What do Palestinians want?

Palestinians understand “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

The Trump administration’s plan to advance Middle East peace is failing in broad daylight. This latest round of American diplomatic bullying has not budged the Palestinians’ call for freedom and independence. Actually, Trump’s actions are turning out to be a rallying call to reunite a fragmented Palestinian polity around their core struggle.

Another U.S. failure in the Middle East is no surprise to anyone following the details. Analyzing the multiple recent interviews given by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in law and architect of the plan, the parameters of its substance are coming into focus. At best, Kushner evidently desires to beautify the cages that Israel has created in every Palestinian city and village. This is not a peace process, it is “Trump Attempting Financial Molestation of Palestinians,” as I recently wrote.

The obsessive tweets by Jason Greenblatt, the Assistant to President Trump and his Special Representative for International Negotiations, shed additional light on the matter — illegal Israeli settlements are here to stay, and Palestinians must get over it.

Last month Kushner announced that an “economic workshop” would be held in Bahrain at the end of June to reveal the economic part of the plan. The invitation was issued by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who claimed the goal of the event was to “present […] ideas for the future of the Palestinian economy”. What the U.S. Department of the Treasury has to do with all this is a story for another day. Hundreds of stakeholders have been invited to attend, except one — the Palestinian representatives. Instead, the U.S. is burnishing a handful of Palestinian quislings and Uncle Toms.

Of course, like any sane political actor would do, Palestinians have come together to mobilize against this workshop about them, but without them. One would assume that American History 101 would be enough to debunk as fallacious the notion that progress can be made without representation of the targeted party.

With the U.S. on the verge of failing yet again in advancing Middle East peace, it is no surprise that the scapegoat is already being put forward. Of course, it will be claimed that the Palestinians have spoiled Trump’s “Deal of the Century”. This cheap blame game has become so worn out that I highly doubt that even those propagating it believe their own arguments.

Photo: “Axios on HBO

In an interview with Kushner on “Axios on HBO” he said of Palestinians, “The hope is, is that they over time can become capable of governing. There are some things the current Palestinian government has done well, and there are some things that are lacking. And I do think that in order for the area to be investable, for investors to want to come in and invest in different industry and infrastructure and create jobs, you do need to have a fair judicial system, you need to have freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”

When one reflects on two years of Trump in the White House, this public relations spin surrounding the Trump administration’s apparent failure is best equated to dark comedy at its worse. Months ago, as someone living the reality of Israeli military occupation, I offered what the real barriers to Palestinian economic development are in “Israel’s mockery of security: 101 definitions of occupation”.

What the Palestinians want is so simple and straightforward that the need to repeat it yet again after seven decades is almost embarrassing. Palestinians yearn for freedom and independence. Palestinian refugees want to come home.

Image by Sanad Latefa from Gaza

Freedom. Yes, the same right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” proclaimed in the United States Declaration of Independence. Freedom from Israeli military and economic control. Freedom to live as normal human beings, respectful of the laws and norms governing the world.

Independence, as materialized in an independent state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. A state living in peace, side by side with Israel, on the 22% of what remains of historic Palestine. As I’ve documented in America’s Incompetent Middle East Leadership, the Palestinian leadership have offered numerous historic opportunities to end the conflict, all to be brushed aside by America’s blind love of Israel and Israel’s penchant for driving drunk on power.

Refugees want to return home. Palestinian refugees are not pawns in a chess game, they are human beings with rights enshrined in international law. I attempted to convey this Israeli-made tragedy in this TEDxRamallah talk, Refugees Waiting.

The majority of the international community is on the correct side of history and joins the Palestinians’ call for statehood, which was presented in a UN General Assembly resolution in 2012. That is when 138 countries voted “Yes” to Palestine which led to its upgrading it to a non-member state, a status similar to that of the Holy See. The U.S placed itself with Israel, Canada, Panama, the Czech Republic and four Pacific islands in casting a “No” vote.

So, the reasons why this “economic workshop” will fail are crystal clear. Among the many registering their voices against this U.S. approach, my friend Dr. James J. Zogby, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute, wrote “Why the US “Workshop” For Palestinians Will Fail,” reflecting on his direct experience with such an approach over 25 years ago.

Following the surprising news that Israel will be heading to new elections in September after Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government, the Jewish Insider quoted Trump as saying “Israel is all messed up with their election. I mean that came out of the blue three days ago, so that’s all messed up. They ought to get their act together. I mean, Bibi got elected, and now all of a sudden they’re going to have to go through the process again until September? That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.”

I can imagine Trump being confused here since in America the system allows a minority-elected president to become president without a hiccup.

Trump or no Trump, Palestinians are actually testing the global system of governance, or what is left of it, by insisting on their right to self-determination, today defined as statehood side by side with Israel. If the international community does not uphold its obligations to end Israeli military occupation and translate into action more than 700 related UN resolutions holding Israel accountable to facts on the ground, no one should be shocked when the next generation of Palestinians decides to redefine their path to self-determination, away from statehood and towards civil rights, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

When that happens, the game will be effectively over, even if the denouement requires a civil rights campaign lasting a hundred years.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is Board Chair of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at ePalestine.com. @SamBahour