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A century later, Trump’s deal for Palestine is no better than Britain’s

The British left Palestine in 1948 with their tail between their legs, having laid the groundwork for 100 years of conflict. With people like Trump and Kushner leading the way, we should expect nothing better for our own century.

By Jonathan Adler

Jared Kushner speaks at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jared Kushner speaks at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The White House revealed last weekend that the “Deal of the Century,” the administration’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promote peace in the Middle East, will be crafted by and for businessmen.

Jared Kushner, a real-estate mogul and son-in-law and senior advisor to President Trump, will launch the plan by convening an “economic workshop” in Bahrain at the end of June. There Arab finance ministers and international businessmen will discuss how to “encourage investing capital” in the West Bank and Gaza through infrastructure and industrial development.

Over the past months, many have speculated about what this investment might look like. Journalist Vicky Ward suggests that the deal will include a Saudi-Gaza oil pipeline, complete with refineries, desalination plants, and a shipping terminal in Gaza. Rumors have circulated of a trans-desert railway that will connect Baghdad to Haifa. And Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has reportedly offered the Palestinian Authority a lofty sum of $10 billion if they accept Trump’s deal and relinquish their claim to a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

The political component of the deal will be unveiled only after the economic workshop. It will not, however, include an independent Palestinian state. In a recent interview with Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Kushner dismissed Palestinian statehood as a matter of semantics: “If you say ‘two states,’ it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to Palestinians,” he remarked. “‘Let’s just not say it.’” This position is a non-starter for the Palestinian Authority, whose presence in the upcoming workshop is not even guaranteed.



Satloff argues that we should “view Kushner and his colleagues as developers applying to the Middle East lessons from the New York real estate market than as diplomats trying to solve a thorny, long-standing international dispute.” But this approach is nothing new. In fact, Kushner is following a long tradition of deal-making in the Middle East that, by prioritizing economic development and avoiding or delaying political solutions, has proved to be disastrous for the region and for Palestine in particular.

Before the “economic workshop” next month, it is worth reminding ourselves of a similar deal completed 100 years ago that would have far-reaching implications for the conflict – and which will foreshadow the failure of Kushner’s plan to secure a lasting peace.

Under guidance of ‘advanced nations’

On April 8, 1919, the British and French petroleum ministers met to negotiate their own deal of the century. Before World War I, Britain had acquired a 50 percent stock in the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC), a syndicate that had gained the rights to seek oil in Iraq. The remaining shares were split between German and Dutch investors.

By the end of the war, Britain and France had emerged as victorious Allied powers that could reshape pre-war oil agreements to suit their own interests. The petroleum ministers, Walter Long and Henri Berenger, agreed that France would take the TPC shares previously held by the Germans. In exchange, France relinquished its territorial claims over the oil-rich Mosul region in Iraq and committed to construct pipelines and railways to link Iraq with the Mediterranean.

The next step was to offer a political vision to justify British and French control over the region. The Covenant of the League of Nations, signed in June 1919, created the system of mandates, whereby territories “inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves” would be placed under the temporary guidance of “advanced nations.” Britain and France could thus claim to be safeguarding the “well-being and development” of Middle Eastern peoples while fulfilling their own imperial goals.

Like Kushner today, Britain claimed that the development of modern industry necessarily came before the establishment of an independent Palestinian polity. Yet Britain’s quest to construct a pipeline to the Mediterranean, as secured by the Long-Berenger Agreement, came at the direct expense of the Palestinians.

IPC assistants welding pipes together on the Esdraelon stretch of the Jezreel Valley in Palestine in the 1930s. (American Colony Photograhic Department)

IPC assistants welding pipes together on the Esdraelon stretch of the Jezreel Valley in Palestine in the 1930s. (American Colony Photographic Department)

Although land surveys had shown that a pipeline from Iraq to the Lebanese port city of Tripoli would be the financially sound choice, Britain sought an oil terminal in Palestine, under its direct authority, at the Haifa Port. After the TPC struck oil in Iraq in 1927, Britain bribed the oil company with unprecedented privileges. The company was granted exemption from nearly all local taxes, access to state land with the right to expropriate additional private land, and permission to import foreign labor.

Negotiations between the TPC (which became the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1928) and the British government took place without any input from Palestinians. The Iraq-Haifa pipeline, completed in 1935, secured one of Britain’s long-standing imperial interests. But because it provided no positive benefit to the local Palestinian population in the form of tax revenue, it did nothing to address – and in some cases exacerbated – the growing problems of land loss and unemployment that plagued Palestinian society throughout that decade.

