Orientalism and hypocrisy take centre stage at Kushner's Bahrain summit

Orientalism and hypocrisy take centre stage at Kushner's Bahrain summit
Comment: The entire premise of the US-led 'Peace to Prosperity' economic workshop in Bahrain reflects a paternalistic colonial attitude towards Palestinians, writes Daoud Kuttab.
5 min read
25 Jun, 2019
US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is spearheading the summit [Getty]
The late Palestinian professor of English literature Edward Said, shook the academic world in 1978 with his impressive book, Orientalism

In his seminal work, Said describes 'Orientalism' as the "West's patronising representations of the East" - the societies and peoples who inhabit the places of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East." 

A closer look at the programme and proposal by the Trump administration's so called 'visionaries' who have laid out their vision for peace in the West Bank, Gaza - with no mention of Palestine - and the region, would surely make the Jerusalem born Said turn in his grave.

Not only is the US proposal blatantly orientalist, the plan presented for the Bahrain workshop is sloppy, amateurish, hypocritical and far removed from the reality of people under occupation.

In a 40-page report that mentions the term "investments" no fewer than 61 times, there is not a single mention of freedom or independence. To be accurate, there is one mention of "judicial independence" in the section on governance. But believing that the Trump administration and the apartheid Israeli occupiers really care for democracy or the rule of law seems decidedly farfetched. 

A closer look at the 'peace plan' would surely make the Jerusalem-born Edward Said turn in his grave

Even the images used in the American brochure taken from the USAID photo archives reflect projects that the Trump administration has abruptly cut or defunded, such as support to Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem, humanitarian support to UNRWA. It even contains photos of projects that promote "peaceful interaction between Israelis and Palestinians" that have since been cut by the Trump administration. 

Perhaps the most obvious case of Orientalism though, is the discussion of the importance of people power.

Under the title "Empowering the Palestinian people", the Jared Kushner/Jason Greenblatt plan aims to educate Palestinians, improve the Palestinian health sector and foster a culture of "innovation" and "entrepreneurship".

When it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, guests invited to the "Peace to Prosperity" workshop are told that "entrepreneurship and innovation are two of the key cornerstones of any competitive and dynamic economy."

The US workshop invitation states that, "For the West Bank and Gaza, a well nurtured innovation-entrepreneurship nexus can accelerate development and catapult the region into a new age of economic prosperity."

Read more: The road to Palestinian prosperity does not lead through Bahrain

The very fact that these ideas were actually put on paper about a people who are among the most literate and highest educated in the Arab world reflects how out of touch the authors of the US vision are. Bir Zeit is ranked among the world's best universities.

As for innovation, especially in the IT sector, young Palestinians have made progress despite the restrictions. Long before Donald Trump was elected Palestinians were building an ecosystem for innovation back in 2012. 

But the major impediment is not a lack of skills or abilities, but the overarching Israeli restrictions as a result of decades of military occupation.

A basic item needed for the development of the IT sector is the availability of advanced mobile technology. Israel has delayed and restricted both 3G and 4G technology for Palestinians. Cell phone companies were unable to put to use their potential until Israel finally approved in 2018 the entry of 3G technology that had been collecting dust for years in Israeli warehouses awaiting security approval.

Even when it was granted the approval was only limited to the West Bank. Gaza, where programmers and entrepreneurs could have used such technological infrastructure was not allowed to have 3G.

And neither Gaza nor the West Bank are allowed 4G cell phone technology, while the world is about to start using 5G. Ironically, for Israeli companies operating in the Palestinian areas, access to such technology isn't a problem.

American officials say these issues will not be raised at this week's conference in Bahrain. The 10-year plan calls for projects worth $6.3 billion for Palestinians in Lebanon, as well as $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza, $9.1 billion in Egypt and $7.4 billion in Jordan.

The plan presented for the Bahrain workshop is sloppy, amateurish, hypocritical and far removed from the reality of people under occupation

Not only does the US plan reflect an abhorrent paternalistic attitude, but it is impossible to ignore the obvious hypocrisy that is reflected in the US' own actions.

In discussing health, the American authors of the economic vision talk about the importance of a healthy population for a healthy economy.

How this can be said with a straight face, just a year after the US ended all financial support to the UN's lead agency working with Palestinian refugees, is bewildering.

Health, along with education and social service are the three pillars of the UNRWA mandate. But for the last year, the Trump administration has been asking donors to help lift the Palestinian health sector.

Furthermore, Washington has also cancelled aid to the leading Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem; the only ones that were properly equipped and where trained physicians were were providing crucial care.

This case of the health hypocrisy is typical Trump administration bluster. Demanding that Arab donors cover the huge cost of this economic project is reminiscent of Trump's famous assertion that "Mexico will pay for the wall".

The entire premise of the US-led "Peace to Prosperity" economic workshop in Bahrain reflects a paternalistic colonial attitude that assumes that local Palestinian "natives" really can't do anything unless helped by the charitable and sophisticated Americans and their Israeli sidekicks.

If anything, the economic workshop in Bahrain has exposed the American plan as nothing more than a refurbished Israeli economic plan presented repeatedly by Israeli leaders and rejected by Palestinians who want freedom and independence before financial gains.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.