USCPR’s executive director, Yousef Munayyer, joins UpFront on KPFA 94.1 to discuss the Bahrain conference and Jared Kushner’s so-called “peace plan.” Transcript below.
HOST: We’re going follow up now on that economic workshop, initially built as economic peace talks taking place in Bahrain presided over by Jared Kushner and not attended by anyone in power to speak on behalf of Israel or the Palestinian people. We’re joined, I believe, over Skype by Yousef Munayyer. He’s the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Good morning.
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Good morning to you all.
HOST: Can you start off by giving background on the concept of an economic peace? What is it, where does it come from?
YM: Well, economic peace essentially doesn’t really exist—you cannot have peace without justice, without freedom, without the basic rights of people being respected. This idea that is billed as economic peace is an approach that says in lieu of those things, we will try to provide some finances that can perhaps improve the quality of life of people without addressing the core political issues which are turning their lives into the situation that they are in. And so it’s very much a backwards model and I think it’s very hard for any self-respecting Palestinian to respond to this entire effort in Bahrain that is being led by the Trump White House and his son-in-law Jared Kushner as anything other than an insult, to be honest with you. He is coming forward with this plan and this idea that says we will bring in investment, we will bring in money, and so on and so forth. And at the same time it’s the Trump White House that has been responsible for cutting off aid and resources to the Palestinian people living under occupation and in refugee camps—more than any other administration before—and enabling an Israeli government whose military occupation and the restrictions of that occupation, are the key reason why Palestinian economic conditions are what they are. You know, it’d be like going to the doctor for a broken leg, and having eye drops prescribed to you! You’d be absolutely dumbfounded and you’d never take the person seriously. This is the only way that Palestinians can react to Mr.Kushner’s plan.
HOST: So who is attending the workshop, what are they hoping to get out of it?
YM: Well, the workshop is being held in Bahrain. It is being hosted by the government of Bahrain as well as the White House, who has been trying to bring in business leaders from different countries. What the White House is hoping to show here is that there is Arab support for their plan. Of course, Arab publics are united in objection to the Trump administration’s approach to the Palestinians, but the White House, the United States, obviously has important relationships with certain governments in the region. All of which are balancing this very contentious situation between domestic audiences which oppose what the Trump administration is trying to ram down the throats of Palestinians and their own regime relationships with the United States that’s built on many decades of course, of relationships that include military weapon sales and economic relationships as well.
HOST: So you think for a lot of the attendees it’s less about prospective investment opportunities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and more about just currying favor with the Trump administration?
YM: Oh absolutely—absolutely. Because listen, even if you look at all of the reporting that’s been done by all of the international agencies that deal with economic issues whether it’s the World Bank or the IMF, or even humanitarian organizations which have been looking at the situation on the ground and trying to analyze the economic prospects of figuring out how to improve things for Palestinians—every single body is in agreement and in unison over the fact that it is Israeli policies which are denying the potential for Palestinian economic growth. Without addressing those things first, trying to address economic conditions is backwards. I think everybody knows that, including especially the people in that room. But it is being choreographed as an attempt to show that there is Arab support for this when in reality, it’s really about trying to maintain relationships with a White House that all of these regimes of course need to stay on good terms with for their own domestic interests. You know one thing I think people don’t necessarily know about Palestinians which I think is important that your listeners understand is that after 1948, despite being a refugee community, a community in diaspora, and a people that never had their own independent state where they could determine their own future, the Palestinian people played an outsized role in actually developing and contributing to every single major economy in the Arab Middle East. I think if you ask any of the leaders in the Gulf, they would tell you that if they were being honest. What Palestinians need is not handouts from the international community, the Arab world, or anyone else. They need to have their hands let out of the chains of Israeli occupation, apartheid, and discrimination, and they would be more than capable of building by themselves their own future if they had the opportunity to be free. That’s the problem that needs to be addressed and that’s precisely the problem that Jared Kushner and his economic conference in Bahrain is completely ignoring.
HOST: And can you describe what the protests on the ground look like?
YM: I think we’ve seen some protests in the West Bank, we’ve seen some protests in Gaza, we’ve seen protests elsewhere, here in the United States there have been some demonstrations as well. And I think the message from these protests is very simple: This is not a natural disaster that needs the international community to swoop in and try to contribute funds to. This is a manmade disaster. Until you recognize the role, whether it’s the United States, or European countries, or any other countries frankly, are playing in enabling the very Israeli policies which are leading to this disastrous situation for Palestinians, then, you’re not addressing the concerns of people on the ground. I think that’s the main message from these demonstrations, both inside of Palestine and out.
HOST: Speaking to Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights about the economic peace workshop currently underway in Bahrain presided over by Jared Kushner, not attended by anyone speaking on behalf of Israel or the Palestinian people. Yousef Munayyer, I wanna talk about kind of the broader trajectory of so-called peace talks and what this says about them. Do you think it marks, basically, complete retreat or the death knell of any hopes of the US brokering some kind of resolution to the political issues: the Israeli occupation, the right to return for Palestinian refugees and so forth?
