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U.S. launches Mideast peace plan in Bahrain with bid to solicit $50B for region

The Trump administration has launched a $50-billion US economic formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace, saying an investment-driven pathway forward for the Palestinians is a necessary precondition for ending the decades-old conflict.

1st part of broader political blueprint already denounced by Palestinian leaders

Under the plan of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, donor nations and investors would contribute about $50 billion US to the region. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Trump administration launched a $50-billion US economic formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace on Tuesday, saying an investment-driven pathway forward for the Palestinians was a necessary precondition for ending the decades-old conflict.

Opening a two-day international meeting in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said prosperity for Palestinians was not possible without a fair political solution to the conflict.

But he added that by working to develop the Palestinian economy, the result could be "a real peace that leads to prosperity."

"We see tremendous potential," he said. "What we have developed, is the most comprehensive economic plan ever created specifically for the Palestinians, and the broader Middle East.

"We can turn this region from a victim of past conflicts, into a model for commerce and advancement throughout the world."

The Palestinian leadership has previously reiterated its disdain for the plan, which has been almost two years in the making. Saudi Arabia, envisaged as one of its main bankrollers, has also indicated some reservations.

A Palestinian woman holds up a placard outside the UN headquarters in Beirut to protest against the U.S.-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

The meeting has been billed as the first part of Washington's broader political blueprint to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the project's political details remain a secret. Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the curtain-raising event in Manama, which Lebanon and Iraq are staying away from.

Political solution 'more important'

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."

Kushner appeared to acknowledge such views, suggesting the politics of the conflict needed more time to address.

"To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political solution to the conflict ... one that guarantees Israel's security, and respects the dignity of the Palestinian people," Kushner said.

"However, today is not about the political issues. We will get to those at the right time."

Washington will be hoping that attendees in Manama such as wealthy Gulf states will show a concrete interest in the plan, which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50 billion US to the Palestinian territories, $7.5 billion to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion for Lebanon.

Among 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5-billion transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.

Graffiti on a wall in Gaza City depicts U.S. President Donald Trump with a footprint on his face. (Khalil Hamra/Associated Press)

Saudi Arabia — a close U.S. ally which shares a common foe with Israel in Iran — voiced support on Tuesday for "international efforts aimed at improving prosperity, investment and economic growth in the region."

But Riyadh reiterated 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.

If there is a one per cent chance we do something good here, we should get together and try.- Mohamed Alabbar, Dubai billionaire 

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Kushner is "committed to the initiatives of Israel's colonial settlement councils."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, said Israel was open to the plan. "We'll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness," he said on Sunday.

"If there is a one per cent chance we do something good here, we should get together and try," billionaire Mohamed Alabbar, one of Dubai's most prominent businessmen, said after arriving at the venue in Manama and embracing two American rabbis.

Expectations for success are low. Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab states to have reached peace with Israel, have sent deputy finance ministers. Kushner's plan — billed "Peace to Prosperity" — has hit a political nerve in Jordan, home to millions of citizens of Palestinian refugee origin.

Fate of 2-state proposal unclear

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 nations 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.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "peace efforts to realize the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

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.

In Gaza, businesses closed doors in a general strike called by the ruling Islamist Hamas group and other factions.

Residents of the territory, where unemployment exceeds 50 per cent, objected to the ambitious proposal, which envisions health, education and public works projects but does not deal with the Israeli military occupation.

"We don't need money. We are not hungry for bread. We are hungry for dignity," said Gaza physician Said Jadba.

In the West Bank on the outskirts of Ramallah, where a small crowd of protesters was dispersed by Israeli troops firing tear gas, Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti said: "There can be no economic solution as a substitute for our freedom."

A Palestinian demonstrator in the West Bank town of Bethlehem stands next to a donkey bearing a picture depicting U.S. President Trump as well as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Israeli forces stand guard during a protest against the Bahrain workshop. (Mussa Qawasma/Reuters )
Some burned effigies of Trump, and in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, they marched a pasted over with images of Gulf royals.

"Palestine is not for sale!" protesters chanted as they filled the streets of major West Bank cities. "From Bahrain to Saudi Arabia we are not tempted by your millions!"

Palestinian leaders have boycotted the conference, and are refusing to engage with the White House — accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Breaking with international convention, Trump in 2017 recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel's capital — a move that infuriated the Palestinians and other Arabs.

With files from The Associated Press