Palestinians deserve better than calcified positions that have failed to bring peace, jobs or opportunity

Exclusive: Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations writes for The National about his views on Palestine

Palestinian UNRWA employees take part in a protest against jobs termination by UNRWA inside its headquarters in Gaza City August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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Palestinians deserve more from their leadership than political statements and bargaining positions.

While waiting for a possible political solution, it is high time to build the Palestinian economy and provide Palestinians with the opportunities they deserve.

Over the past 22 months, we have focused on a comprehensive peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We are hopeful that Israel and the Palestinians will engage with the Trump Administration’s plan.

However, irrespective of the plan, Palestinians deserve better lives than they currently have. We know that the Palestinians are not interested in mere economic peace.

The unrealised potential of the Palestinian economy and the unfortunate economic circumstances of the Palestinian people is clear.

While the causes of this issue are complex, the Palestinian leadership’s desire to prevent the Palestinians from getting too comfortable is a major factor.

These leaders believe that if Palestinians get too comfortable economically, they would lose interest in the Palestinian cause.

And so, year after year, Palestinians suffer and are unable to live comfortable lives.

Palestinians are living next door to one of the most technologically successful societies on the planet, yet the Palestinian leadership refuses to engage with Israel for the benefit of ordinary Palestinians.

It is readily apparent that Palestinians are well-educated, talented individuals, but many are prevented from translating those attributes into careers or jobs that provide for themselves and their families.

The Trump Administration continues to strive for a peace agreement, but the Palestinians need economic help now – with or without a peace agreement.

The technology sector in the West Bank and Gaza has great potential and can be developed without treading into the politically contentious core issues of the conflict.

We believed that if we began to improve the economy while we were working on the peace plan, and continued to do so during the hoped-for negotiation period, Palestinians had everything to gain.

If we managed to successfully conclude a peace agreement, the Palestinian technology field would be ahead of the game.

If we are to fail in our peace efforts, at the very least Palestinian lives will be improved.

Months ago, in co-ordination with Palestinian, Israeli and American businesspersons, we developed a concept to bring hundreds of high-paying jobs to the West Bank.

This planned programme would draw on local governments and the private sector to develop a fully sponsored coding boot camp for talented Palestinians who already have four-year degrees.

Graduates from the programme – who could have numbered in the hundreds per year – would have been guaranteed employment with participating companies. This would have just been the start.

Palestinians, both businesspersons and regular citizens, loved the concept.

They saw the value of the added jobs, funds and potential for the tech industry.  Bright, talented Palestinians available and eager to engage with eager, capable Israeli, and, potentially, Gulf investors and businesses standing by to help build the opportunity.

Dreams are unrealised as the Palestinian leadership blocked the initiative – normalisation they say, Israelis only want cheap labour, they say.

Result: opportunity for regular Palestinians lost, more highly trained Palestinian youth unable to gain fulfilling jobs.

Israeli businesspersons simply outsource to talent elsewhere – jobs sent elsewhere. How does that help Palestinians?

I continue to meet with ordinary Palestinians and what is striking is that, although they complain about the Trump Administration’s policies, they remain focused on their economy.

Most object to our policies relating to the Palestinians. But in discussing these decisions with them, it is clear they are misinformed about the rationale.

After they hear our reasoning, many still disagree, but they understand these decisions were thought out and the United States has a right to make the decision in its interest.

They understand what they read is not the full picture. I hear the legitimate question: if the United States cuts off aid and continues to do so, what’s next? Is there a way for the United States to help improve their lives without relying on aid and handouts?

Palestinians are a proud people and want to create and earn on their own.

They believe, as I do, that Palestinians should be allowed to improve their economy without worrying about whether they will give up on their national cause.

This damaging Palestinian policy clouds all economic interaction between Palestinians and Israelis.

It directly contradicts what Palestinians agreed to in Oslo – a policy that dismisses opportunity for Palestinians for errant, failed political tactics.

This tactic is in direct opposition to the protocol on Israeli-Palestinian co-operation designed for economic growth, explicitly and especially for the benefit of the Palestinian side.

This anti-normalisation policy has got Palestinians nowhere and continues to leave them further behind.

With the United States taking the position that it will no longer contribute funds to that failed political philosophy, countries around the world are beginning to question their actions.

They are evaluating whether to continue to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to fill the gap year after year, or should they help the United States help the Palestinian people and create a thriving economy while awaiting a political solution.

The Palestinian leadership should be prepared for others to recognise that the method they have chosen over the decades is not in the best interest of the donor countries’ taxpayers and certainly not in the best interest of ordinary Palestinians.

Palestinians deserve better than calcified positions that have failed to bring peace and failed to bring jobs and opportunity to Palestinians.

Let’s be real – 136,000 Palestinians commute to work with Israelis every day because the opportunity is there. But those are generally labourers.

How many more could be working for Microsoft, Google and Israeli technology companies right now?  We won’t know – the Palestinian leadership has barricaded their people from those opportunities.

The Palestinian economy needs initiatives now without deterring from Palestinians’ political aspirations.

Anti-normalisation is a failed policy that only hurts the Palestinians.

Let’s allow Palestinians to thrive in the way they are educated, capable of and deserve.

We won’t tire of trying to resolve the political conflict (and certainly Palestinians won’t either), but we must focus on helping the Palestinian economy where we can, before it is too late.

Jason Greenblatt is an assistant to the US president and special representative for international negotiations