Political Science 101: Prosperity does lead to peace

By Dr. Phil W. Reynolds

A political analyst in Gaza lamented: “All we have is our moral power.” This after Mahmoud Abbas claimed the Kushner plan is “unacceptable before the political solution is discussed.” The Palestinian Finance minister was blunt: “We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country…The sequence of (the plan) — economic revival followed by peace is unrealistic and an illusion.”

The latest peace plan from the international community has been delivered by the Trump Administration, via his senior advisor Jared Kushner.  Presented in outline privately over the past month to all parties, and with some public fanfare this week in Bahrain, the response has been as predictable as it has been disheartening. The Israelis weren’t there. Neither were the Palestinians who have cut off all official contact with the U.S. administration since Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there.

The progressive left in America, rabidly inchoate over anything emanating from Trump’s world, has reacted accordingly.  Tom Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst and a professor at Arizona State University has written that Kushner is a terrible real estate investor and so, an even worse peace negotiator.  Steven Benen, writing on Rachel Maddow’s blog, has called Trump “irrationally confident.”  Jeremy Diamond, not grasping how economies actually work, has said there is no direct economic aid for Palestinians.  Aaron David Miller, in a conspiracy laden tirade only a Big Foot investigator could stomach, wrote that negotiations were only a cover for more important goals:  boosting Trump’s stock among hardline domestic pro-Israeli constituencies, gutting the two-state solution and helping to re-elect Benjamin Netanyahu.  Well.

At least Kushner seems aware that this would be the gist of the criticism: His team has repeatedly said that the economic portion of the peace plan will only succeed after a political settlement.  The $50 billion proposal is obviously meant to be a carrot.  And in this light, the Trump administration’s decision to cut humanitarian aid to the PLA in 2018 was clearly meant to provide a ready-made interest group that would pressure the PLA to accept the peace plan. At least working class Palestinians want something different: A recent poll shows less than half support armed violence against Israel.  What remains to be seen is if news of the plan can penetrate the authoritarian grip Hamas and the PLA have on information.

The Palestinians erstwhile allies, the Arab states, are growing wary of trapping themselves any longer with the Palestinian problem.  If they support the PLAHamas, and even Hezbollah against Israel, they create an unstable investment environment in their own countries.  But the Palestinian issue has been used for years as a sort of domestic cudgel to whip up popular opinion against Israel in order to defray public perception of their own disastrous and kleptocratic economies.  The more progressive the Arab state in question, the starker the balancing the act.

The Palestinian authority is in a worse position- Having been placed in power on largely one issue- the conflict with Israel, to implicitly endorse a plan that could provide jobs and money to individual Palestinians would be to admit that violence has been a failed strategy.  All those useless deaths.  The Intifada (both of them) in turn has given rise to huge populations of unemployed, angry men who genuinely believe that the existence of Israel and its support from the U.S. keeps them from enjoying the fruits of an industrious peace.  There is now fifty billion dollars on the table- the land bridge alone would provide construction jobs for thousands.

So, if the Palestinians keep rejecting peace plans, the question for U.S administrations in particular, and the West in general, is why bother?  Through much of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the Arab states tied their expectations of normalizing relations to the Palestinian question, hence the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Accord, the 2000 Camp David Summit, and the 2003 ‘Road Map’, not to mention Ehud Olmert’s offer to withdraw from 93% of the West Bank and allow the creation of a Palestinian state in 2008.  Mahmoud Abbas’ plan for peace, presented in 2014 was dead on arrival, and the world knew it: repeated Palestinian rebuffs and violence led to the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, a rightist-hardliner, who would not countenance the Olmert position from just eight years before.  

For forty years, American administrations wanted a peace plan for the Middle East because the risk of war was hugely destabilizing to various initiatives the U.S. wanted to see implemented.  Now, the Arab states are finding their footing, and becoming investment hubs in their own right, and dealing with their own domestic issues. As they mature and see Iran and ISIS as the main threat, the idea of Israel as a cause for concern dwindles.  Now, with various states concluding their own peace treaties, and doing business with Israel, the idea of a ‘middle east’ peace plan is moot.

One of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders Like You’ve Never Experienced It Before

The rejection of the Kushner plan, with its massive incentives will convince millions of Americans, Europeans, and Arabs, that the Palestinians will never accept peace.   Still, politics in the west are often slow to change, reflecting the hardening of domestic interest groups’ positions and the power derived therefrom.  Most political elites in the U.S. and the European, especially on the left, still believe that the whole of the middle east is held in thrall to the Palestinian question.  Many have created plush careers as prophets of peace.  The Kushner plan steps beyond that and seeks to deal with the wider Arab partnerships that are predicated on business in the 21stcentury, not the identity conflicts of the 20th.  

Abbas has told his Fatah (a word that means ‘to conquer’) party that focusing on economic issuesis unacceptable before the political solution is discussed.  In the political lays the violence of the intifada and the rockets and the rage and grief that keeps Abbas, Fatah and Hamas in power.  With the startling recognition that the world is moving away from their issue, all the Palestinians have left is their moral power, which is predicated on the bankruptcy of violence.

But the idea that there can only be prosperity after peace is a red herring; half of the extant international relations theories are predicated on prosperity bringing peace, not least is Kant’s democratic union.  People who are working and building their lives, quickly abandon ideas of destructive war.  A fifty-billion-dollar investment creates a lot of jobs.  To see the efficacy of the ‘prosperity to peace’ idea one only must look to the European Union, created to stop their own horrible internecine wars.  If the EU can work, so can the Israeli-Palestine dyad.Perhaps amongst all the hand wringing and renting of garments, only Kushner remembered his political science 101.

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Phil W Reynolds

Phil W. Reynolds has a PhD in Political Science, is a visiting scholar at the Center for Futures Studies at the University of Hawaii and is the author of Ouroboros: Understanding the War Machine of Liberalism. His new book Less Than War: Security Assistance and South Vietnam, 1956-1962, is due out in 2021.

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