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Phyllis Bennis discusses the recent Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and the real nature of Kushner’s supposed “deal of the century”
MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us. Trump’s Middle East peace plan designed by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with others who clearly support the Israeli position, is being called by Trump the “deal of the century.” Now just before the weekend explosion between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy held an event with Jared Kushner to discuss his “deal of the century,” which Trump promised will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. Robert Satloff interviewing Kushner hinted at what the discussion might really be about, and more specifically what it is not about, and then Kushner confirmed. Let’s watch for a second.
ROBERT SATLOFF We’re going to spend the next 45 minutes in a bit of a strange conversation talking about something, but not really talking about it because tonight, unless we’re gonna make even more news than I expect, tonight is not the big reveal. That day, if it happens, it won’t be for another month at the earliest, but there is still quite a lot to talk about the Middle East peace process without actually talking about the Middle East peace plan.
JARED KUSHNER I mean, you have the Palestinian position and you have the Israeli position, and whatever is going to be resolved has to be somewhat in the middle. And so, I think both leaderships are probably a little bit nervous to talk about what their potential compromise solutions could be, so our hope is that maybe we help them get a little bit closer by putting this out, these issues, right. This one issue—what is an outcome that you think you could accept, that you think the other side could live with? And he says, well to do this, you have to go back to 1917, then 1948, then 1967, then 1973. I just said, you know, look, we don’t want to go through the history on this. I’m just curious here today in 2017, what’s an outcome that works? He said okay, well the way to solve it is, you need to get two people together, you need to get four people together, you need to go to Oslo, you need to go to Madrid— and I said I don’t want to talk about process. If we are going to fail, we don’t want to fail doing it the same way it’s been done in the past. And again, the President’s—
ROBERT SATLOFF You want to be original in your failure.
JARED KUSHNER Well— [crowd laughs].
MARC STEINER [laughs] Right. And then over the weekend, Palestinians, and we must say again, who live under repressive conditions in the Gaza Strip without access to enough drinking water, food, or medical services, launched rockets into Israel in an attempt to ease the Israeli siege of Gaza. Four Israelis were killed by those rockets and more than 20 Palestinians were killed including, a pregnant woman, a 12-year-old boy, and a baby. Nevertheless, the Israeli government has agreed to easing some of the siege, letting in some gas that would be paid for by Qatar, fuel which is desperately needed for water pumps, water purification plants, and hospitals.
So that sounds good, but the Hamas government in Gaza warned that if Israel will not live up to its side of the agreement within one week, it will resume firing rockets just in time for the Eurovision concert scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv. The risk that the tourists and bands will flee Israel or canceling altogether, is something the Israeli government cannot abide. So the peace deal of the century to be announced at the close of Ramadan and the installing of the new Israeli government, may be the century’s deal that died on arrival. We were joined by Phyllis Bennis, Fellow and Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. Her books include Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror and the latest updated edition, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. Phyllis, always great to have you on The Real News. Welcome back.
PHYLLIS BENNIS Great to be with you, Marc.
MARC STEINER But let’s just start this out with Kushner and this deal of century, Phyllis. I mean, considering the fact that the deal hadn’t been published and will most likely be rejected by Palestinians, given what Trump has already done to the Palestinians with his policies, why did he come to this event? What were they talking about? What the hell do you think is going on here? What’s the strategy here?
PHYLLIS BENNIS I don’t think there is a real strategy. There have been a number of leaks about what this deal, this so-called deal, is going to include. And the essence of it is, is that it’s not a deal having anything to do with peace, having certainly nothing to do with justice, but that was not ever really on the agenda. It doesn’t have anything really to do with a political situation or a political solution. What it is, is an econo peace, if you will. It’s based on the idea that Palestinians don’t really care about rights, don’t really care about sovereignty, don’t really care about their heritage, their land, their culture, or anything else, and all they really care about is getting a decent job. So what it has to do with is getting a lot of money from the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which will be creating a kind of maquiladora system, the system of US-based factories on the US-Mexico border, that will allow both Palestinians and even more Egyptians to work in these factories without any accountability of labor rights, environmental concerns, nothing like that. In theory, this will be the way of dealing with the problem of the Palestinians and the problem of the Palestinians within an Israeli-controlled reality.
