The Trump administration is seeking support for an economic plan it says will be a foundation for Israeli-Palestinian peace but which Palestinians and many others dismiss as pointless without a political solution.
On Wednesday, as a US-led peace conference was under way in Bahrain, the
Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) reiterated its rejection of
the $50bn plan, saying the proposal’s lack of political vision
guarantees its failure.
The statement said the US wanted to sell a “mirage
of economic prosperity” which would only perpetuate the Palestinians’
It accused the White House of using the workshop as cover for
Israel’s efforts to achieve normal relations with Arab states and grow
its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
At the opening panel session of the Bahrain conference,
International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said
that the fund’s experience in conflict-riven countries showed it can be a
struggle to generate economic growth in such an environment.
Lagarde told the conference that growth in the West Bank and Gaza had to be “job intensive”.
“It cannot be any kind of growth in the West Bank and Gaza, it needs
to be job intensive,” she added, citing agriculture, tourism and
construction as sectors that “will absorb a lot of labour”.
A day earlier, White House adviser Jared Kushner – one of the architects of the economic plan – urged Palestinians, whose leadership is boycotting the event, to think outside the “traditional box” for an economic pathway that he said was a precondition for peace.
Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the event.
In Gaza on Tuesday, Hamas and its rival Fatah movement of President
Mahmoud Abbas convened a gathering of leaders and activists in a rare
show of unity to voice their rejection of the Manama conference.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh criticised Arab states participating in
the workshop, which 300 delegates including Israeli and Palestinian
businessmen are attending.
The conference aimed to finish off the Palestinian cause under the cover of economic and financial benefits, he said.
“The (Palestinian) people, who have been fighting for one hundred
years, did not commission anyone to concede or to bargain. Jerusalem is
ours, the land is ours, and everything is ours,” Haniyeh said.
Although US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
discreetly support the plan, several Arab states, such as Lebanon, have
stayed away while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab
nations that have reached peace with Israel, have sent deputy ministers.
The presence of Sunni Muslim Gulf states in Manama showed some want
to encourage closer ties to Israelis – with whom they share a common foe
in Shia Iran – that have largely been under the table, said David
Makovsky, a US-based Middle East expert attending the event.
“(But) it’s clear they won’t bypass the Palestinians and do anything they don’t want,” he told Reuters news agency.
Washington hopes wealthy Gulf oil producers will bankroll the plan,
which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50bn to
Palestinian and neighbouring Arab state economies.
Saudi minister of state Mohammed Al-Sheikh told the panel that
Kushner’s plan was bolstered by the inclusion of the private sector as a
similar proposal, relying heavily on state funding, had been attempted
during the Oslo interim peace deals of the 1990s that eventually
“While I accept that peace is essential, back then it was the hope of
peace that got them actually excited and moving,” Al-Sheikh said.
But the “economy first” approach toward reviving the moribund peace process could be a hard sell as the political details of the plan, almost two years in the making, remain secret.
On Tuesday, Riyadh reiterated that any peace deal should be based on a
Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state
drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the
1967 Middle East war, as well as a capital in East Jerusalem and
refugees’ right of return – points rejected by Israel.
Kushner said on Monday the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative.
It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the
“two-state solution”, which involves the creation of an independent
Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.
The United Nations and most countries back the two-state solution,
which has underpinned every peace plan for decades, but Trump’s team has
consistently refused to commit to it.
Any solution must settle long-standing issues such as the status of
Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, Israel’s security concerns,
Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s illegal
settlements and military presence in territory where Palestinians want
to build that state.
Palestinian leaders are refusing to engage with the White House,
accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Breaking with the international
consensus, Trump in 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,
infuriating the Palestinians and other Arabs.
Across the great divide
The IMF says unemployment stands at 30 percent in the West Bank and
50 percent in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered from years of
Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and
sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the
Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Among the 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5bn
transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, according to
documents reviewed by Reuters.
Some of them have been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.
“The economic vision has to be linked to resolving the entire
conflict, and this doesn’t bring the Israelis and Palestinians any
closer together. So I’m not optimistic this plan can materialise anytime
soon,” Makovsky said.
Even at a break between sessions in Bahrain, differences between the two sides of the Israeli-Arab divide could be seen.
Israeli businessman Shlomi Fogel was in conversation with a UAE
businesswoman. Asked for their views on Kushner’s approach of tackling
economic issues first, Shlomi said: “If we wait for the politicians, it
will take forever. We could do parts of this economic plan with the
The Dubai-based businesswoman suggested, however, that the plan was too ambitious to be put into effect anytime soon.
“There were efforts like Oslo that didn’t work out – and that was because of the Israelis,” she said. “You can’t assume the economics will work if the politics don’t move.”
Source : Al Jazeera
Image : (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)