Palestinians reject Jared Kushner's 'delusional' economic plan for peace with Israel

Senior official Hanan Ashrawi tells The National the core failure of the plan, to be unveiled in Bahrain, is zero mention of the Israeli occupation

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected Jared Kushner's economic plan that is set to be unveiled in Manama, Bahrain, this week. AFP 
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected Jared Kushner's economic plan that is set to be unveiled in Manama, Bahrain, this week. AFP 

The Palestinians immediately rejected the economic component of the US Middle East peace plan that the White House announced on Saturday, denouncing the initiative to create $50 billion and one million jobs for the Palestinian economy in a bid to solve the decades-long conflict with Israel as “delusional”.

Washington rolled out the economic portion of the plan, which has been in the works for two-and-a-half-years, on a landing page entitled ‘Peace to Prosperity’ that outlines the administration of US President Donald Trump’s vision for improving the Palestinian economy in the occupied West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. It will be presented at an “economic workshop” hosted in Bahrain on Tuesday and Wednesday. US officials say a political component will come after Israel’s election in September.

Speaking to The National by phone, senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official Hanan Ashrawi condemned the plan as ignorant of the situation on the ground in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Israel maintains a military occupation the Palestinians view as designed to prevent their aspirations for a sovereign state.

“This is really delusional, it is irresponsible. It is an insult to our intelligence,” she said.

The longtime confidant of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pointed to a lack of any mention of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank as a core failure of the plan. The report “whitewashes the occupation,” she said. “This is the real problem: the occupation. It says nothing about the fact that Israel is in control of everything, our resources, our land.”

The veteran Palestinian politician has been at odds with members of Mr Trump’s Middle East team, sharply criticising his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who is overseeing the Bahrain conference, and Jason Greenblatt, his Middle East envoy. She said both officials and the US ambassador to Israel David Friedman are supporters of Israel’s settlement enterprise and annexation of the occupied West Bank, calling them “the last people to talk about prosperity for Palestinians”. The Trump administration denied the veteran Palestinian politician a visa last month.

The Palestinians are boycotting the so-called “Peace to Prosperity” workshop and the Israeli government will not be present in an official capacity because of the Palestinian absence. But Mr Kushner is set to participate in the summit in a 15-minute conversation with former British Prime Minister and Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair, according to the event’s agenda seen by The National. Officials from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt will be present at the workshop. Washington is seeking regional investment for its plan.

Special Advisor to the US President Jared Kushner. AFP
Special Advisor to the US President Jared Kushner. AFP

Other Palestinian officials weighed in on the announcement of the economic plan. Husam Zomlot, Ramallah’s ambassador to Britain, said that Washington had ulterior motives in rolling out this economic plan and hosting its unveiling in Bahrain.

“This is a non-plan, one that is designed to give cover for the actual decisions that have already happened. It has nothing to do with us, the Palestinians, whatsoever,” he told The National by phone.

“The real intention of this so-called plan has nothing to do with Palestine. The real intention [of the US] is to turn the Arab peace initiative upside down and normalise relations with Israel and the Gulf in the absence of a political solution,” he continued, referring to the 10-step Arab plan to end the conflict that was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and re-endorsed at the Arab League Summit in 2017.

In Gaza, Hamas, the group that has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, said that “Palestine isn’t for sale”.

In response to the Palestinian backlash, a White House official told The National that the president’s Middle East team had crafted what they believed to be the “most positive and realistic solution...that will ensure safety, dignity and unprecedented opportunity” for both parties.

It seeks $50bn for the Palestinian economy over the next decade, a doubling of Palestinian gross domestic product and bringing down the poverty rate by 50 per cent. Money would be handled by a development bank and not the Palestinian leadership, alleging that the funds could be subject to corrupt practices.

The document seeks to tap up other Arab states to come on board with the plan, saying that part of the $50bn will directly benefit their economies, singling out Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Lebanese officials have refused to attend the workshop.

The plan, crafted by Mr Kushner and Mr Greenblatt, lauds the potential of Palestinian tourism in the plan, speaking about ice cream in Ramallah to the Palestinian dessert of knafeh that originated in Nablus as signs of Palestinian potential for restaurants, hotels and other tourism-related areas. It also touches on digital services, manufacturing, housing and agriculture as other areas of untapped potential. It talks of a $590 million upgrade to Gaza’s main power plant and a $5bn transportation corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. The document's text does not make a single reference to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.

The White House official said that the economic plan would only be activated once a political agreement was finalised between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“We believe this plan is an opportunity to change history and start the transformation of the region to a place where people respect each other, live together peacefully, and have economic prosperity,” the official said. “Our economic plan has the potential to unleash sustainable, private sector-driven growth – but only through peace and a solution to the final status issues can this level of growth be possible.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to consider the proposal, which they had outright rejected after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

US officials, including Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin, are set to discuss the plan in Bahrain with finance chiefs from the Gulf and global finance leaders from institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The plan paints the workshop and the document itself as historic moves to solve the decades-long conflict in which peace efforts have remained moribund since the Oslo Peace Accords signed in the 1990s.

"Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date," the plan released by the White House said.

"It has the ability to fundamentally transform the West Bank and Gaza and to open a new chapter in Palestinian history - one defined, not by adversity and loss, but by freedom and dignity," it said. Washington has said it wants to create better governance in the Palestinian territories, calling the Palestinian Authority, which exerts limited self-rule in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, unfit to rule the Palestinians and foster peace with Israel.

But, for the Palestinians, the plan looks past fundamental issues such as Israel’s control of everyday life in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, enhancing the view in Ramallah that this effort is one-sided in favour of Israel’s hard-right government.

“The question is not whether we can have a good system of governance, we can’t even bring our own people here. Our university professors are being kicked out, married couples are not able to be together,” Ms Ashrawi said.

She called the White House document a “cut and paste, superficial plan,” one based on the “assumption that the Palestinians are totally ignorant of the reality of the situation”.

The Palestinian negotiator re-issued her call for participants in Bahrain to backtrack on their attendance, particularly after the US cut all funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinians refugees and relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move rebuked across the Arab world and by the wider international community.

“Everybody who goes to Manama...goes in the wake of these steps,” she said. “They should know better. No matter how much pressure the United States puts on them. They should stand up for what is right.”

Updated: June 24, 2019 11:40 AM

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