We’ve already seen that at least two of the four officially recognized final status issues— those are the issues that international groupings, the United Nations, different countries, as well as the Palestinians and Israeli negotiators themselves for 25 years have identified as the key issues that need to be resolved at the end of the day, if you will. And those are the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, borders, and settlements; those are the four key issues. So far, the Trump administration has already taken Jerusalem off the table by essentially picking it up, giving it to Israel as its undivided capital, and saying the Palestinians have no rights to Jerusalem; [and] taking refugees off the table by announcing that by US considerations now, there are no Palestinian refugees beyond a few tens of thousands of very old Palestinians, who themselves were among the 750,000 who were expelled from their homes back in 1948 and who still have the keys to their homes. They are all in their late 70s, 80s, 90s. Very few are left alive, and that there are five million descendants who are registered with the United Nations as internationally recognized refugees. For the US, they’re not refugees anymore. We don’t have to worry about them. So that’s that, we’re done. We don’t have to talk about refugees.
On the question of settlements, the US has made clear that it accepts the Israeli notion of annexation of the Golan Heights, the Syrian Golan Heights, and all the Israeli settlements there. It’s widely understood that some version of annexation of most of the West Bank will be the next step. So, settlements are gone. All that’s really left is borders and what we’re looking at is a reality where there’s only going to be one border. It’s going to be the border of the expanded Israel within which will be some little bits and pieces of territory, very crowded with Palestinians, without contiguity, without the capacity to be anything remotely resembling a state, certainly without sovereignty, and where Palestinians will have no rights. So that’s, I think, what we can expect from this so-called “deal of the century.” Given all of that, it’s actually not so hard to imagine why, despite the fact that it was in fact a violation of international law, why Hamas or perhaps others in Gaza might have moved last week to respond to the most recent escalation in violence, which was not on the Hamas side but was on the Israeli side.
MARC STEINER What do you mean?
PHYLLIS BENNIS It’s one of those situations, Marc, where history is determined by when you start the clock. If you start the clock with the Hamas rockets fired on Friday night and Saturday morning into Israel, a clear violation as I said of international law, that’s one version of history. And then, everything Israel does is responding to Palestinian rockets. If you start the day before, if you start on Friday afternoon, four Palestinians were killed— two by Israeli snipers for their peaceful protest near the Gaza fence on their own land inside the Gaza Strip, the occupied besieged Gaza Strip, and two more were killed by Israeli airstrikes that preceded the Palestinian rockets. So, you know, this is a question of when do you start looking at history? The reality is the US press pretty routinely starts the clock whenever there is a Palestinian act of violence and the Israeli violence, the Israeli violations of the Geneva Conventions, Israeli war crimes, are not recognized. And in fact, we are told that these Palestinian airstrikes or rocket strikes somehow ended several months of calm. Now, it’s only calm if you’re on the Israeli side. If you’re on the Palestinian side in Gaza, there’s nothing remotely resembling calm.
MARC STEINER So there’s several things that you said that I want to parse out for a moment and I think it’s because they’re really important. What you just talked about for a moment, what you just said about the rocket strikes into Israel from Gaza—but wasn’t the Gazan government, the Hamas government, pretty clear that one of the reasons they did this was to push the Israelis back because they were being denied access to fuel and other things? I mean, so it wasn’t just because Israelis killed some Palestinians. It was because they were trying to push a point.
PHYLLIS BENNIS There’s a whole series of reasons and part of it certainly had to do with the fact that in an earlier upsurge in violence back in March, there was another ceasefire also, sort of, negotiated through Egyptian auspices. And at that time, Israel agreed to a number of things, but the two most important were— number one, they were going to allow Qatar to send a significant amount of money, it was millions of dollars to the Gaza Strip, to be used to pay the civil service. These are people, the school teachers that don’t work for the UN, there’s not very many of them, the people who pick up the garbage, the people who process drivers’ licenses, all those things, who have not been paid in months. And because official unemployment in Gaza is over 50 percent— for young people it’s over 70 percent— very few people have jobs. The few who do, are supporting huge expanded families. They haven’t been paid in months.
So the agreement was, Qatar would be allowed to send in cash to pay for a few months of salaries for the civil servants. The second thing was that for the first time in several years, Gaza fishermen would be allowed to go beyond six miles, which is this incredibly narrow limit that the Israelis have imposed, which essentially prohibits the Gaza fishermen from being able to fish in clean water and get anything remotely resembling a living wage from their fish. Israel did not abide by either of those agreements that were made a month and a half ago. So part of what was going on here was outrage that they had agreed to a ceasefire based on these agreements by Israel, and then suddenly they had been denied. So now once again, we see an agreement, a ceasefire agreement, that’s predicated on Israel’s agreement to allow the money in from Qatar. I haven’t heard yet whether it also included the fishermen, but even allowing in just the money is crucial. And it’s not again surprising, although it’s a terrible thing to do to make a threat like that, it’s understandable why the Gaza leadership would want to put more pressure on to make sure that this time, the Israelis agree and implement what they agreed to do.
