President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is kicking off a two-day conference in Bahrain to build support for the economic portion of his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which has met with widespread skepticism. Here is a look at some of the issues surrounding the proposal:
The proposal calls for a mix of public and private money to fund $50 billion in infrastructure and development projects to improve life for Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Middle East. The proposal is not specific as to how the projects would be funded, prompting criticism from many who believe investors are unlikely to participate without any idea of how a political settlement would be reached. The 10-year plan calls for spending $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza; $9.1 billion in Egypt; $7.4 billion in Jordan; and $6.3 billion in Lebanon. It includes money for health care, education, power, water, tourism, transportation and agriculture. The plan aims to more than double the Palestinian gross domestic product, reduce the Palestinian poverty rate by 50 percent and cut Palestinian unemployment.
Proponents argue that separating economic and political issues will facilitate a return to peace negotiation. They say a new approach is needed because past attempts at combining the two have failed. They also believe the Palestinians will be more receptive to a political settlement if they have better living conditions.
Israel and the Palestinians’ fellow Arabs have adopted a cautious approach to the plan. The Arab states attending the Bahrain conference say they are willing to discuss the proposal and possibly contribute to it financially, but they have reiterated their support for the creation of a Palestinian state and will not support anything the Palestinians won’t accept. Israel has also taken a wait-and-see approach, although its security concerns have unraveled previous similar projects intended to help the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have outright rejected the proposal, saying it is “dead on arrival” because it has no political elements. They say those issues must be agreed first before they can consider the economic portion and have accused the U.S. of attempting to bribe them into dropping their most important political demands — notably, an independent state based on the borders from before the 1967 Mideast War, with its capital in east Jerusalem. They also demand the return of Palestinian refugees living outside the Palestinian territories. Former diplomats and aid workers who have been involved in previous peacemaking efforts have also dismissed the proposal as being unrealistic, repetitive of existing projects that Trump administration defunded, and designed to buy off the Palestinians with promises of prosperity that may never come to fruition.
WHY IT MATTERS
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis has been one of the most vexing foreign policy issues for multiple U.S. administrations over decades. Trump has said he will be able to forge a deal and is relying on his close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi leadership to bring it to pass. A resolution to the crisis would be a major achievement for any administration and would eliminate a long-running dispute that has distracted the world from other issues in the volatile Middle East.