'This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers'

Commentators in Arab world reject US economic plan for Palestinians

Critics say $50 billion scheme predicted to fail because it doesn’t offer political answers to conflict, assumes Palestinian national aspirations can be bought

Palestinians sort tomatoes on a conveyor belt at a tomato paste plant in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, on June 17, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)
Palestinians sort tomatoes on a conveyor belt at a tomato paste plant in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, on June 17, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

Voices in the Arab world sharply rejected the Trump administration plan unveiled Saturday that would see $50 billion in economic benefits for the Palestinians as part of a larger proposal for regional peace.

The “Peace to Prosperity” scheme, which calls for a mix of public and private financing and intends to create at least a million new jobs for Palestinians, was posted to the White House website ahead of a two-day conference in Bahrain that is to be held despite heavy skepticism about its viability and outright opposition from the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday reiterated his rejection of the proposal and the conference.

An already tough sell that has vexed US administrations for decades is made tougher not least because US President Donald Trump and his aides have refused to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict — long seen by much of the international community as the only viable path to lasting peace.

Neither Israeli officials nor Palestinians will be attending the Tuesday-Wednesdar confab. Palestinians have refused to participate, or engage at all with the Trump administration, since it moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. Israeli ministers and other officials were not invited, though a business delegation will be attending.

Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries with peace deals with Israel, are sending mid-ranking officials from their finance ministries and not cabinet members to Bahrain.

Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sufian al-Qudah reiterated Amman’s position that a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders and a capital in East Jerusalem, “is the only way to resolve the conflict and achieve security, stability and comprehensive peace in the region.”

Egypt supports the same conditions, the state-run news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez as saying.

Palestinians protest against US President Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century in the West Bank city of Hebron, February 22, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Reuters reported that the plan was rejected by commentators across the Arab world.

Azzam Huneidi, deputy head of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition, said, “The economic plan is the sale of Palestine under the banner of prosperity in return for peace and with no land being returned.”

Jawad Anani, a former senior Jordanian politician, described the idea as “a major setback for the whole region,” Reuters reported.

He pointed to Trump’s moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem and his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as actions that have created suspicion of the US leader in the Arab world.

“This is an unbalanced approach,” Anani said. “It assumes the Palestinians are the more vulnerable side and they are the ones who can succumb to pressure more easily.”

Sarkis Naoum, a commentator at Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, said the plan was doomed to fail “because it has no political foundation,” while Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmy declared that “Homelands cannot be sold, even for all the money in the world.”

“This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers, not politicians,” Fahmy said. “Even Arab states that are described as moderate are not able to openly express support for it.”

The 10-year plan calls for projects worth $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza, and $9.1 billion, $7.4 billion and $6.3 billion for Palestinians in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, respectively. Projects envisioned involve the healthcare, education, power, water, high-tech, tourism, and agriculture sectors. It calls for the creation of a “master fund” to administer the finances and implementation of the projects that is says are akin to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.

The plan foresees more than doubling the Palestinian gross domestic product, reducing the Palestinian poverty rate by 50 percent and cutting the sky-high Palestinian unemployment rate to nearly single digits, according to the documents, which do not specify exactly how the projects will be funded.

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