Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein

Photograph Source: Max Goldberg/Iowa State Daily from USA – CC BY 2.0

Norman Finkelstein is a leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict. While most observers have proclaimed Jared Kushner’s ongoing ‘peace’ initiative to be dead in the water, Norman warns that it may pose a serious threat to the Palestinians. In part 1 of this interview, I spoke with him about what we can expect from the Kushner initiative going forward.

What is the end goal of the Kushner-led ‘peace’ process?

The Trump administration hasn’t demonstrated focus or consistency at the diplomatic level. But I don’t agree with all the talk that the Kushner plan is “dead on arrival”.

The prime mover behind the Kushner plan is neither Israel nor the US. It’s Saudi Arabia. Saudi covets an open alliance with the Israelis and the US. It fears the Iran axis. It’s a feudal despotism largely impotent on its own; it needs others to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. Witness the Saudi debacles in Yemen and Syria. On a more immediate level, there’s the Khashoggi affair—MBS (Muhammad Bin Salman) is desperate to be rehabilitated in Washington. If Saudi enters into an open alliance with Israel, even liberal members of Congress will forgive his “indiscretions.” So the Saudis harbor strong motives to push through the Kushner plan. The one and only obstacle to an open alliance with Israel is the Palestine Question. If they can resolve it, or appear to resolve it, then it’s clear sailing.

What do the Israelis get out of it? They’ve already gotten from Trump recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan as belonging to Israel. The Kushner plan’s political component will almost certainly include recognition of what’s called the “major settlement blocs” as belonging to Israel. That’s about 10 percent of the West Bank on the “Israeli” side of the wall. For now, Israel doesn’t want the rest of the territory because it doesn’t want all those Arabs. It will be said by Trump supporters, correctly, that the whole elite establishment in the US—liberal to conservative, Democrat to Republican—has always supported Israeli annexation of the settlement blocs.

However, recognition won’t be a huge victory for Netanyahu because the Trump regime is too eccentric. It’s possible that if Trump is defeated in 2020, the Democratic president will resume the status quo ante and pretend the Trump years never happened. Then we’d be back to Jerusalem, the Golan, and the settlement blocs having the same status as in prior US administrations.

What would be a huge victory for Netanyahu would be an open alliance with Saudi Arabia. It would spell the official end of the Arab League. One of the core unifying elements of the Arab League was opposition to Israel. The Gulf states will realign with Israel, alongside Egypt and Jordan. Israel’s biggest diplomatic victories in the Arab world were Camp David, 1978 (Egypt’s defection from the “Arab Front”), and Oslo, 1993 (the PLO’s de facto collaboration with the US and Israel). A Saudi-Gulf open realignment would be Israel’s third big diplomatic victory.

What does the United States stand to gain from this?

The US motive has actually not been disguised. You have to pay attention to the language; they call it the “Deal of the Century”. Trump, Jared and Ivanka are business people. They don’t really care about politics per se, except as a vehicle for personal enrichment. They just want to cut deals. Jared sees the Gulf as chock full of real estate deals. It could become his playground literally for life as MBS, Saudi’s ruler for life, would be indebted to Jared for life.

The Palestinians don’t have many options. In the case of Gaza, the leadership has to show something for all the suffering in the Great March of Return. The Saudis will be able to offer them, alongside desperately needed funds, a partial lifting of the blockade. Israel would probably go along with it.

The Palestinian leadership has only ever cared about squirreling away money in their private bank accounts and paying the P.A.’s employees. It’s always been a corrupt patronage system. (The likes of pathetic Saeb Erekat also enjoy the pretenses and pageantry of power.) There was a very calculated policy by the US over the past couple of years to bankrupt the PA in order to soften it for the “Deal of the Century”. The Palestinian Authority is now broke, and desperate. Abbas is just bargaining as he says “No, No, No”; he wants to see how much money he can wring out of Washington and Riyadh. PLO hack Hanan Ashrawi says that the Palestinians can’t be bought for a “fistful of dollars.” True enough; they demand two fistfuls.