Britain’s singular focus on colonial development in Palestine had a crucial political effect as well: to cement Britain’s support for Jewish settlement. British officials viewed Palestinian society as incompatible with their vision of development and preferred to work with English and European Jewish industrialists who conditioned their investments on British support for the Zionist project. Large-scale infrastructure such as the IPC pipeline was a point at which British and Zionist interests converged.

What can we expect for our own century?

For the Palestinians, Britain’s mighty rhetoric about their interest in the “well-being and development” of the local people rang hollow; Britain had simply expanded its empire into the Middle East, further distancing Palestinians from political sovereignty.

British rule in Palestine is now a distant memory. And yet, US leaders still subscribe to its century-old logic. Kushner rightly observes that conflict has stifled economic opportunity for Palestinians. But he fails to grapple with the essence of this conflict – a century-long saga of dispossession, expulsion, and military occupation – which requires not merely financial restitution for Palestinians but also a just political solution.

For Kushner, history is only a burden. Palestinians, he believes, should simply let go of their “grandfathers’ conflict” and allow his plan to “focus on developing the infrastructure, the rules, the training for a lot of the people.” But he refuses to say who will develop the infrastructure, set the rules, and provide the training, nor does he discuss the conditions Palestinians must agree to receive this surge of investment. Indeed, there is no reason not to assume that the primary investors in his plan, including Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Israel, the US – everybody except the Palestinians – will be the primary beneficiaries.

British diplomat John Holmes seen alongside a military officer during a tribal lunch at a cavalry post in Tel-el-Meleiha, 20 miles north of Be'er Sheba, January 18, 1940. (Library of Congress)

British diplomat John Holmes seen alongside a military officer during a tribal lunch at a cavalry post in Tel al-Meleiha, 20 miles north of Be’er Sheba, January 18, 1940. (Library of Congress)

With history in mind, we should be skeptical that this plan will even bring about development for Palestinians. And in a way, Kushner’s deal is worse for Palestinians than what was offered by Britain a century ago. The Mandate was justified – if only in words – as a step toward self-determination and sovereignty for Palestinians. Kushner’s deal, on the other hand, will try to bribe Palestinians away from political sovereignty toward a mere promise of economic prosperity.

History informs us that the development of infrastructure alone has never been a path towards peace. In the Middle East, infrastructure has always been a double-edged sword: by building pipelines and laying railways, as historian Timothy Mitchell argues, oil companies were also erecting “the infrastructure of political protest.”

This was particularly true in Palestine where, during the mass anti-colonial uprisings of the late 1930s, the IPC pipeline, bridges, telephone lines, trains, and other British infrastructure were frequent targets of attack. To protect their investments, Britain transferred tens of thousands of troops to Palestine and violently suppressed the revolt. They also enlisted Jewish recruits, who learned the keys of British counterinsurgency strategy: torturing and murdering civilians, destroying houses, and blowing up villages. These were the same brutal tactics the Haganah used to expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians a decade later.

The British left Palestine in May 1948 with their tail between their legs, having laid the groundwork for 100 years of conflict. With neo-imperialists like Kushner leading the way, we should expect nothing better for our own century.

Jonathan Adler is a recent graduate of Yale University, where his research explored the political and economic history of the British Mandate in Palestine.

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      Fakestinyan people. fakestinyan history, fakestinyan rights, fakestinyan politics etc etc etc
      Its all a big, sad sack of BS. The arabs at that time were NOT called “falestinyans”. The word only became mainstream in the 1970s when an ugly Egyptian mass terrorist popularized it.

      Retroactively designating a fake nationality backwards through time is the basic method of the Israel-bashers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: From the Jewish Virtual Library: “Under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the term Palestine was used as a general term to describe the land south of Syria; it was not an official designation. In fact, many Ottomans and Arabs who lived in Palestine during this time period referred to the area as “Southern Syria” and not as “Palestine.”…After World War I, the name “Palestine” was applied to the territory that was placed under British Mandate; this area included not only present-day Israel but also present-day Jordan….Leading up to Israel’s independence in 1948, it was common for the international press to label Jews, not Arabs, living in the mandate as Palestinians. It was not until years after Israeli independence that the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians.”


