Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Monday she had been denied a visa to travel to the U.S. The State Department did not provide a reason for the denial, but Ashrawi said she believes it is because of her vocal opposition to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. She’s one of several prominent Palestinian activists denied entry to the U.S. in recent weeks, but considering that she’s a senior official who has frequently traveled to the U.S. and met with U.S. officials for decades, her exclusion is more surprising and seems particularly noteworthy, as the Trump administration prepares to release a “peace plan” that is likely to reject the long-sought Palestinian aspiration for political independence.
The release of the plan has been repeatedly delayed, with the recent Israeli elections and the month of Ramadan cited as reasons, but is currently expected in June. Details of the plan, developed by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, have been closely guarded, but the general outlines have started to emerge. Most importantly, the plan is believed to stop short of calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, a reversal of two decades of official U.S. policy. As Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute summarized after interviewing Kushner at an event in May:
Kushner said he was eschewing the term “state” altogether: “If you say ‘two-states’ it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians, and we said, let’s just not say it,” he explained—although why he would propose answers to all peace process issues but punt on providing a U.S. definition of “statehood” was left unclear. Indeed, it was like pulling teeth to extract from Kushner much empathy for Palestinian political aspirations, however defined.
In terms of political sovereignty, the plan may actually leave Palestinians with less than they have now. Over the weekend, Israeli media reports suggested that the plan not only will allow for all Israeli settlements on the West Bank to remain under Israeli control indefinitely, but it also will not object to the “extension of Israeli law” to the settlements. This seems a lot like acquiescence to Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge during his recent election campaign to begin formal annexation of the settlements as Israeli territory.
What would Palestinians get in return? Well, money, mainly. As the Washington Post reports, “The package is expected to call for tens of billions of dollars in aid and investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two areas where most Palestinians live, and billions more to Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab states that have made peace with Israel.” As Congress is unlikely to back large-scale spending on such a plan, the “economic part” of the plan would be funded by wealthy Persian Gulf countries. Kushner, who has a close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was surprised that there wasn’t more enthusiasm for his plan at a meeting in Saudi Arabia in February, the Post reports.
This is all mostly academic since Palestinian leaders will almost certainly reject the plan.
Palestinian officials have had no official contact with the Trump administration since the president unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017. Since then, the administration has cut aid to the West Bank and Gaza and shut down the consulate that oversaw U.S.-Palestinian relations. The denial of visas to advocates of the Palestinians seems to be the next step in this pressure campaign. The administration is not only ruling out Palestinian aspirations for statehood, it’s also banning those who advocate for those aspirations.
Kushner is right that negotiation has failed to bring peace to the region, but his alternative seems to be simply to dictate terms, to take issues of debate “off the table” as Trump puts it. It doesn’t really matter if the terms of the deal are rejected. That rejection will then be used as pretext for more U.S. efforts to undermine Palestinian sovereignty and support Israeli territorial claims. Trump has called Middle East peace the “ultimate deal,” and he and Kushner have prided themselves on their negotiating skills, honed by years in the New York real estate market. But when it comes to cutting deals with the Palestinians, they don’t seem to have any intention to negotiate.