Kushner is an Orientalist par excellence
When senior Trump advisor and the president’s son in law was pressured to defend the depth of his knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that allowed for the presentation of a detailed conflict-resolving vision, he boasted that he had read 25 books on the Middle east.
Jered Kushner, might have read a number of books about this region of the world, but it is unlikely that he read the classic 1978 book Orientalism. In the first chapter of the book the late Columbia University professor of Palestinian origin, Edward. W. Said says “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western-style for dominating restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”
Nothing more reflects Orientalism more than the content and the way the American president and his son-in-law rolled out the U.S. vision for solving the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Trump unveiled such an extremely pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian independence plan that former Jordan’s deputy prime minister and former ambassador to Tel Aviv and Washington, Marwan Muasher, described the plan to the local Radio al Balad station in Amman as nothing less than a “surrender document.”
The Orientalism theme was not limited to the 181-page U.S. document or the way it was presented to the world on January 28th. The paternalistic and racist attitude of Trump officials continued after its publication. Orientalism oozed out of the statement made by US ambassador to Israel David Friedman February 10th when he tried and justify to a reporter from the Times of Israel why Israel gets to carry out its annexation of Palestinian lands immediately while Palestinians get their highly limited sovereign state after four years and only after they ‘prove’ themselves. “This is a completely asymmetric relationship,” Friedman said of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “Israel is a democracy. You can hold it to its word. It has an enormous relationship with the United States on multiple levels and that relationship is very solid. It is in a position today to keep its part of the bargain.” By contrast, the Palestinians are currently “not in a position to keep any bargain,” Friedman said. “The Palestinians are not united. Their government is not democratic. Their institutions are weak. Their respect for all types of norms that we hold dear — not just democracy but human rights, freedom of religion, freedom of the press — is nonexistent.”
Ironically the one issue that Israelis and Americans case for, security for Israel and Israelis was not mentioned by Friedman. This is strange, considering Palestinians, have performed splendidly according to Israeli and US security officials.
By downgrading the rights of Palestinians because they don’t have a state while praising a country that has ruled by sheer military power over four million Palestinians for decades to be “the country that respects democracy and upholds human rights” is the ultimate in the arrogance of power and racism.
But the issue of Orientalism was not only with what was in the plan itself but in a very manner that it was presented to the world. Trump presented his plan to the world with a grinning Israeli caretaker prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, standing next to him, and with a room full largely of cheering Christian and Jewish Zionists and no Palestinian or Arab leaders.
By ignoring, and not even presenting, a single Palestinian out of the 13 million in Palestine and around the world, the Trump team could have said almost everything that Palestinians wanted in a peace plan and still it would have been rejected because of this glaring fatal flaw. Trump and company failed to understand or reflect the importance of dignity and national identity to Palestinians. If there was ever an orientalist document and an image that has been unveiled in the last century this plan and the optics that came with it reflect the worst part of western Orientalism.
For decades Palestinians fought against both colonial powers, Israelis, Arabs and international parties who tried to bypass them and make deals on behalf of Palestinians or look for proxies to represent the Palestinian people.
Both the PLO and later the Palestinian Authority born out of the Oslo process has not often performed well. But for Palestinians the idea that anyone other than the agreed-to Palestinian representatives can decide the future and sign the dotted line was and is totally unacceptable.