Could the US ‘economic plan’ for Middle East peace work?
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians attend launch in Bahrain as $50bn investment plan met with muted response
The Trump administration’s long-awaited ‘economic plan’ to revive the Middle East peace process has been met with widespread scepticism, anger and derision.
CNBC says the plan, the details of which are to be thrashed out over day and a half of seminars in Bahrain, had “been billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed broader political blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process”, which will be unveiled at a later date.
“This aspect of proceedings also does not lack boldness,” admits The Times’s Richard Spencer.
Donald Trump’s son-in-law and envoy, Jared Kushner, envisages a $50 billion investment fund to break the decades-long deadlock. Half of this would go to the Palestinian territories and the other half to Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan “possibly whether they want it or not” says Spencer. There is also plans to raise $5 billion to spend on a transport corridor to connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
However, it is “an economic blueprint that shreds decades of diplomacy and which even its mooted financial backers seemed reluctant to embrace”, says The Guardian’s Martin Chulov.
“There has been no sign of a political dimension to the proposal,” he writes, with “critics across the region suggest[ing] the US was replacing the long-agreed ‘land for peace’ formula with a blunt new ‘money for peace’ that attempted to buy off the Palestinian cause”.
Nancy Okail, the executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said: “The Palestinian issue is primarily political, and pouring money into it won’t solve it. Kushner’s plan is indicative of his lack of understanding of the history and dynamics in the region, offering a simplistic and unviable, immoral non-solution to a longstanding, complex issue.”
Neither Israeli not Palestinian governments were represented at the launch, but Reuters reports that the Palestinian leadership “has previously reiterated its disdain for the plan”, which has been almost two years in the making.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.
“Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important,” he said.
Al Jazeera says there will now be “close scrutiny as to whether attendees such as Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states show any interest in making actual donations to a US plan that has already elicited bitter criticism from Palestinians and many others in the Arab world.”
In a blow to the White House, hours before the conference dinner, the US’s most staunch ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, reiterated its support for the two-state solution.
Riyadh said that any peace deal should be based on the Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that has been the Arab consensus on the necessary elements for a deal since 2002.
That plan 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.
The Jerusalem Post says “it is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the ‘two-state solution,’ which involves creation of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel”.
The United Nations and most countries back the two-state solution and it has underpinned every peace plan for decades, “but Trump’s team has consistently refused to commit to it, keeping the political stage of the plan a secret” says the paper.
Canada’s Globe and Mail said “any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory in Palestinians want to build that state”.
The Trump administration has said an investment-driven pathway forward for the Palestinians was a necessary precondition for ending the decades-old conflict, however, with Palestinians refusing to engage with the White House over its alleged pro-Israel bias a political solution looks as far off as ever.