In a rebuttal to Jason Greenblatt, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says economic desperation is being used to force a normalisation of the Israeli occupation
A year ago, the Trump administration decided to recognisethe illegal Israeli annexation of occupied Jerusalemand move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in violation of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 478.
These illegal steps have shattered Palestinian efforts to engage with the US for nearly a year, when several meetings took place. Throughout this period, Donald Trump’s team refused to even utter the terms “Palestinian rights” or“Palestinian state”– precisely in keeping with hardcore Zionists, who do not believe Israelis and Palestinians are entitled to the same rights. To believe in equality, however, is significant in the realisation of peace.
For more than a year, the Trump administration has been talking about a plan. Meanwhile, the international community, notably in Europe, has refrained from taking any significant action to hold Israel accountable or to protect the Palestinian people.
What has become clear, therefore, is that if the Trump administration has any plan, then it is being implemented on the ground: from the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem, the US refusal to endorse the two-state solution according to 1967 borders,the ongoing attempts to dismantle UNRWAand kill the rights of Palestinian refugees, and the avoidance of any reference to the occupation, orcondemnation of Israel’s colonial settlements.
It’s utterly despicable that those illegal settlements, considered war crimes under the Rome Statute, are now ironically referred to as “examples of co-existence”. Our rights are thus further ignored, including our right to self-determination.
Additionally, the US has imposed a policy of collective punishment against Palestinians by defunding hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem that cater to the needs of cancer patients, among others.
For the Trump administration, the solution to ending Israel’s occupation is to buy the Palestinian right to national independence. Such a “solution” is no more than a transaction. In reality, once we realise our freedom and take control of our imports, exports and natural resources, among otheressential attributes of a normal state, the economy would flourish and prosper in a free Palestine.
As such, economic desperation is seen by the Trump administration as an opportunity to force Palestinians to normalise Israel’s occupation, to legitimise its settlements and its whole system of oppression. The administration has been trying to divide Palestinians by claiming that the Palestinian leadership is preventing economic growth. However, there is a consensus among our people that the primary responsibility for our grave financial situation is the Israeli occupation.
According to conservative estimates released a few years ago by our Ministry of Economy, up to 80 per cent of our GDP gets wasted in “costs of the occupation”. This reflects costs we shoulder due to lack of access to natural resources, roads and international borders.
Figures from the World Bank have been consistent in confirming the huge losses our economy bears – at least $3.4 billion annually – for not being able to access the 61 per cent of the occupied West Bank known as Area C that is under full Israeli control.
Tourism – what some people refer to as the “oil” of the Palestinian state – has been monopolised by Israel, with Palestinians receiving only minimum gains from it.
At Christmas, Bethlehem remains a bantustan surrounded by 18 illegal settlements, separated from Jerusalem by an annexation wall and with the Palestinian government only able to operate in 13 per cent of the district. So the question is: what economic opportunities is the US administration talking about?
We do have abundant resources and great potential. We are a highly educated people, who have been able to showcase capacity, taking leading roles in developing economies and institutions worldwide. It is precisely due to the Israeli occupation that we have been denied the possibility of being able to do the same in our homeland.
The Israeli occupation, in full communion with the Trump administration, sees our future as a closed market for Israeli companies. We see a free Palestine as part of a global economy for the benefit of the people of Palestine.
When asked to explain the illegal move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, ambassador David Friedman said: “The United States did not make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. That was done by King David some 3,000 years ago under God’s direction. But, I hope you will agree with me that it feels awfully good that, for the first time in 2,000 years since the destruction of the Second Temple, the most powerful and moral nation on earth has made this important recognition of the primacy of Jerusalem to the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Such a statement summarises the ideological narrative of the administration, which can only resonate in the hearts of religious fundamentalists trying to turn our cause for national liberation from a colonial power into a holy war.
This year,the Palestinian people marked 70 years since the Nakba and 51 years since the 1967 occupation. Our resilience has kept our cause and determination alive.
The Trump administration has tried to defeat a nation struggling for freedom by extortion and blackmail but it will never succeed. As Washington rewards Israel for its occupation, justifies the killing of civilians and blames Palestinian victims for their plight, the Israeli government has taken further steps, including the approval of its Jewish nation-state law that endorses Israel as an apartheid state.
Is this the “plan”? If not, then at least it’s the direction the Trump administration has been leaning towards.
By Saeb Erekat, PLO secretary general and Palestinian chief negotiator