Donald Trump’s long-awaited economic peace plan he hopes will resolve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict was immediately rejected by the Palestinian leadership and figures in the Arab world, who said the 96-page document was “meaningless” and impractical.
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, revealed the details of the $50bn (£39bn) “Peace to Prosperity” plan over the weekend, and is expected to formally present it to the world at a two-day conference in Bahrain starting on Tuesday.
He told Reuters that if executed it could create a million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, reduce Palestinian poverty by half and double the Palestinians’ GDP.
It is centred around a new investment fund which earmarks over $27bn for spending in the Palestinian Territories, with the remaining $23bn split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
Among some of the 179 infrastructure and business projects outlined is a $5bn travel corridor for Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, and a $1bn injection of cash into the Palestinian tourism sector.
Both have been criticised for being impractical given the tough security measures in place preventing freedom of movement due to flare-ups between Israeli forces and factions within Gaza and the West Bank.
The document, which does not use the term Palestinian “state” but instead opts for “society”, has also been slammed by critics for encouraging Palestinians to “barter away” their national aspirations for economic investment.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, immediately rejected the plan, saying the “economic situation should not be discussed before the political one”.
“As long as there is no political solution, we do not deal with any economic solution”, he was quoted by WAFA news agency as saying.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, echoed Mr Abbas’s words, telling Israeli public broadcaster Kan: “The economic track is not a solution” and that the funds were “meaningless as long as the occupation continues”.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) Executive Committee, reiterated the criticisms.
“First lift the siege of Gaza, stop the Israeli theft of our land, resources and funds, give us our freedom of movement and control over our borders, airspace, territorial waters etc. Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free and sovereign people,” she wrote.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, bluntly replied: “Palestine isn’t for sale.”
The troubled plan, which was two years in the making, will be launched during a two-day US economic workshop hosted in Bahrain.
Palestinian Authority is boycotting the conference. Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas, has ready urged Bahrain’s King Hamad to cancel the meetings.
The White House also did not invite the Israeli government.
Despite the setbacks Washington still pushed ahead, saying it believes the plan could rebuild the Palestinian Territories and help end the political crisis with Israel.
One of the largest projects would construct a highway and possibly railway line that crossed Israel and linked the occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, which are around 25 miles away from each other.
A section on tourism, meanwhile, talks of repairing, restoring and upgrading historical and religious sites as well as beachfront areas, despite the fact that the only seaside in the Palestinian Territories is in Gaza which is currently closed off to most of the world.
It also outlines a $590m upgrade of Gaza’s main power plant which the White House said would provide reliable energy for the first time in years, as well as $500m to build a world-class university in either Gaza or the West Bank.
A further $900m would be distributed in grants to improve cargo terminals and border crossings to open Gaza and the West Bank to its Arab neighbours.
Although representatives from the wealthy Gulf nations together with financial lenders International Monetary Fund and World Bank are expected to attend the workshop in Manama, questions have been raised about how the $50bn will be found.
Experts have also queried how additional funds will benefit the Palestinian economy given the Israeli and Egyptian imposed blockade on Gaza, and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which restricts the flow of people, goods and services.
From Jordan to Kuwait, prominent commentators and ordinary citizens denounced the proposals as “colossal waste of time,” “non-starter,” and “dead on arrival.”
“Homelands cannot be sold, even for all the money in the world,” Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmy said. “This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers, not politicians. Even Arab states that are described as moderate are not able to openly express support for it.”
Jawad al-Anani, a former senior Jordanian politician, said it was “unbalanced’ and would not be trusted given the widespread suspicion after Mr Trump’s decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.
“This is a major setback for the whole region,” he said of the plan.
Even some Israeli commentators questioned whether any of the projects could be implemented.
Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist and analyst at the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, said: “Kushner’s plan is a pile of empty business-speak based on the assumption the Palestinians will barter away their national aspirations for 5G.”
The US deal has however been nominally supported by the Israel authorities, whose officials said it was a “tragedy” that the Palestinians had rejected the plan too early.
“They are still convinced that the whole matter of an economic peace is a conspiracy, aimed only at piling them with funds for projects and other goodies only so that they will forget their nationalist inspirations,” Tzachi Hanegbi, a cabinet member close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel’s Kan radio. “This of course, is simply paranoia, but it’s another tragedy for the Palestinians,” he said.
Gulf commentators whose states will attend the Bahrain workshop have said that the PA was wrong to reject the plan out of hand.
Prominent Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor said they were being “short-sighted at best, self-defeating at worst”.
Agencies contributed to this report
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