YM: You know, I think we have long been moving in that direction and I think for many Palestinians over the last 20 to 30 years even, it became really hard to see how a country like the United States that has such close ties with Israel, could ever hold Israel accountable to its own commitments in any sort of peace process. What the Trump administration has done is ensure that there is no believers left among Palestinians that this could ever be possible in a Washington-led process. And particularly with the decisions the Trump administration made in moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and quote-unquote ‘taking the issue off the table,’ even those among Palestinians who were most willing to put their faith in Washington-led mediation, even they now understand that this is fantasy. So I do think it marks a very big shift that has been a long time coming. The question is what comes next, where do we turn from here. I think when you listen to what the Israelis have been saying in recent weeks, when you listen to what the American ambassador in the region has been saying in recent weeks, it seems very clear that the United States is preparing itself to support major Israeli steps to further annex territory from Palestinians into Israel, which I think would really end this charade around a conversation of two states and force us into a very different conversation that has been brewing for a long time about having a single state where the problem is addressing inequality and moving forward with a solution based not on partition but on equal rights. There have been advocates of that outcome for a long time. It seems that the Trump administration and their right-wing friends in Israel are bringing that to the floor even though that is not the one state outcome they had in mind.
HOST: Yeah, I mean, you say it forces a conversation about a single state, but I mean what that actually means on the ground, it’s already effectively a single state. Israel controls the airspace, the borders, the flow of goods and money into and out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But it doesn’t seem like there is any political basis for this situation changing. If anything, Israeli politics just keeps moving to the right.
YM: Indeed, it does, and you’re absolutely right there is today and there has been since 1967, a single state, the state of Israel that has ruled over the territory between the Jordan River and the Meditteranean Sea, encompassing what is today about 13 million people, half of which are Israeli Jews and half of which are Palestinian Arabs. You know, this is a modern day version of apartheid, and yet, at the same time there seems to be a willingness from the international community to tolerate this for the moment. But, that tolerance is based on the idea that there is a light at the end of this negotiations tunnel, that there is a two state outcome out there somewhere. Now, if that goes out the window, then I think international tolerance for the status quo begins to shift as well and one thinks that’s where the pressure has to come from at that point. But the idea of the Israelis having no right to vote in perpetuity is not one that I think can be compatible with the 21st century or the 20th century, for that matter.
HOST: Yeah no no no, I get the moral argument. I guess I’m kind of curious about the fundamental political dynamics because I feel like this is where like the apartheid analogy can kind of lead you into a blind corner. Like apartheid South Africa had these economic contradicitions that were the seeds of its own doing. One is the system was completely dependent on Black labor in South Africa in a way that the Israeli economy is not dependent on Palestinian labor anymore. Another is that it was ruled by a 10 percent minority of the population, not an evenly divided populace, so there is a much bigger threat of internal instability from organized protest movements. And the other is this export economy that was heavily dependent on its economic ties to other countries and Israel has a much more diversified economy, doesn’t it have less to fear from slow erosion of its legitimacy on the international stage?
YM: I think it is a different case than South Africa on some of those questions, although I would not underestimate the extent to which the Israeli economy is dependent on Palestinians as well. I think that’s a very under-discussed story here. But look, the reality is that the Israelis are very much dependent on the outside world. They’re very much dependent on Europe for trade, they’re very much dependent on the outside world, including the United States for diplomatic and economic and military support as well. If the so-called democracies of this world were to take a position, and I think one of the things that could help with this is if the Palestinian leadership, which today by the way, out of the Americans, the Israelis, and the Palestinians—the only party out of the three which is still talking about a two-state outcome. If the Palestinian leadership was to say, ‘Look, we tried this two state effort, the Israelis decided to completely torpedo that, it’s time for equal rights,’ I think at that point—and this is a component of course, which is different today than what was in South Africa and would align with that if the Palestinian leadership were to come out and say that—I think that would create different conditions internationally where the international community, including Israel’s largest trading partners and diplomatic partners as well would be forced to confront it.
HOST: You’re saying the Palestinian leadership basically pivoted to run a voting rights campaign for everybody living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
YM: Equal rights for all between the river and the sea regardless of religion, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of nationality. You know you had in South Africa, you had the leadership of the African National Congress, which was you know a movement based on a platform with a vision for equal rights in a single country. And you don’t have that today among Palestinian leadership. I think that the Palestinian leadership is unfortunately helping keep this myth alive, this myth of the possibility of partition even as Israelis are exploiting the existence of that myth to ensure that it always remains a fantasy. So I think that their shift here could be a major game changer in the way that the international community would be forced to confront the issue.
HOST: So I mean it’s clear why that is anathema to Israeli politicians because it forces them to contemplate a situation in which Jews comprise a voting minority in what they now consider explicitly a Jewish state. It would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state. What it stopping Palestinian political leadership from adopting that as a campaign objective?
YM: Well it’s a good question you have to I think keep in mind that just as Israeli politicians are self-interested actors, so too are Palestinian politicians. You know there is a lot more that perhaps could be gained by being the ruling elite in a Palestinian state then there would be in trying to share political power and influence with people throughout an entire country. But, you know, the situation on the ground is untenable. Palestinian support for the idea of two states has evaporated with every settlement that is built on Palestinian territory, with every year that goes by and every generation that grows up living under military occupation. This strategy by the Palestinian leadership which has told its people there is a way forward through statehood that will be delivered by Washington, this strategy has failed. I think an important part of leadership is being accountable to those you are leading. And at some point there needs to be a discussion about what comes next. And it’s hard to see how you avoid equal rights even as a younger generation of Palestinians are increasingly gravitating towards this idea and this issue.
HOST: Yousef Munayyer, it’s always good to sit you on.
YM: Thank you, appreciate it, have a good day.
HOST: Yousef Munayyer is the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.