MARC STEINER So with the little time that we have left, let me try to hit these two quick points. One of them is something you said at the beginning of what you were talking about in terms of what you saw this as an econ deal, I think as you put it.
PHYLLIS BENNIS Econo peace.
MARC STEINER Econo peace. Excuse me. Sorry. Thanks, Phyllis. Econo peace, you said. That to me is really intriguing here. Let’s talk about that for a minute. So what you’re basically saying is that part of this push by the Israelis and the Americans to create this greater Israel in terms of their policy movements, is to open this up for exploitation of Palestinians and other Arab workers. I mean, is that what you’re saying? I mean, where does that come from? Talk a bit about why you say that and what’s the root of that analysis.
PHYLLIS BENNIS This is a little bit different than what we saw, for example, in South African apartheid where the apartheid regime was absolutely dependent on black South African labor. It was a very different demographic. The white apartheid government represented a very small minority of the population and they needed black workers.
MARC STEINER Right.
PHYLLIS BENNIS That’s not the case for Israelis. They actually import workers, particularly to work in the settlements but elsewhere as well, inside Israel from Thailand and from the Philippines. And in fact, one of the four Israelis who was killed was a Thai worker— underpaid, very terribly treated— but they’re not dependent on Palestinian workers. This is designed as essentially, a buy-off. The theory is—And I imagine Kushner probably believes this because I doubt that he knows any Palestinians who have any ties to the Palestinian population as a whole. Somehow, he’s convinced himself that Palestinians don’t really care about rights, they don’t really care about sovereignty, they don’t care about having a state of their own, or equality within a state that is shared, that they don’t care about any of that. But all they care about is a job and that somehow, if we can give them some kind of a job, even if it’s what I describe as a maquiladora job like the US companies provide on the Mexican border, that somehow that will be enough, that will be sufficient to pacify them. It’s a pacification plan. It’s not a peace plan.
MARC STEINER So finally, I want to come back to this alleged “deal of the century.” This is a deal that was put together by Kushner and a number of other people who are clearly very pro-Israeli, who are Zionists, who are people who support the state of Israel. Palestinians have been kind of shunted to the side by the Trump administration. They’re clearly not going to take part in this deal. So let’s talk about what we think is really going on here. Is this just an excuse to say, see, the Palestinians don’t want to really have peace, they don’t want to talk to us, so we’re just going move ahead and do anything we have to do. What do you think’s going on here?
PHYLLIS BENNIS I think that’s close, but I think the difference—because that’s been true in the past as well. The US negotiators, as even one of them, Aaron David Miller, wrote in his book, he said we acted as Israel’s lawyer. That’s not anything new and different. What is new and different here is that the three key people involved— Jared Kushner, the other two, the US ambassador to Israel, and Jason Greenblatt the representative to the Middle East— all of them are not just supporters of Israel. They are all active financial backers of the settlements. That’s very crucial. They support the settlement project, the parties that represent them inside Israel, and the building and expansion of settlements in the West Bank and occupy Jerusalem.
MARC STEINER That’s a very key point.
PHYLLIS BENNIS That’s very, very important. What we’re seeing here is that there is no effort to make this a negotiating process. This is about the US determining, here’s what we’re going to impose. It’s all based on what Israel wants and it will be imposed and proposed. The Palestinians certainly will refuse to accept it, but it’s not going to be up to them to accept it or not accept it. It’s going to be imposed on them because right now, Israel is the only actual power. The notion that the Hamas government in Gaza actually has power to determine history, to determine what happens to its people, is simply not true.
The same is true for the Fatah-dominated government in the West Bank. They don’t control. They are like municipal governments in a bigger country. There is one state that exists right now. It’s the Israeli government that determines what happens in both its own territory and the territory it occupies. The question for most Palestinians these days, is about rights— whether it’s in one state or two states, equality for all within each state, between both states, but that’s not on the agenda. It hasn’t been for a very long time. What’s on the agenda now is a US effort to impose Israeli domination as a final status arrangement, which will be accepted certainly by the Israelis but that will be, as the US hopes, accepted by the Europeans, recognized by the United Nations, given into by the Global South, and crucially it will be endorsed by key Arab countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. That’s what the US plan is all about.
MARC STEINER I feel like I’ve been watching over the last 50 years the great unraveling. I’m trying not to get too depressed. Phyllis Bennis, thank you as always. It’s always great to hear your thoughts and your analysis. I appreciate your time.
PHYLLIS BENNIS Thank you very much.
MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for taking your time. Take care.