President Trump was not bred to be dumb or born for convention. Possessed by unwieldy impulses brought into a crude harmony with intelligence and willfulness, he leads by calling the shots, and would never dream of doing what he is told.
Admirers and haters count on him to churn things up. Here is a president stacked like a deck of cards to bring down the curtain on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by not being blind to the elephant in the room; by not being as myopic as all the sorely disappointed presidents before him.
Did his team look for the silent mammoth? Did it try to answer the riddle why, according to Trump, “All prior administrations, from President Lyndon Johnson, have tried and bitterly failed”?
For a decrepit peace process the warring camps like to blame four problems:
(1) Antipathy of Palestinian Arabs to the idea of a Jewish flag in the neighborhood;
(2) Israeli settlement building in the 'West Bank';
(3) Israeli "occupation|"; and
(4) Palestinian insistence on the time bomb labeled ‘Right of Return.’
At every turn the ghosts of peace brokers got mired in these blockers. Shuttling between camps they never looked for another, maybe the most obdurate of all: Money. Buckets of ready cash institutionalized the conflict until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict became an economic problem as much as a diplomatic one.
How so? Were the unimaginable to happen, a brokered agreement would not shift a monstrous edifice. The elephant in the room would hum and ha long after the diplomatic sideshow had been filed in the archives. You don’t stem billions of dollars; make a million jobs redundant; condemn thousands of activists to obscurity, just by brokering an agreement. The problem is that fat beneficiaries sup at the table of the world’s favorite conflict.
At the head of the table sit kleptomaniac terror– crazies. Taps gushing dollars do not predispose the suits lording it over Ramallah and Gaza to make peace. Why would it? Why disturb a state of limbo if it meant no more filthy lucre? Billions of dollars, with no strings attached, have gushed into the coffers of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. That’s only from Western donors. How much Arab countries and Iran have sent is anyone’s guess.
Largesse never incentivized leaders to get off their butts. Ask the World Bank. Its report in July 2012 complained that “the Palestinian economy cannot sustain statehood as long as it continues to rely heavily on foreign donations.” So on what did Palestinian Arab leaders splash billions?
Nearly half work in security, which has a sufficiently broad meaning to allow militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Islamic Jihad and other groups to draw a salary.
Some of it went to pay some 140,000 workers that swell its payroll.’ They are the breadwinners for a third and more of the Palestinian Arab population. Nearly half work in security, which has a sufficiently broad meaning to allow militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Islamic Jihad and other groups to draw a salary. If they happen to be behind bars, still they get their monthly transfer. Mahmoud Abbas uses around 6% of the budget to keep ‘political prisoners’ and convicted murderers in clover.
In this upside down world prisoners never go short, while teachers and health workers are left waiting for their money. More billions go into ‘development aid’, though what this means depends on what cronies ensconced in Ramallah and Gaza City like it to mean. Other billions go down a few deep pockets.
“Chronic Kleptocracy – Corruption within the Palestinian Political Establishment” was the title given to a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held in July 2012. Analysts testified before Congress on crony capitalism, endemic corruption, distortions of the market and other malpractices.
Mahmoud Abbas and sons milk the Palestine Investment Fund for all its worth. Established in 2003 as an independent investment company, it was meant to strengthen the local economy through key investments, while maximizing long-run returns for the people of 'Palestine'. Homemade apple pie stuff! Off balance sheet it is treated as a discretionary fund.
For Gaza, foreign aid is the economy. Under the PLO much of this aid came from the US and Europe, but after Hamas came to power the Arab League was forced to step in. Iran on its own has become an important donor, funding Hamas to the tune of hundreds of billions. Since there can hardly be tax revenue from an economy with practically no taxpayers, reliance on donations must be total. On what, and on whom, the money is spent no one knows, and cares even less.
Until the money tap is turned off no power on earth would impel super-rich, unaccountable leaders to smoke the peace pipe with Israel.
