Lebanon slams US plan, says won’t be ‘tempted’ by cash at Palestinians’ expense

As US proposes $50 billion package for region, Beirut says those who believe it can be lured by billions during an economic crisis are ‘mistaken’

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in Beirut, Lebanon, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in Beirut, Lebanon, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Sunday criticized the Trump administration’s $50 billion investment proposal, part of its Middle East peace plan, saying Beirut will not be “tempted” by money at the expense of Palestinians’ rights.

State-run National News Agency quoted Berri as saying that those who believe Beirut will be lured by billions of dollars at a time when Lebanon is passing through an economic crisis are “mistaken.”

The Trump administration on Saturday unveiled a $50 billion Palestinian investment and infrastructure proposal intended to be the economic engine to power its much-anticipated but still unreleased Middle East peace plan.

The 10-year plan calls for projects worth $6.3 billion for Palestinians in Lebanon, as well as $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza, $9.1 billion in Egypt and $7.4 billion in Jordan. The projects envisioned are in the health care, education, power, water, high-tech, tourism and agriculture sectors, and the large sums for Jordan and Lebanon, countries with substantial Palestinian populations, are an apparent attempt to absorb refugees in these nations.

The 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 amid heavy skepticism about its viability and outright opposition from the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials on Saturday denounced the economic plan as an attempt to bribe the Palestinian people, saying that without addressing Palestinian demands for a state, there could be no progress.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi at her office in Ramallah, January 31, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The widespread rejection, from the Palestinian Authority to Hamas and Arab Israeli leaders, echoed the same theme — first end Israel’s occupation and the Palestinians would thrive by themselves.

“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,” tweeted Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

The Palestinian leadership again reiterated its rejection of the proposal and the conference.

“The plan cannot pass because it ends the Palestinian cause,” Abbas said on Saturday, hours before the White House release.

“We are not going to attend this workshop. The reason is that the economic situation should not be discussed before a political situation. So long as there is no political situation, we do not deal with any economic situation.”

Palestinian women chant slogans as they hold Palestinian flags during a sit-in in the Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said a “political horizon” is essential for any Palestinian cooperation. “Our cause is a political one and should be dealt with as such. It is a strategic mistake and the American administration is committing daily mistakes against the Palestinian people. Without Palestinian approval, there is no value to any meeting, and without a political horizon, no one will deal with any effort. This conference was born dead just like the deal of the century.”

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.

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