Kushner hails Bahrain conference as ‘tremendous success’

Trump adviser says his ‘detailed and reasonable’ plan to revive Palestinian economy was well received by workshop attendees, says $50 billion stimulus package not a bribe

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser, speaks to reporters as he closes the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference "Peace to Prosperity Workshop" in the Bahraini capital Manama on June 26, 2019. (SHAUN TANDON / AFP)
Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser, speaks to reporters as he closes the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference "Peace to Prosperity Workshop" in the Bahraini capital Manama on June 26, 2019. (SHAUN TANDON / AFP)

White House adviser Jared Kushner on Thursday hailed the US-led economic workshop in Bahrain as a “tremendous success,” as he made another appeal for the Palestinians to consider Washington’s $50 billion economic stimulus plan.

Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, this week launched a long-awaited Middle East initiative with a two-day conference in Bahrain, where economic leaders heard the details of the plan that promises to jumpstart the stagnant Palestinian economy.

The proposal — which aims in 10 years to create a million new jobs, slashing unemployment and improving living standards in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East — has been rejected by Palestinians because it does not include a framework for resolving their conflict with Israel. US officials say the political portion of the plan addressing the longstanding thorny issues may not be released until fall.

Speaking to the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper after the Peace to Prosperity workshop in the Bahraini capital Manama, Kushner defended his plan to combine private investment and government support to transform the Palestinian economy as the foundation of any eventual peace agreement.

“I believe the workshop was a tremendous success,” he said in the interview published by the Saudi-owned daily, adding that people from “all over the world” attended the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Palestinians burn posters of US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on June 25, 2019, during a protest against the US-led Peace to Prosperity conference in Bahrain. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Kushner said his “very detailed and reasonable” plan was well received by attendees, who agreed the White House’s plan to transform the economies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was feasible.

“After extensive review, people were very positive about it and considered it achievable,” he said.

Kushner’s workshop in the tiny Gulf kingdom was boycotted by the Palestinian Authority and thus did not include any official Palestinian delegation. Israel, which would have to sign off on many of the proposal’s projects, was not invited to send any government officials either. Those who did attend were Arab finance ministers, the heads of international financial organizations and global business executives and investors.

While the representation was broad, many countries’ delegations were not headed by cabinet ministers, an indication of their uncertainty about the proposal’s viability. But in the interview, Kushner said that traditional diplomacy has failed to resolve the conflict, and that it was time for the business community to offer other solutions.

The diplomatic community, he said, was “wasting everybody’s time” by repeating the same talking points and offering the same solutions year after year.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

Addressing criticism of the plan for ignoring the political aspects of the conflict, Kushner said that his proposal was only designed to be implemented in conjunction with a framework for a political solution.

“This plan is not political, so I think all those who criticize the plan for this reason do not realize the purpose of this economic effort,” he said. “We cannot just settle for a political solution without improving people’s lives, because that will hinder the political solution.”

Kushner acknowledged that a political solution was key to the success of his economic proposal, but said it was more important to first set out what is economically possible.

Asked what type of political framework he envisioned for the Middle East, Kushner said vaguely that it would likely fall somewhere between the Arab Peace Initiative and the “Israeli position.”

First proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative calls for full normalization with Israel across the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with agreed-upon land swaps and East Jerusalem as its capital.

Kushner said the initiative, which was backed by previous US administrations, was a good starting point, but had been met with rejection from both sides.

He did not detail the parameters of what he described as the “Israeli position,” although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that security concerns would be the cornerstone of any agreement that Israel would consider. In 2016, Netanyahu endorsed the “general idea” behind the initiative, but more recently, has entertained the possibility of extending Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements and maintaining security control over the area for years to come.

Kushner went on to tell Asharq al-Awsat that both Israelis and Palestinians “need to make concessions” for a viable peace agreement to be reached.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US National Security Adviser John Bolton tour the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, on June 23, 2019 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“I think it’s imperative for this region to be united. When that happens, it will unleash enormous economic potential and greatly expand security,” he said.

Kushner denied the economic plan was an attempt to bribe neighboring countries into permanently settling Palestinian refugees, saying the proposal was an opportunity to solve longstanding issues in the region.

But, without proposals on borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, the Palestinians say the White House’s economic plan is dead on arrival. To express their rejection, Palestinians in Gaza this week called a general strike to protest the meeting, with demonstrators in the West Bank burning effigies of Trump and featuring a donkey pasted over with images of Gulf royals.

“Palestine is not for sale!” protesters chanted. “From Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, we are not tempted by your millions!”

Agencies and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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