'Not everything can be bought for money'

Palestinians reject US economic plan as attempted bribe instead of a state

As US proposes $50 billion package for region, Ramallah says nothing can be achieved without a political solution, end to Israeli occupation; Israeli officials positive on plan

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

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

The wide-spread 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.

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

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

“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 their 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.”

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh 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.”

Arab Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh also slammed the proposal.

A straight-faced Ayman Odeh of the Hadash-Ta’al party delivers a speech mocking Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset on May 29, 2019. (Twitter screenshot)

“Somebody has to explain to Trump that not everything can be bought for money, certainly not the just national aspirations of the Palestinian people,” he tweeted. “The only solution to the conflict is to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

In Gaza, the Hamas terror group, which calls for Israel’s destruction, also dismissed the plan.

“The American administration continues to dream that the Palestinian people will give up their rights and holy sites in return for economic projects and money,” the Gaza-ruling group said, adding that it would do everything in its power to thwart the proposal.

Skepticism of the plan also appeared to be shared by former Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiators, among them Aaron David Miller from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“Had Trump Administration not spent last two years waging an economic/political pressure campaign against Palestinians and undermined their aspirations on statehood/Jerusalem, plan would have made sense,” Miller tweeted.

Since taking office in early 2017, the Trump administration has taken a number of measures that have won plaudits from Israeli officials while infuriating their Palestinian counterparts, such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy in the Jewish state to the city, cutting funding to the United Nations organization that provides aid to Palestinian refugees and closing the PLO representative office in Washington DC.

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)

Israeli responses were more positive.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was the first member of the Israeli government to respond to the plan’s rollout.

We’re always in favor of developing the Palestinian economy,” he told Channel 13.

“Everyone in the world wants to help the Palestinians except for the Palestinians themselves,” the Likud MK said, criticizing the PA’s decision to boycott the June 25-26 economic workshop in Bahrain.

Blue and White lawmaker Yair Lapid called the US plan “a very serious document” and asserted that “there is no reason to oppose it, especially since it does not mention the idea of ​​annexation, which will lead to a bi-national state that will destroy the Jewish state.”

However, the rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified that Israel would have to make clear that any plan would have to allow Israel to maintain its security presence in the West Bank.

With no official participation from the two main protagonists and scant enthusiasm from others, continued uncertainty and strong doubts over the plan’s political vision and the distraction of a potential US-Iran conflict, expectations for the Trump proposal are decidedly low.

The 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. The projects envisioned are in the health care, education, power, water, high-tech, tourism and agriculture sectors.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl objects across the border fence with Israel at Israeli forces during clashes along the fence east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip on June 21, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“Generations of Palestinians have lived under adversity and loss, but the next chapter can be defined by freedom and dignity,” the White House said, calling the plan “the most ambitious international effort for the Palestinian people to date.”

But the already tough sell that has vexed US administrations for decades is made tougher not least because Trump and his aides have refused to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict that has long been seen as the only viable path to lasting peace. They have also suggested they are open to unilateral Israeli annexation of disputed territory. And, officials say there is no intention of discussing either or the most contentious parts of their proposal to end the long-running conflict.

Thus, the core political issues that are key to resolving the dispute, such as borders, the status of the holy city of Jerusalem, Israel’s security and the fate of Palestinian refugees, will not be raised. Such matters, US officials have said, may have to wait until the fall, after Israeli elections, leaving numerous questions that potential investors almost certainly want answers to before making even tentative financial commitments.

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