The Middle East Partnership for Peace Act relies heavily on the premise that the primary reasons that Israel and the Palestinians have not achieved peace are merely economic.
A dauntless supporter of Israel, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) will retire in January after over thirty years in the House. Lowey hopes to leave behind a legacy of progress toward peace in the Middle East. That legacy, she hopes, will be achieved with the passage of her bill, the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (H.R.3104).
The bill, which was rolled into appropriations bill H.R.7608, passed the House in July 2019; Lowey hopes that fellow Israel-backer Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) can push it through the Senate before the end of the session in January.
The Middle East Partnership for Peace Act pledges to “promote joint economic development and finance ventures between Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies and those in the United States and Israel.”
With a budget of $50 million a year for five years, it hopes to purchase an end to “the incitement and dehumanization that have plagued both sides of the [Israeli/Palestinian] conflict.”
As Lowey states:
I cannot retire from the Congress without ensuring that there is funding for the people on the ground who want to come together and make progress in their communities [with] peaceful coexistence, reconciliation and economic cooperation.
At face value, the bill – and Lowey’s sentiment – sound commendable, a balanced approach to an issue on which Congress tends to take sides. Israel’s side, most often.
H.R.3104 relies heavily on economics as a road to peace. “[E]conomic development is an important tool for stabilizing conflict-prone settings… [and] has been shown to support stabilization by empowering entrepreneurs, growing the middle class, and mitigating unemployment,” it proclaims, pointing to Gaza’s record high unemployment rate.
It promises that “Increased economic activity and projects” can “improve the quality and conditions of life for the Palestinians” and “help create a viable Palestinian economy.”
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), sponsor of Senate bill (S.1727) which is identical to Lowey’s House bill, agrees. Coons explains that “job creation is the best way to turn people away from violence,” a sentiment echoed by Senator Graham, who declared that the plan would “promote economic opportunity to people who have been systematically abused by their leadership for decades.”
If the sixty-seven Congress members who co-sponsored the twin bills are correct, the Palestinian-Israeli divide simply boils down to economics, and while it is true that the Palestinian economy is in shambles and unemployment is high, the solution Palestinians seek is not an infusion of Western cash, but of freedom.
Lowey’s bill fails to address the need for the Israeli government to make major policy shifts in the interest of pursuing peace. That fact goes unacknowledged not only in H.R.3104 but in the at least 66 additional bills focused on Israel in this session of Congress.
Real support for Palestinians has been rare on Capitol Hill and this session has seen just one bill wholeheartedly dedicated to improving Palestinian lives. That bill, H.R.2407, seeks to shield Palestinian children from being tortured on America’s dime. With just twenty-four cosponsors, it lacks the popularity usually needed for a bill to become law.
No strings attached for Israel
Lowey’s bill stipulates that any Palestinian recipient of funding must first be vetted for any connection to “terrorist organizations,” and must always operate in conjunction with Israeli or American supervision. Israel, however, is not subject to any conditions for its share of the $50 million each year.
The same is true for the $3.8 billion in military aid that the United States gives to Israel every year, although U.S. law does stipulate that due to Israel’s gross violations of human rights, some of that aid ought to be withheld.
In fact, Americans, especially Democrats, favor a reduction in aid to Israel because of its human rights abuses (45% of voters and 64% of Democrats according to Data for Progress) or make aid conditional upon Israel’s behavior (56% of voters and 71% of Democrats according to Center for American Progress).
Like H.R.3104, the Trump-Kushner “Peace To Prosperity” plan (aka Deal of the Century) focuses on economics, overlooking the Palestinians’ now decades-old call for an end to the occupation, land appropriation, and human rights abuses.
Other Trump policies include moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, green-lighting Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and parts of the Palestinian West Bank, endorsing Israeli settlements built illegally on Palestinian land, discontinuing aid to they only UN organization that cares for Palestinian refugees, and terminating its assistance to East Jerusalem hospitals.
Not surprisingly, the Palestinian leadership has now cut ties with the U.S. government, stating that it is not an “honest broker” in the quest for peace in the Middle East.
Feature photo | Israeli soldiers prevent Palestinian laborers from the West Bank from crossing a fence, south of the West Bank town of Hebron, Sept. 6, 2020. Oded Balilty | AP
Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.