Economic peace in our time: 6 things to know for June 23
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Economic peace in our time: 6 things to know for June 23

Trump initiative is met with expected skepticism from analysts who dismiss lofty project proposals designed for a Palestinian people unwilling to accept anything less than a state

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump, seated, holds up a signed proclamation on the Golan Heights, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing center, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Donald Trump, seated, holds up a signed proclamation on the Golan Heights, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing center, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

1. Saturday morning peace plan dump: The White House has unveiled the economic portion of its peace plan, publishing a glossy 40-page document that some analysts point out reads like a real estate brochure fitting for a proposal that US President Donald Trump would want his name on.

  • The $50 billion plan calls for major investment to improve power generation, potable water supply and wastewater treatment in the Palestinian territories, where basic services have been under increasing strain.
  • Seeing education as key to the Palestinian future, the plan calls for $500 million in grants to create a new university in either the West Bank or Gaza Strip that will aim for top global standards.
  • The plan puts a major emphasis on tourism, calling for $1.5 billion in low-interest financing and another $500 million in grants to develop attractions and promote the Palestinian territories.
  • In an implicit criticism of the Palestinian Authority, the plan says that funds will be administered by a multilateral development bank to prevent corruption and ensure transparency.

2. Boo-birds gonna boo: The plan was met with predictable scoffing from what seemed to be a vast majority of analysts in both Israel and abroad, with many of them taking to Twitter to air their criticism.

  • The Economist’s Middle East correspondent Gregg Carlstrom writes: “Kushner wants Palestine to achieve ‘a World Bank Doing Business ranking of “75 or better.’ I sat with a Palestinian CEO last week who told me about having to transport his goods via donkeys when Israeli checkpoints closed the roads. That kind of stuff makes it hard to score well.”
  • The Brookings Institute’s Tamara Wittes says one can’t help wondering at the logic of the Trump administration cutting off dozens of US assistance programs that were designed to advance precisely these goals.
  • “Even consider that this plan treats the West Bank and Gaza as a single entity, which is great so far as the Palestinians are concerned but runs contrary to current Israeli policy and is also belied by the facts on the ground,” writes the Israel Policy Forum’s Michael Koplow.
  • Outgoing Alliance for Middle East Peace director Joel Braunold points out that several of the pictures used are of individuals from peace-building NGOs that the Trump administration cut funds to.
  • “The [Trump] Administration has been telling everyone that they are going for a fresh approach on others’ failures. What this plan is, is what the [former secretary of state John] Kerry’s economic initiative was on steroids. Kerry failed at a $4 billion investment pitch despite everyone turning up. This Administration can’t even get the [Palestinian] business leadership to turn up and to assume when Kerry failed at $4 billion because of the politics that somehow we are going to go up to $50 billion is madness,” Braunold writes.

3. Boo-birds gonna boo (part 2): Even in the Hebrew press, praise for the plan was hard to come by with the pro-Netanyahu (and -Trump) Israel Hayom daily highlighting Palestinian rejectionism as the main reason the plan is doomed to fail.

  • In the left-wing Haaretz daily, Noa Landau points out that the goal of the Trump administration’s efforts has been to convey a message to the Palestinians: If political agreement is reached, here are the many great things that you could benefit from. And if no agreement is achieved, the intention is for them to better understand the conflict, to enable people to dream of what could be accomplished to replace the current situation. “In other words, the plan should be analyzed as a proposed narrative for a better future rather than a description of the near future,” she writes.
  • JTA’s Ron Kampeas notes that “the economic plan’s 40 pages enthusiastically endorse expressions of Palestinian identity, from Palestinian desserts to universities, and hint at political outcomes — namely the linking of the West Bank to the Gaza Strip — which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has worked over the years to obstruct.”
  • Reuters reports that the plan has been rejected by commentators across the Arab world. Azzam Huneidi, deputy head of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition, says, “The economic plan is the sale of Palestine under the banner of prosperity in return for peace and with no land being returned.”
  • Sarkis Naoum, a commentator at Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, says 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.”

4. As for the parties themselves: Netanyahu has been notably silent on the issue, leaving the matter to his Likud allies to comment on.

  • Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz tells Channel 13 the (transitional) Netanyahu government is in favor of developing the Palestinian economy and if only the Palestinians themselves would get on board, such a reality would be possible.
  • In the anti-Netanyahu Blue and White party, MKs are trying to balance a fine line of praising the Trump administration while also flexing their “strong-on-security” muscles. Yair Lapid calls the US plan “a very serious document” and asserts that “there is no reason to oppose it, especially since it does not mention the idea of ​​annexation.” However, he clarifies that Israel would have to make clear that any plan would have to allow Israel to maintain its security presence in the West Bank, which the plan hints might be required to some degree.
  • As for the Palestinians, the responses appeared written before the economic plan was even released. “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 & sovereign people,” tweets Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

5. That was a close one!: In other Trump-related news this weekend, the US president says that he called off a massive airstrike on Iran in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of an American drone a day earlier.

  • “Trump is a proponent of projecting US power, but he prefers to do this in the economic realm. He doesn’t relish going to war, and in general there’s considerable disparity between his aggressive rhetoric and the military action that he signs off on,” writes Haaretz’s Amos Harel, praising POTUS’s restraint in avoiding regional bloodshed.
  • Harel’s publication’s editorial calls on Netanyahu to use his influence with Trump to prevent any deterioration of the situation since “calming the Gulf is an Israeli interest.”

6. From the bottom up: Israel Hayom reports on the climaxing negotiations between Ayelet Shaked and Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz over whether the former justice minister will be given the number one or two spot on the national religious camp’s united list.

  • Peretz is currently not budging from the top spot, pointing out that Shaked should not be crowned king after she failed to even cross the electoral threshold with Naftali Bennett after they broke off from the Jewish Home to form the New Right party.
  • For her part, Shaked points out that No. 2s rarely attract voters and the party could find itself squeaking into the Knesset after the September elections with just five or six seats and at risk of being left out of the coalition if she is not at the helm.
  • While Shaked has said that she plans on running in the upcoming elections, her associates tell Israel Hayom that all options remain on the table, including sitting this one out in an effort to eventually return to a post-Netanyahu Likud where she wouldn’t have to worry about the prime minister’s wife not letting her in.
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