U.S. seeks support for Mideast plan in face of Palestinian disdain
'We are not trading our rights for money,' protesters chant in Gaza
Palestinians poured scorn on a $50-billion US economic plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace launched by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration as the United States sought on Wednesday to win support for the plan as a foundation to ending the decades-old conflict.
International financial chiefs and global investors said stability and security are critical to the success of the plan, which focuses on infrastructure and development — omitting political aspects that are key to resolving to long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner said the economic issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were solvable.
"By bringing finance ministers and the business community, I was able to bring people who see this the way that I do. Which is it actually is a solvable problem economically," Kushner told reporters. "We thought it was important to bring out the economic vision before the political vision ... because we need people to see what the future can look like."
Kushner told reporters his team would release the plan's political details, which remain secret, "when we're ready," adding: "We'll see what happens."
He said a peace deal would happen when both sides are ready to say "yes." He acknowledged that they may never get there.
The Palestinians have already rejected the proposal because it does not include acknowledgement of their political demands, including an end to Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent state.
"The Manama workshop is quite disingenuous. It is totally divorced from reality. The elephant in the room is the occupation itself," senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.
While welcoming the American initiative led by Kushner, panelists at the conference in Bahrain aimed at boosting the ambitious plan said it would struggle without good governance, rule of law and a realistic prospect of lasting peace.
Despite the absence of those issues from the proposal and the Trump administration's refusal to endorse a two-state solution that has long been seen as the only viable path to peace, panelists sprinkled their comments with repeated references to "Palestine," a "country" and a "nation-state."
Those words have not featured in U.S. officials' comments about a resolution to the conflict since Trump became president in 2017 and began cutting aid and political support to Palestinians in what critics have cited as the U.S. administration's pro-Israel bias.
Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the event. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, said Israel was open to the proposal.
Thousands of Palestinians rallied outside a UN compound in Gaza to protest the conference.The demonstrators raised a black coffin that read "Bahrain conference to hell," and held signs that said, "We are not trading our rights for money."
Palestinians burned effigies of Trump and Netanyahu, while protesters called out Trump's son-in-law, chanting "Kushner, Palestine is not for sale."
The protest, orchestrated by multiple Palestinian factions, including Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, passed peacefully. A smaller demonstration took place in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.
Although U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates discreetly support the plan, several Arab states, including Lebanon, have stayed away, while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab nations that have reached peace with Israel, have sent deputy ministers.
The presence of Sunni Muslim Gulf states in Manama showed they want to encourage closer ties to Israelis — with whom they share a common foe in Shia Iran — that have largely been under the table, said David Makovsky, a U.S.-based Middle East expert attending the event.
"[But] it's clear they won't bypass the Palestinians and do anything they don't want," he told Reuters.
'Depends ultimately' on peace
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, suggested peace is the missing piece of the proposal.
The Palestinians have great economic potential that can only be fulfilled with serious reform and protections for investors that must include serious anti-corruption efforts. But those alone are not enough, she said, stressing a "satisfactory peace" is imperative for prosperity. "It's a matter of putting all the ingredients together," Lagarde said.
"Improving economic conditions and attracting lasting investment to the region depends ultimately on being able to reach a peace agreement," she said in a statement released by the IMF after her comments. "Peace, political stability, and re-establishment of trust between all the parties involved are essential pre-requisites to the success of any economic plan for the region."
Kushner's "Peace to Prosperity" proposal depends heavily on private-sector investment in the West Bank, Gaza as well as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, where it envisions creating a million new jobs, cutting Palestinian unemployment to single digits, doubling the Palestinian gross domestic product, and reducing the Palestinian poverty rate by 50 per cent through projects in health care, education, power, water, tourism, transportation and agriculture sectors.
The plan acknowledges its success hinges on the completion of a long-elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. But that necessity was driven home by participants at the two-day workshop in Bahrain.
"You are going to have to deal with the political thing in order to get investment," said Daniel Mintz, a founder of Olympus Capital Asia.
"Stability and security is key to investment in every country where we go," said Selim Bora, president of the Turkish investment firm Summa. "Things don't have to be perfect, but we have to have a minimum level to go in."
Others said the plan could not succeed without the Palestinians having rights and dignity within their own state.
In Gaza on Tuesday, the Islamist group Hamas and its rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas convened a gathering of leaders and activists in a rare show of unity to voice their rejection of the Manama conference.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh criticized Arab states participating in the workshop attended by 300 delegates, including Israeli and Palestinian business people.
The conference aimed to finish off the Palestinian cause under the cover of economic and financial benefits, he said.
"The [Palestinian] people, who have been fighting for one hundred years, did not commission anyone to concede or to bargain. Jerusalem is ours, the land is ours, and everything is ours," Haniyeh said.
With files from The Associated Press