And how, unless by the hand of God, will Team Trump Team decommission a planetary system? If two states do emerge from the Deal of the Century, what happens to the orbiting bodies? So many livelihoods; all those reputations and careers; such behemoth planets and moons, so much wild spending, revolve around the conflict.
Take UNWRA,. When the UN agency began in 1950 it had three quarter million Palestinian refugees to care for. Today it looks after some five million. There are 700 UNWRA schools teaching half a million children; 122 clinics and more welfare centres provide better care than Arab host countries offer their citizens. But it doesn’t come cheap. UNWRA’s budget is around $2 billion.
What if the miracle happens? What if Trump’s Deal of the Century is accepted by the side that has said, “No – a thousand times no?’ How would UNWRA workers react – some 30,000 of them Palestinian Arabs with a firm belief in entitlement? Talk of cutbacks have led to riots in the territories.
And no one in their right mind expects Arab leaders to surrender their potent weapon against Israel – refugees. Lebanon, Syria and Jordan putting up their hands to absorb five million? It won’t happen! For 7 decades Palestinian refugees have had zero rights in the Arab world, and no deal will change that. So, who except UNWRA will continue to look after millions of Palestinians in permanent limbo? No force known to man could help the United Nations disband the behemoth.
Other bodies, playing for bigger money, orbit the conflict. Who’d bet on the human rights industry supporting the peace plan, and packing up?
Who’d bet on the human rights industry supporting the peace plan, and packing up?
Only look at the sustainability factors driving the industry of civil society organizations or NGO entities: mountains of cheap capital on demand; global reach, well-connected stakeholders, media channels beating a path to their door, and a traded commodity – Israeli misdeeds – for which the world has a gluttonous hunger. If those are not conditions for big business what are they?
Nominally NGOs are autonomous, not-for-profit and apolitical. In real life they are none of those things. There are not hundreds but thousands of entities, a bewildering number of them operating in the tiny areas of Israel and the 'West Bank', all competing to supply human rights product. And on the industry people depend for jobs, in their tens of thousands.
Trade is brisk, the money big and the players earnest. There are billionaire private investors, Euro zone countries that practically fling money at NGOs, ecumenical coffers, flush Arab potentates and proverbial Joe public. The Ford Foundation is one of the bigger investors, with an annual grant budget exceeding $500 million. Christian Aid, with branches in 50 countries, brings in €100 million and more a year, while Human Rights Watch received $100 million for 10 years from George Soros. Oxfam is bigger than them all. With affiliates it attracts €900 million annually, a third of that from Euro Zone tax money.
These, and lesser human right NGOs, operate a particular business model. It gives them a vested interest in human right abuses, real or not. They lever Israeli misdeeds as stock-in-trade, assets that convert to cash. Exactly how popular is the Israeli brand? One of the big-five, Human Rights Watch, devotes three times more resources to policing and reporting Israel than to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority combined, and six times more resources than to Syria and Libya. Amnesty produces 255 reports per million Israeli people compared to 60 reports on Syria, 23 on Iraq and Iran, and a mere 9 on Saudi Arabia. When the Syrian regime slaughters 70,000 of its own people, Oxfam pays lip service by issuing three statements. At the same time Oxfam condemns Israel, stable and free and going about its business, nine times.
And the king of human rights kings? The United Nations trades in hardly anything but the Israeli brand. Seventy five percent of that body’s condemnations and sixty percent of its emergency sittings relate to Israel. For human rights violations in the whole world the UN keeps just one permanent item on the agenda. It keeps one other permanent item for Israel alone.
But not to leave out the foot soldiers. How will boycotters receive a deal absolving the nation they love to hate? Would they accept an Israel that comes up smelling of roses? Limelight, book sales, career opportunities and, for the lucky few, celebrity status would wither away without a conflict to sustain them.
‘Israel-bashing is the contemporary key to acceptance,’ Professor Robert Wistrich said. Even a humble saxophone player may aspire to overnight celebrity status. ‘It is Gilad Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile,’ the Guardian explains.
Good luck and all to President Trump. Should he overcome the great peace blocker a Nobel Prize would be a miserly reward.