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Palestinians protest US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza protested the US "Peace to Prosperity" plan, as it ignores their basic demands of freedom and dignity.

Hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets June 24-26 to protest the US-proposed “Peace to Prosperity” plan introduced last week. The protests took place at the same time as the Bahrain economic workshop in Manama, where US Middle East envoys met with select Arab leaders to discuss the first part of the Donald Trump administration’s proclaimed “deal of the century.”

Rallies and marches, organized by the Palestinian Authority (PA), took place June 24 in the major West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin as well as in Gaza. Signs declaring “Trump’s plan is a failure” and “Manama meeting denies our right to self-determination” could be seen in Ramallah, along with a cardboard coffin reading “the deal of the century” and “decisions of the Arab League.”

The June 25 protests turned into clashes with the Israeli military near checkpoints in Ramallah and Hebron as well as near the separation barrier in Gaza. Tear gas and sound grenades were used near the Beit El checkpoint in Ramallah to disperse the crowd of about 50 protesters June 25. Gaza saw a total strike June 25. According to Ashraf Amra, a Palestinian journalist in Gaza, 13 people were severely injured in clashes, three from live bullets and 10 from direct strikes from tear gas cannisters.

Protests in the West Bank thinned out June 26, but the day marked the highest turnout in Gaza. Amra told Al-Monitor that thousands of Palestinians marched from the UN Relief and Works Agency headquarters to the UN headquarters in Gaza City. Hundreds also marched in Khan Yunis and Rafah in Gaza, where people burned photos of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israeli and American flags.

All Palestinian political parties and factions rallied together in agreement that no plan coming out of the Bahrain workshop — which excludes Palestinian participation — will achieve peace. “All Palestinian people are united,” Tamer, 28, told Al-Monitor. “All political parties [are] against Israel, against the Bahrain conference.”

When asked his party affiliation, Tamer replied, “We are Palestinians. We are with the president.” He asked to remain anonymous, as did all other interviewees at the protests.

“We have leaders who can decide for the Palestinians. No one else can decide for the Palestinian people,” Tamer said, explaining that the leaders at the Bahrain workshop do not represent the Palestinian people and cannot decide their fate.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Bahrain workshop is that it does not consult the Palestinian people or its leadership on what the Palestinian themselves want. Palestinian leaders were invited to the workshop, but they have continued to boycott any peace talks that involve the United States ever since the Trump administration moved the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem is considered the capital of a Palestinian state — if it ever materializes — and has consistently been a non-negotiable aspect of the Palestinian cause. Any peace talk that does not include the status of Jerusalem — home to one of the holiest sites for Muslims, Al-Aqsa Mosque — is a non-starter in the eyes of Palestinian leaders.

All protesters interviewed agreed that there could be no deal without freedom from Israel’s illegal military occupation. But in the glossy 40-page Peace to Prosperity document, the words freedom, occupation and Palestine go unmentioned. These omissions are seen as a glaring end to the two-state solution or any political prosperity for Palestinians.

Rather, the Peace to Prosperity plan focuses on economic expansion and international investment in the West Bank and Gaza — including an already tried and failed “transportation corridor” infrastructure project meant to connect the two isolated Palestinian territories.

It is clear to many people in Palestine that the Trump administration does not understand why Palestinians find themselves economically deprived in the first place: the Israeli military occupation itself. Al Jazeera cites a 2016 UN report that “found that the economy of the occupied Palestinian territories might reach twice its size if the illegal Israeli military occupation was lifted.”

The Bahrain economic workshop is “only a camouflage to justify the liquidation of Palestine,” Mustafa Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, told Al-Monitor. Peace will be achieved “only by ending the occupation, ending the system of apartheid and allowing Palestinians to have a state of their own,” he said. 

The Peace to Prosperity plan proposes a $50 billion investment fund, which many see as a mere trade deal that sells Palestinians to international buyers. Palestinians firmly reject the money, emphasizing that they cannot be bought. “We don’t care about money from America or Saudi Arabia,” said Hani, 47, a member of Fatah. “We don’t care about any money. We care about an established living in our home, our land.”

As for the Bahrain workshop, it is a source of contempt for Palestinians. “The deal of the century, created by the US in Bahrain, is not going to pass,” Jamal Emhassin declared through a loudspeaker in the Ramallah city center June 24. “It is a betrayal of the Palestinian people to normalize relations between Israel and Arab leaders.”

Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq boycotted the Bahrain event in support of the Palestinian people, while the Bahraini al-Wefaq Society organized a counter Sovereignty for Peace and Prosperity event in Beirut. Delegations from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE are currently in Manama. “Even the countries that are participating in the Arab world … their people went out to the street to say that they don’t accept this,” Barghouti said, referring to citizen protests in Jordan and Morocco.

“We thank all the Arab countries that stand with Palestine,” Tamer said. “And we say to all those who are with the deal of the century, there is a day that will come that you will regret,” addressing Arab leaders who have not only betrayed their brothers in Palestine, but also betrayed the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, which he said is just as important as the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, the sentiment at the protests was that the Palestinian demands of freedom and dignity are simple, but the international community is not listening. “I wish that they would give us our rights,” said Mohammed, 35. “We don’t need more than that. We are a people requesting freedom and they are blocking us.”

“We need freedom, nothing else,” he said.

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