        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Exactly, so the piece is basically nonsensical. The history, peoplehood and politics of the South Syrians would be more correct. But adpting that narrative would spoil the potent Israel-bashing effect that Adler seeks. That is why the author does not use it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Lewis: Mind-numbing, repetitive nonsense, like a robocall. The area was Palestine and indigenous people in the land there for centuries exercised self-determination after undergoing changing political consciousness due to dispossession and persecution. The basis of your not seeing this and recognizing it is pure racist supremacism, nothing more.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben’s waffle is indeed mind-numbing, repetitive nonsense. The never-existing, imaginary phantom non-people were as indigenous to the Land of Israel as much as the Greenland Eskimoes.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That’s the point isn’t it. They’re not indigenous to “the land of Israel” they’re indigenous to “the land of Palestine.”
            Hallucinating waffles? That’s not a good sign.
            I agree the Greenland Eskimos are neither Arab nor Jewish. And I would oppose Jewish or Arab settlers colonizing Greenland.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The JORDANIANS illegally squatting in Judea and Samaria need to be shown the door.
            Their relatives are awaiting for them on the East Bank.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The right can’t make the Palestinians disappear

            “…the status quo is a fallacy — there is no vacuum and the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere…. many are now worried. They know that neither David Friedman, Jared Kushner, or even Trump himself can make the Palestinians disappear….The gap between desire and reality is frustrating, especially considering that the right has been in control for more than a decade and enjoys a majority in the Knesset, the government, and among voters…The right knows how to get into power, it has a majority of the Israeli public behind it — it just doesn’t know what to do with it.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel

            How do you define “indigenous”? And can you give some examples of how the Palestinians for “centuries exercised self-determination”? Please try actually answering, rather than jumping directly into name-calling. Thanks!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Indigenous means originating or occurring naturally in a particular place, native. I agree with the statement of Peace Now that a local identity among the Palestinians is centuries old now. “There is ample historical documentation showing that a separate local identity among Arabs living in Palestine started forming in the 16th and 17th century, and that a national Palestinian consciousness began crystallizing early in the 20th century, as anti-colonial movements took root around the world. This national consciousness transformed into a national movement and later into a national liberation movement, in large part as a result of the friction between the Palestinians and Zionism, the Jewish national self-determination movement.”

            Now if you want me to bring this down to the “where are their kings and coins” level of delegitimization that Lewis practices, I am not going to do that. Was the “name calling” pejorative you use directed at Lewis’ use of “Jordanian squatters”?

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The “fakestinyans” are as indigenous as “Narnians” or “Middle-Earthers”.
            In other words, they never existed & never will.
            Like all ethereal entities, their role is to disappear.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Well then certainly the Palestinians should do exactly what they did vis-a-vis the British. Because it worked out pretty well the last time. The State of Palestine has been a smashing success.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        How interesting. From Firentis an implicit endorsement of terrorism by Palestinians. For the pre-state Haganah, Irgun, Stern Gang et al. used terrorism effectively against the British.
        (Background reading: Noam Sheizaf, “Why do we only listen to violence.)

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          The Palestinians need no endorsement or encouragement or education when it comes to terrorism. They just aren’t particularly effective in achieving anything with it. But that isn’t surprising since they aren’t particularly effective in achieving anything.

          Oh dear. There I go again. I am sure the Palestinians need no outside intervention or guidance. They are doing really well. Their empire grows stronger on a daily basis. If only the Americans would stop their ill-guided attempts to interfere. It is entirely beyond me why the American mouse thinks it can dictate terms to the Palestinian elephant. The absolute gall of it!

          Sumud sumud. Any minute now it will all be worth it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You could give them lessons. The Israelis are experts at terror and have refined it to a high art form and continue to achieve a lot with it. What you really dislike is that the Palestinians have gotten better at non-violence. That is what you really hate.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Oh yes. The thousand Israelis that were murdered by Palestinians in the past couple of decades are a testament to Palestinian non-violence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The Israeli right does not want to admit that the last thing it wants is too much non-violence and that the decline in Palestinian violence is something they do not want the Palestinians to get carried away with because it robs Israel of its excuses for the unending and constant violence of the Israeli occupation and creeping annexation. There is no other explanation for why Netanyahu and Liberman, Nokdim settler and current “savior of Israeli democracy” (see “Why are Israeli liberals suddenly courting a far-right nationalist?” by Edo Konrad) play footsie with Hamas and carefully keep it in power, yet utterly vilify Abu Mazen as the worst Palestinian of them all. The Israeli right wing secretly loves Hamas. I think this is incontestable. ==>

            The Israeli right is now openly saying it wants to keep Hamas in power
            As the latest round of fighting in Gaza and southern Israel died down, it became clear that keeping Hamas in power has become a central tenet of the Israeli right.
            By Meron Rapoport

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The so-called “fakestimyans” need to admit that their own fraudulent perception of history is blatantly nonsensical. Ideally, they need to revert to their original Jordanian identity. However, the Re-named People will never do that because it robs them of their excuses for the unending and constant stabbings, shootings and bombings – which is a constant feature of their fascistic Jihadi nature.

