SAT 17 - 8 - 2019
Jun 24, 2019
The Daily Star
Kushner’s plan faces broad Arab rejection
RIYADH/AMMAN/CAIRO: Arab politicians and commentators greeted U.S. President Donald Trump’s $50 billion Middle East economic vision with a mixture of derision and exasperation, although some in the Gulf called for it to be given a chance. Set to be presented by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at a workshop in Bahrain on June 25-26, the blueprint envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab economies and is part of broader efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country, we need peace, and the sequence of [the plan] - economic revival followed by peace is unrealistic and an illusion,” Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said Sunday.
The lack of a political solution, which Washington has said would be unveiled later, prompted rejection not only from Palestinians but also Arab countries with which Israel would seek normal relations.
From Sudan to Kuwait, commentators and citizens denounced Kushner’s proposals in strikingly similar terms: “colossal waste of time,” “nonstarter,” “dead on arrival.”
Egyptian liberal and leftist parties slammed the workshop as an attempt to “consecrate and legitimize” occupation of Arab land, and said in a joint statement that any Arab participation would be “beyond the limits of normalization” with Israel.
While the precise outline of the political plan has been shrouded in secrecy, officials briefed on it say Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution - the long-standing worldwide formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday he was confident the workshop would fail. “We need the economic [support], the money and the assistance, but before everything there is a political solution.
“For America to turn the whole cause from a political issue into an economic one, we cannot accept this.”
Azzam Huneidi, deputy head of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition said: “The economic plan is the sale of Palestine under the banner of prosperity in return for peace and with no land being returned. ... A deal with Arab money.”
Kushner’s economic proposals will be discussed at the U.S.-led gathering in Bahrain this week. The Palestinian Authority is boycotting and the White House did not invite the Israeli government.
U.S.-allied Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will take part along with officials from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
Lebanon and Iraq will not attend.
The “peace to prosperity” plan includes 179 infrastructure and business projects, according to details of the plan and interviews with U.S. officials.
More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Some of the projects would be in the Sinai Peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave.
The plan also proposes nearly a billion dollars to build up the Palestinians’ tourism sector, a seemingly impractical notion for now given the frequent flare-ups between Israeli forces and fighters from Hamas-ruled Gaza, and the tenuous security in the occupied West Bank.
Kushner’s proposed new investment fund for the Palestinians and neighboring states would be administered by a “multilateral development bank.”
Global financial lenders including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank plan to be present at the meeting.
The fund would include “accountability, transparency, anti-corruption and conditionality safeguards” to protect investments.
A signature project would be to construct a travel corridor for Palestinian use that would cross Israel to link the West Bank and Gaza. It could include a highway and possibly a rail line. The narrowest distance between the territories, whose populations have long been divided by Israeli travel restrictions, is about 40 kilometers. Kushner said that if executed, the plan would create a million jobs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, reduce Palestinian poverty by half and double the Palestinians’ gross domestic product.
Arab analysts believe the economic plan is an attempt to buy off opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land with a multibillion-dollar bribe to pay off the neighboring hosts of millions of Palestinian refugees to integrate them.
Ali Shihabi, who heads the Arabia Foundation which supports Saudi policies, said the Palestinian Authority was wrong to reject the plan out of hand. “It should accept it and work on delivering the benefits to its people and then move forward aggressively with nonviolent work ... to seek political rights,” he tweeted.
Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor also criticized the Palestinians’ refusal to go to Bahrain. “There is no harm in listening to what will be placed on the table,” he wrote last month.
Yet even in the Gulf, backing for Kushner’s plan is limited.
“The deal of the century is a ... one-sided concession, the Arab side, while the occupier wins everything: land, peace and Gulf money,” Kuwaiti parliamentarian Osama al-Shaheen said.
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