Friday

August 23rd, 2019

Most Pro-Israel President Yet?

Administration tempts 'Palestinians' as new peace package is partially revealed

   Anne Gearan

By Anne Gearan The Washington Post

Published May 20, 2019

Balaam and Dostoevsky

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration will unveil economic proposals for development in the Palestinian territories next month as part of a proposed Arab-Israeli peace package, it announced Sunday, but it will hold back crucial details about a potential political settlement to the conflict.

Bahrain will host a two-day economic conference in June, described as a working session to develop ideas and drum up investment from Arab governments, business and investment figures, and nations outside the region, including in Asia.

In announcing the session, the Trump administration did not describe any plans for Palestinian self-governance or a future state. The initiative developed by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is expected to call for a multibillion-dollar package of loans, grants and investment for Palestinians and in neighboring states affected by the conflict, but to stop short of endorsing a separate, fully sovereign state alongside Israel.

The second half of the plan, dealing with "political" issues, will follow at an unspecified date, the administration said. That portion of the package is expected to address Palestinian sovereignty and land claims, borders, and the status of Jerusalem.


By divorcing the economic underpinnings of the plan from the most sensitive political questions about the future of the region, the Trump administration may be attempting to prevent it from becoming dead on arrival.

Discussion of money is meant to ignite interest among Palestinians and their Arab backers - and to go around Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has boycotted President Donald Trump's emissaries since December 2017, when he declared that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the U.S. Embassy to that city. They have said they will not entertain the Trump plan under those circumstances, although the administration maintains that the declaration does not preclude Palestinian claims to areas of the city.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's negotiation affairs department declined to comment Sunday, and Israel's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Palestinian officials have also criticized the Trump administration for attempting to pursue "economic peace" in what they say is an effort to avoid a just political solution. In a response to an editorial by U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt late last year, the Palestinian Authority accused him of attempting to buy a Palestinian surrender.

"We look forward to engaging with business and thought leaders from throughout the region and the world to build consensus around the best steps the international community can take to develop the foundation for a prosperous future," Kushner said in a statement. "The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives."

Previous international efforts to draw significant investment and improve employment conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have always come up short, in part because of the underlying conflict and competing land claims. Trump's idea was to empower Kushner, a fellow businessman, to rethink both what an eventual political solution should look like and how to pay for it.

"Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved," Kushner said. "We look forward to presenting our vision on ways to bridge the core political issues very soon."

The "Peace to Prosperity" session on June 25 and June 26 in Bahrain's capital, Manama, "will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth," according to a joint announcement from the United States and Bahrain.

Invitations to the conference were issued Sunday.

The administration declined to give a full list of invitees or to say definitively whether senior Palestinians were included.

"The economic piece is necessary but not sufficient," said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who worked on several prior U.S.-led peace efforts. "If we could have bought a solution with aid and trade, we would have done it by now."

"But it's not a real estate deal or an episode on 'Shark Tank' where investors invest in commercial enterprises. It's about religion, land, dignity, security and sovereignty - factors that can't be reduced easily to mutually acceptable bottom lines," said Miller, now a scholar at the Wilson Center. "By sequencing this, Kushner has given up leverage that might be exercised by a package deal of both political and economic incentives."

The administration's leverage is debatable. Trump has not put significant personal effort on the line since the early days of the administration, when he said he would like to be the U.S. leader to finally complete the "deal of the century."

But he empowered his son-in-law to work on his behalf. Kushner has family ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and close professional ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Arab leaders whose political and economic backing would be crucial.

Netanyahu had no immediate reaction to the announcement Sunday but has said in the past that he welcomes U.S. involvement and will review the plan with an open mind. Netanyahu has presided over an expansion of Israeli control over West Bank land that would make true Palestinian sovereignty difficult to achieve. He has also hardened the Israeli border with Gaza, enforcing an economic blockade because of persistent rocket attacks and other threats on Israel.

Bahrain is among the wealthy Arab states whose political and economic backing the administration is seeking for a deal, but Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all more symbolically important players.

"The 'Peace to Prosperity' workshop underscores the close strategic partnership between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States as well as the strong and shared interest in creating thriving economic opportunities that benefit the region," Bahrain Finance Minister Salman bin Khalifa al-Khalifa said in a statement.

Bahrain's government did not explicitly endorse the Trump plan, however. No Arab state has yet publicly committed to underwrite the effort, either.

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