Manama - After a wait of two and a half years, the US administration launched its Middle East peace plan Tuesday - with an economic initiative that the Palestinians are boycotting. It is an ambitious but heavily criticised $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, kicked off the two-day workshop in Bahrain with a speech to some Arab finance ministers, the heads of international financial organisations and private sector business executives and investors from dozens of states. But the participants notably do not include official Israeli or Palestinian delegations, and many countries’ delegations are not headed by cabinet ministers.
The Palestinians have rejected the proposal – which aims in 10 years to create a million new jobs, slash unemployment and improve living standards in the West Bank, in Gaza and among Palestinian communities in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon - because it does not address the core issues in the long-running conflict. US officials say the political portion of the plan that Trump has dubbed the “deal of the century” with suggestions about how to resolve those thorny issues may not be released until autumn.
Without proposals on borders, the status of occupied Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, the Palestinians say the economic plan is meaningless and are staging protests against the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop. Palestinians in Gaza called a general strike, with stores and public institutions shuttering to protest the meeting, and demonstrators in the West Bank carried a giant coffin labeled “Bahrain workshop” and signs reading “The Deal of the Century is doomed.”
Besides opposition from the intended beneficiaries of the proposal, the plan has been harshly criticised by former diplomats, aid workers and others involved in past peacemaking efforts for being unrealistic and lacking any clear description of who will pay for it.
Trump, Kushner and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argue that a new approach is needed precisely because previous efforts have fallen short. They note that the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will attend and speak at the event, as will the head of FIFA, the international football federation, and the managers of numerous large investment funds.
Even the Arab delegations attending the meeting in Bahrain have couched their participation with reaffirmations of support for an eventual Palestinian state.
Saudi Arabia said it remained committed to that end with a state based on the border that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
“The Kingdom reiterates its firm position on the Palestinian cause and solving it in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative, which called for establishing an independent Palestinian state along the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital,” the Saudi government said in a statement.
Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab nations to have signed peace deals with Israel, are sending only mid-level representatives to Bahrain and said they would not abandon demands for a Palestinian state.
At a ceremony hosted by Israel’s president to mark 40 years of Egyptian-Israeli peace on Tuesday, Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, Khalid Azmi, said his country’s “vision was, and still is, based on full nation-statehood and security for everyone in the region.”