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Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Beating around the bush

Jared Kushner believes that the national aspirations of the Palestinians can be bought off with economic projects. He is unlikely to be right

Hussein Haridy , Wednesday 3 Jul 2019
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At the conclusion of the Osaka Summit of the G-20 (28-29 June), US President Donald Trump said in an hour-long press conference, while speaking of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that “with me being president, if you don’t get a deal it will never happen.”

After more than two years in office, the Trump administration has still to come up with a detailed plan to move forward to a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

However, last week, Manama, the capital of Bahrain, hosted what has been dubbed the “Peace to Prosperity Workshop,” 25-26 June, in which the White House unveiled its economic plan for the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

On Saturday, 22 June, the White House had outlined an economic plan for the Middle East that would create an investment fund worth $50 billion to “lift the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab countries”.

In addition, $5 billion was earmarked for connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through a land corridor.

Moreover, the fund would be administered by a “multilateral development bank” and it would function in the context of “accountability, transparency, anti-corruption and conditionality safeguards,” in order to protect investments.

The White House plan includes 179 infrastructure and business projects. More than half of the total of the $50 billion would be spent in the Palestinian territories over a 10-year period.

The balance would be divided between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Some of the projects would be in the Sinai Peninsula to benefit Palestinians living in Gaza.

According to some estimates, the proposed investments in Sinai amount to $9 billion.

Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the American president and lead negotiator to seal a deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis, had told Reuters days before the inauguration of the Manama workshop that the Unites States hoped that wealthy Gulf states and European and Asian countries would finance this fund.

He was noncommittal concerning possible American financial contributions in this regard.

The workshop, true to its name, was attended by finance ministers, the director-general of the International Monetary Fund, the president of the World Bank and businessmen from around the world, including some from Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority boycotted the meeting and had called on Arab governments to do the same. The Egyptian delegation that participated in the workshop was led by the deputy finance minister. In the meantime, the White House said that Israel was not invited because the Palestinian Authority made clear that it wouldn’t attend.

In his remarks before the opening session of the Manama workshop, Kushner said the goal of the workshop was to begin thinking about the challenges in a new way, “to try to view the conflict and the entire region through a different lens,” stressing that it was going to be “the opportunity of the century” if Palestinian leaders “have the courage to pursue it”.

As far as Kushner is concerned, agreeing on an economic “pathway forward is a necessary precondition to what has previously been an unsolvable political situation”, adding that “for too long the Palestinians were trapped in an ineffective framework of the past.” In the meantime, he stressed that his approach is aimed at “laying out economic incentives to show Palestinians the potential for a prosperous future if they return to the table to negotiate a peace deal”.

To the surprise of many, Kushner believes that the “ways of the past have not worked… and the Palestinians don’t have a great track record in getting a deal done”, ignoring the various agreements that they sealed with Israeli governments starting with the Oslo Accords signed at the White House on 13 September 1993, during the Clinton administration.

In some of his remarks, Kushner proved to be condescending to the Palestinians when he said that “the hope is that over time they can become capable of governing” and that he was not sure whether they deserve full sovereignty or freedom from Israeli military interference.

If not linked with a political path forward to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Manama workshop would prove to be an exercise in futility.

This path forward should not be dissociated from UN resolutions on the Palestinian question, foremost among which is the Security Council Resolution of 2003 on the two-state solution.

Till this moment, it is hard to say whether the Trump administration has drawn a political blueprint for peace or not, and Kushner has been evasive as far as this is concerned.

He said lately that, “we will get to the political plan when we are ready to get to the political plan.” It is anyone’s guess what this exactly means.

To expect the Palestinians and the Arabs to go along with Manama’s hollow promises is like beating around the bush looking for serious partners willing to engage on the part of the Palestinian people and Arab countries, save a few that are close allies with the Trump White House and have established direct links with Kushner as explained by the former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, in testimony before the US Congress two weeks ago.

Furthermore, the trust deficit between the Palestinians and the Trump White House is so great that it precludes any rapprochement between the two in the near future.

The White House negotiating team headed by Kushner should revise its priorities in approaching the Palestinian question.

It is doubtful that their present approach will yield results in terms of reaching a peaceful solution to a conflict that has lasted for more than 70 years and won’t die away as long as the Palestinian people have no independent and sovereign state of its own.

*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Beating around the bush

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