None of what I’ve suggested is set in stone. Consider the precursors–Carter and Clinton. Carter’s tenacity and grasp of micro-detail during the Camp David talks in 1978 was terrifying. It was said of Clinton that he knew every street in Jerusalem by the end of the 2000 (abortive) negotiations. To seal a deal does require that kind of laser-like focus.

Is Trump or anyone around him capable of that focus? At some level Saudi-US dollars can’t on their own set all the pieces in place. You need people who are equipped to do the tough negotiating.

That’s the level where things might not fall into place. But at the level of generality, all this talk about “it’s dead” and “Kushner is an idiot”– well, he is an idiot but it’s beside the point because if you look at the balance of political forces and the converging political agendas of the main players, it’s possible.

If the Trump administration is successful will the international consensus on the two-state settlement erode?

It will erode: once the dollars start rolling in, the Palestinians will do whatever suits their bankrollers. But at some point a new generation will undoubtedly emerge that demands the dignity of equality before the law.

The two-state settlement will then be over. If there is a resolution along the Trump-Saudi-Israeli lines, at least one generation will have to pass before a new leadership arises with a new vision, which will probably be one state. I won’t be around to see it. John Brown didn’t live to see the abolition of slavery. I will have been one link in the chain, one rung on Jacob’s Ladder.


What can we expect to come out of the State of Palestine’s case against Israel at the ICC?

The ICC is a very corrupt place. The former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has been steeped in personal (sexual assault), political, and financial corruption. The iniquity of the current chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, reaches back to her judicial role during the Gambian military junta. Of late, she has been fighting tooth and nail not to investigate Israeli criminality.

My guess is, initially, she feared being Goldstoned.[1] She knew the Mossad would track down the 10,000 skeletons in her closet and she would end up like Richard Goldstone. So she had a strong personal motive to quash the complaints lodged against Israel in the ICC.

Then, an institutional motive emerged as US Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton publicly declared that if the ICC investigated the US or Israel, the Trump administration would destroy the ICC. They were very blunt about it. And they’ve already set about it. When Bensouda attempted to launch a preliminary examination of US crimes in Afghanistan, she was immediately stripped of her US visa. Every ICC member has a t-shirt that says, “I LOVE NEW YORK”. The US message was clear: “Investigate Israel and you’ll never see Times Square again.” It worked like a charm. The pre-trial chamber overruled Bensouda and dropped the case.

On the other hand, a civil war has erupted in the ICC. There are forces within it that have been pushing back as they demand that Bensouda investigate Israeli crimes.

There are two referrals before the ICC now. One relates to the “Flotilla Incident” (Mavi Marmara) in 2010, and the second is the State of Palestine complaint relating mostly to the illegal Israeli settlements, Operation Protective Edge (2014) and the Great March of Return (ongoing). Bensouda has spent the past six years trying to bury the Mavi Marmara case. She keeps declaring the case closed but forces in the ICC keep replying “No, you have to investigate Israel.”

The stakes are very high. If Bensouda closes both complaints without even launching an investigation, its transparent that she’s completely corrupt. But if she indicts on any complaint, the US will set about destroying the ICC. The book I’ve written demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Bensouda has been whitewashing Israel. It poses two choices to Bensouda: indict Israel or step down. There is no third option.

But even if the ICC chooses to indict there is no chance that any Israeli general is ever going to stand trial.


So, many would say, What’s the point?

It’s like the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion in 2004, which declared the wall Israel has been building in the West Bank illegal. It’s another weapon in the arsenal of the Palestinians in the battle for public opinion. It would place on the public record that the two leading judicial bodies in the world, the ICJ and ICC, have both found Israel guilty of egregious international crimes. This is a powerful weapon to persuade public opinion if and when a Palestinian mass movement emerges that is truly committed to fighting the occupation.


1. After a UN Fact-Finding Mission led by the esteemed South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded that the goal of Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead had been to “punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population” in Gaza, Israel responded with a torrent of personal attacks until Goldstone (but not his coauthors) recanted the report, effectively destroying his career.

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Colter Louwerse PhD is a researcher in Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.

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