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Palestinians Reject Economic Vision of Trump's 'Deal of the Century'

By Patsy Widakuswara June 25, 2019

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza clashed with Israeli forces Tuesday as they protested an economic initiative launched by the White House Tuesday at a conference in Manama, Bahrain.

The multi-billion dollar "Peace to Prosperity" proposal to boost Palestinian and neighboring Arab states' economy is part of a Middle East peace plan heralded by U.S. President Donald Trump as the "Deal of the Century," and spearheaded by his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

The plan, presented on the White House website over the weekend, is billed as "the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date."

"My direct message to the Palestinian people is that despite what those who have let you down in the past tell you, President Trump and America have not given up on you," Kushner said in his opening remarks at the Manama conference.

In a recent interview, Kushner said the plan "would create a million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza." If implemented correctly, "it would take their unemployment rate from about 30% to single digits … And reduce their poverty rate by half," he added.

Under the initiative, donor nations and investors are invited to contribute about $50 billion to the region, with $28 billion going to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. About $7.5 billion will go to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion to Lebanon.

The proposed funding would mainly be from Persian Gulf countries through grants and private equity sources. Kushner would not confirm whether the U.S. will provide any funding, saying only that Trump would "be interested in looking at opportunities" but only "if there is a deal."

Responding to VOA question, Trump on Tuesday emphasized the need for Palestinian prosperity.

"We have to get economic support because the Palestinians don't have money, and we have to help the Palestinians with some money, because they don't have it," he told reporters at the White House.

Trump said he expects to receive support from "countries in the Middle East that do have money, so they're going to play a role in the peace plan."

Dead on arrival

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials are attending the Manama conference.

Palestinians have rejected the plan, as it does not address Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees. They insist that economic development cannot happen without a political settlement.

"Only when there is a political solution on the basis of international law and the two-state vision will we welcome all those who wish to help us, whether it be in Manama or anywhere else," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "But for now, we reject the 'Deal of the Century.'"

Israelis offered a lukewarm response.

"We'll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that Palestinian rejection of the plan is "not the way to proceed."

Some Middle East experts have called the plan dead on arrival, and the conference a "photo-op."

Zaha Hassan of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, likened the conference to "a job fair, but with no employers and no job seekers."

"You have all of these goodies that are supposedly out there for funding, and Israelis aren't showing up, Palestinians aren't showing up," Hassan said. "And no one with money is going to be putting it down at that conference."

Political framework pushed to 'later time'

Kushner acknowledged that the economic plan is unlikely to move forward without resolving the political issues, and said the administration intends to address that "at a later time." The political component of the U.S. plan is scheduled for release in November, after Israel's September elections and coalition-building.

Many of the projects in the plan depend on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

"If we don't know where Palestinian land is, we don't know where the borders are, then none of these projects are executable," said Zaha Hassan. She added that without a political framework, the proposals are "pipe dreams that the White House is putting out there without any idea of how they're going to actually move them forward."

Stalled peace plan

Hassan and researchers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that the reason for the delayed release of Trump's promised Middle East peace plan is Israel's unsettled electoral politics. Palestinian opposition and Arab apathy also limit its prospects, the report said.

The administration also faces a credibility problem from Palestinians who view it siding with Israel on many issues, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

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