            There, fixed it for you, Ben.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Reality check

      Wow, rewriting history. The first time I have seen the claim that the Mandate was to establish a Palestinian state. The blood libels are of course not new. Hard to believe how low the standards at Yale have fallen.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The first time, huh? Looks like you have some reading to do. (And the author wrote “The Mandate was justified as…”, not “The Mandate was to….”)

        As for the standards of Yale, I think you ought to be more worried about the standards of Harvard:

        “New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner had pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University in 1998, not long before his son Jared was admitted to the prestigious Ivy League school. At the time, Harvard accepted about one of every nine applicants. (Nowadays, it only takes one out of twenty.) I also quoted administrators at Jared’s high school, who described him as a less than stellar student and expressed dismay at Harvard’s decision.
        “There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former official at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”

        Reply to Comment
    4. Stephen

      “The Mandate was justified – if only in words – as a step toward self-determination and sovereignty for Palestinians.” Palestinians were Jews and Arabs living in Palestine! As regards Palestine of the British Mandate, the Balfour Declaration was to set up a Jewish homeland throughout the whole of Palestine including the whole of what is today Jordan. This article brilliantly mixes presumed facts with an agenda that promotes the myth that there was a distinct Palestinian Arab people being colonialised out of their land and civil rights. Nothing could be further from the truth!

      Sorry, this article isn’t journalism, it’s brilliant propaganda.

      Look it up! Balfour Declaration, San Remo Conference, Peel Commission, UN Partition Plan, Israel’s war of independence.

      In 1948 there were no Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria to ignite the locals. The West Bank was under Jordanian conquest since 1948. No rebellion against Jordan by the locals! No demands for Palestinian statehood.

      However, there had been several Arab pogroms with terrible atrocities committed against local Jews during the Mandate period about which the British seemed to turn a blind eye.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        “the Balfour Declaration was to set up a Jewish homeland throughout the whole of Palestine including the whole of what is today Jordan”

        You better read the Balfour Declaration Stephen. Its only about 56 words. “Jewish homeland IN Palestine” (my emphasis) does not in any way equate with what you are claiming. And remember, the Brits were only interested in expanding and maintaining their empire. All these shenanigans were never intended for the benefit of either Jews or Arabs. That’s why they didn’t even specify where or how big this homeland was going to be. But they sure as hell had no intention of giving away a significant chunk of their empire to the Zionists.

        “No rebellion against Jordan by the locals!”

        Not heard of the assassination of King Abdullah in 1951? You have got a lot of studying to do.

        Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        My understanding is that Etzion Block of settlements was in Judea but the inhabitants met a very sad fate when it fell to Jordan in 1948.

        Similarly, by the end of hostilities there were no Jews left in the part of Jerusalem annexed by Jordan. This is the origin of “Arab East Jerusalem”.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      What a lightweight nepotistic wonder is Kushner. The manipulator who has spent his life coldly deceiving and shafting tenants and forcing disadvantaged people out of their apartments to make a buck–THIS is the guy we should trust to craft, with his buddy David Friedman of all people, a “deal” that would not screw over the Palestinians in their homeland? Don’t make us laugh.

      No one should think Kushner and Friedman have any intention except to “take care” of the Palestinians and make the world forget about them for another fifty years–that is their true intention.

      As for the con artist that is his father-in-law, Trump’s companies went through six corporate bankruptcies and managed each time to get others to pay for it and Trump avoided having to file for personal bankruptcy each time. He always left others holding the bag. His presidency is a seventh bankruptcy, and true to character, it will be America holding the bag, it will be America’s bankruptcy.

      Kushner and Trump together have corruptly used their White House influence to get others to bail out Kushner and save him from bankruptcy, from his extraordinarily bad “deal” at 666 Fifth Avenue, an astoundingly bad deal born of equal parts callowness, greed, ego, and bad business judgment. From THIS kid we should accept wisdom on the Middle East??

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Exclusive: Pompeo delivers unfiltered view of Trump’s Middle East peace plan in off-the-record meeting
      Pompeo questions reception of US plan ‘loved only by Israelis’
      In tape obtained by Washington Post, secretary of state says US’s Israel-Palestine peace plan may not ‘gain traction’.

      “…Aaron David Miller, a former negotiator and analyst on Middle East issues for both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the remarks were “the most revealing and real assessment of the plan that I’ve heard so far.”
      “The fact that Pompeo so easily conceded the perception — and likely the reality — that the plan was strongly structured and tilted toward the Israelis is striking,” Miller said….

      Reply to Comment
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