White House Unveils Economic Portion of Middle East Peace Plan

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said on Saturday that it hoped to raise more than $50 billion to improve the lot of the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors, releasing an economic plan titled, “Peace to Prosperity,” that reverses the actual sequence of its peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.

The blueprint sets the stage for a two-day economic workshop next week to be convened by the White House in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain. That gathering, in turn, is meant to lay the groundwork for a subsequent diplomatic proposal to end decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the political component of the plan has been repeatedly delayed, most recently by the call for new elections in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to assemble a governing coalition. Some experts question whether President Trump will ever put a peace proposal on the table, given the Palestinians’ vow to reject his efforts and his looming re-election campaign in the United States.

The 38-page plan sets ambitious goals, like doubling the amount of drinkable water in the Palestinian territories and nearly tripling exports as a percentage of the Palestinian economy. With slick graphics and the promotional tone of a real estate prospectus, the plan envisions a variety of funding sources, like grants and private equity.

But there are no concrete dollar commitments from the United States; the bulk of the money is to come from countries in the Persian Gulf. It was not clear how the United States planned to entice these governments or private investors to ante up so much capital without confronting thorny issues like the aspiration of the Palestinian people for their own state or the political status of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians swiftly rejected the plan, as they had for all of Mr. Trump’s peacemaking efforts since he announced in 2017 that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

“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.,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian negotiator, declared in a tweet. “Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free and sovereign people.”

Israeli officials reacted more mildly, with some noting that the plan seemed calculated to turn the Palestinians against their entrenched leaders. The officials expressed skepticism that the Arab countries would foot the bill and noted that the plan sidestepped the difficult political issues.

Yair Lapid, a former finance minister of Israel, described the report as a “very serious document which there is no reason to oppose, especially as it does not say a word about the foolish notion of annexation, which will lead to a binational state that will put an end to the Jewish state.”

During his recent campaign, Mr. Netanyahu raised the prospect of Israel annexing some Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a proposal that contradicted decades of American policy toward the Middle East but is viewed sympathetically by at least some members of the Trump administration.

The American ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, said in a recent interview with The New York Times that, “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Mr. Friedman is one of three officials — along with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason D. Greenblatt, his special envoy to the Middle East — who have spearheaded the effort to broker a peace accord.

The economic plan bears the imprint of Mr. Kushner, the scion of a real-estate family. He has tended to view the peacemaking process through an economic prism, speaking often of how the Palestinian people can improve their fortunes if they find a way to coexist peacefully with their Israeli neighbors.

“I laugh when they attack this as the ‘deal of the century,’” Mr. Kushner said in an interview with Reuters, referring to the lofty nickname that Mr. Trump’s peace plan has assumed over the last two years. “This is going to be the ‘opportunity of the century’ if they have the courage to pursue it.”

The White House provided Reuters with an advance copy of the plan.

The blueprint contains ambitious proposals to transform the Palestinian economy, like a transportation corridor that would link the West Bank with the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. It would earmark up to $900 million for new cargo terminals and other facilities to make border crossings more efficient.

But other elements seem more far-fetched. It talks about turning the West Bank and Gaza into tourism destinations, not taking into account the constant threat of violence from clashes between Israeli security forces and militants.

And other proposals seem at odds with the administration’s own recent actions. The report calls for up to $900 million to build hospitals and clinics in the Palestinian territories. But the United States last year cut $25 million in aid to six hospitals in East Jerusalem that serve Palestinians.

While more than half of the $50 billion would be allocated to the Palestinians, the rest would go to Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. That is calculated to build support among other Arab donors, but the Gulf countries have been noncommittal, and their record of investment is not encouraging.

Even the Bahrain conference is convening under a shadow because of spiraling tensions between Iran and the United States. On Thursday evening, Mr. Trump ordered, and then canceled, a strike on Iranian targets with missiles to retaliate after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone.

Still, former diplomats said that the bigger hurdle to the plan is the lack of hope for a genuine breakthrough between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“It’s the kind of highly stylized detailed and glossy presentation that a commercial real-estate entrepreneur might make to potential investors,” said Aaron David Miller, a diplomat who negotiated between the two sides. “If it led with a serious and balanced effort to address Palestinian national aspirations, it might even get a serious hearing and investors.”

Source link