The Trump administration’s presentation of an economic plan — rather than a political plan — for the Palestinians was generally mocked or dismissed. As it percolates, however, it appears the administration, as is its habit, was reading trends. The formulation takes an axe to the notion that all plans, politics, money, and political benefits have to be filtered through the “Sole Legitimate Representative of the Palestinian People” — i.e., the PLO or its successor, the Palestinian Authority (PA).
This plan, unlike then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s idea to funnel $6 billion in "investment" through PA strongman Mahmoud Abbas, acknowledges that the PA is a terrible steward of its people and their lives. Inviting individual Palestinian businessmen — even if they didn’t show up — and Arab state representatives and businessmen, instead of the PA, may have evinced proper judgment.
In a recent poll by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion, published by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, only about one-third of respondents supported the a priori rejection of President Trump’s plan by PA officials. And 86% of respondents in Gaza, along with more than 60% of respondents in Jerusalem and the West Bank, favored Arab government participation in the process. The president himself did not poll well, indicating that those polled differentiated between the individual and the process.
It was the Arab League in 1974 that anointed the PLO as the so-called “sole legitimate representative.” By giving the PLO indivisible authority, it made Palestinians an indivisible unit. “Groupspeak,” as always, is a huge disservice to individual people.
Making the problem inter-generational and indivisible made it unresolvable without the so-called “right of return” for what the PA claims are now nearly six million Palestinians — original refugees and their descendants. In 2013, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon said that even the establishment of an independent West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state would not be enough:
Abdullah Abdullah said Palestinian refugees would not necessarily become citizens of a new Palestinian state. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity. But … they are not automatically citizens. Even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [then-Palestinian] state are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.” He added that the new state would “absolutely not” issue Palestinian passports to refugees, lest they be understood to be citizens of Palestine. “When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”
If Israel doesn’t agree to dismantle itself on their behalf? “We’ll wait,” says Abbas. What’s another generation?
But his people may be moving on. A recent series of articles suggests that younger Palestinians understand their individual rights and individual futures have been mortgaged by a leadership that has mired them in poverty and statelessness in pursuit of the impossible.
The New York Times had a feature on how the West Bank has become quieter and its people less likely to spend time in demonstrations and more likely to seek employment. While it would be easy to throw blame on “the occupation,” many of those interviewed were unhappy with PA leadership and corruption, as well as influenced by — as the population ages — the responsibilities of parenthood. Parents, naturally, require real jobs. And those “real jobs” are often with Israelis or with Israeli companies.
Middle East Monitor wrote about extensive contacts and working relations between the Israeli civil authority and Palestinian businessmen, including millionaire Bashar Al-Masri, the prime developer of the Palestinian town of Rawabi.
In 2016, Israeli businessman Rami Levy established the first Israeli-Palestinian supermarket near Ramallah. The managers, staff, and customers are a combination of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a huge success with the locals. Levy also held a meeting to develop the industrial area of Jericho and improve joint trade links, and he is building a Palestinian-Israeli mall in the north of Jerusalem.
Levy frightens the PA because his partners are Palestinians; Abbas refused to meet a joint Palestinian-Israeli business delegation if Levy were included. The odd part was that he met with a joint delegation at all, as the official PA television channel broadcasted an image that equated shopping at the new mall with treason. “Do not be the occupation’s partner in the Judaization of the city … Economic normalization is treason.”
But this is the “old guard.”
In the meantime, more than 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel every day and another 35,000-plus work in Israeli industries in the West Bank. Even Hamas has sought more permits for Gaza Palestinians to work in Israel. They are not Zionists, but they may be realists.
The Trump economic plan undermines the PA monolith and reaches out to individuals who won’t wait another generation to live their lives.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C.