advancement of agriculture.

In reality, Israel has done everything to ensure such limitations. For instance, it bans Palestinian farmers from digging wells on their own land in the West Bank and even prevents them from collecting rainwater.

And in Gaza it bulldozes crops, sprays them with herbicides and shoots at farmers.

Israeli occupation forces also protect settlers as they steal, damage and destroy Palestinian trees in the West Bank, especially leading up to the olive harvest season, a pillar of Palestinian agriculture.

Kushner’s plan claims that Palestinian access to housing is due to “high real-estate prices across the West Bank and Gaza.”

Now why on Earth would Palestinians face a housing crisis? Could it be because Israel drastically limits their access to their own land while it accelerates the construction of Jewish-only settlements on it?

As is well-known, Israel refuses to permit virtually any Palestinian construction in occupied East Jerusalem or in Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli military control.

This forces Palestinians to build on their own land without permits and live in constant fear of demolitions.

The majority of Israel’s 600,000 settlers live in Area C, where Israel uproots Palestinian communities to expand its colonies, such as the village of Khan al-Ahmar.

Gisha, a human rights group that monitors Israel’s siege of Gaza, says that while the plan rightly notes “the Palestinian population’s need for improved civilian infrastructure and for movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, what the document doesn’t include is any reference to the political dispute at the heart of the conflict: the occupation.”

Wide rejection

Palestinians across the political spectrum have rejected the Trump plan and the Bahrain conference.

The Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) called for a boycott of the conference and condemned “in the strongest terms the participation of some official Arab organizations and businessmen and representatives of Arab corporations.”

“Arab participation in this conference surpasses normalization and is considered direct cooperation with the Zionist-American alliance.”

Defying the unified voice of Palestinians, Bahrain, in an unprecedented move, is formally allowing six Israeli media organizations to enter its territory to cover the conference.

They include Barak Ravid for Israel’s Channel 13:

By contrast, Marzouq al-Ghanim, the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, affirmed his country’s rejection of the Bahrain conference and its commitment to the Palestinian cause on Monday:

Palestinians protested in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday:

Thousands protested in Morocco’s capital Rabat on Sunday, demanding their government not participate in the conference:

Political factions in the Gaza Strip announced a general strike for Tuesday as well.

Hundreds marched towards the US embassy in Jordan’s capital Amman on Friday. Police prevented protesters from coming within 400 meters of the embassy:

Jordanian unions have also called for a boycott of the Bahrain conference.

Jordan announced its secretary general of the finance ministry will attend the conference on Saturday, a notably low-level representation.

Despite its cold shoulder to the economic plan, Jordan has a multi-billion dollar agreement to buy natural gas from Israel – a deal staunchly opposed by Jordanian society and parliament.

Solidarity in Tunisia

Meanwhile, activists in the Tunisian city of Sfax protested on Friday against tourism ties between their country and Israel:

Trade unions and political parties in Tunisia are mobilizing against a travel agency that is organizing trips to the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and cities in present-day Israel despite there being no formal diplomatic ties between the countries.

Last week, Tunisian-French Imam Hassen Chalghoumi visited Israel and met with army officials, including its Arabic-language military spokesperson Avichay Adraee and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Chalghoumi led a religious delegation of 40 people, organized by the Israel advocacy group European Leadership Network and hosted by settlement body Samaria Regional Council. On the trip, the imam criticized the Palestinian Authority’s decision to boycott the Bahrain conference.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.