'Empower the Palestinians to realize their ambitions'

White House finally unveils ‘Peace to Prosperity’ economic plan for Palestinians

Ahead of June 25-26 Bahrain conference, Trump team releases proposal for $50 billion package that’s supposed to transform economy of West Bank, Gaza and surrounding nations

The White House economic peace proposal unveiled on its web site on Saturday June 22, 2019 (Screencapture)
The White House economic peace proposal unveiled on its web site on Saturday June 22, 2019 (Screencapture)

WASHINGTON — Days before the US-sponsored Bahrain conference, the White House released its proposal to boost the Palestinian economy by offering a $50 billion aid package that can only be implemented through an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The 40-page plan, which Senior Adviser Jared Kushner will push in Manama next week, rests on three initiatives, according to the document — to “unleash the economic potential” of the Palestinians, “empower the Palestinians to realize their ambitions,” and “enhance Palestinian governance.”

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

A senior administration official told The Times of Israel that they wanted the focus of the gathering to be “on the economic aspect, not the political.”

Arab nations such as Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have all said they would participate in the conference.

The plan — formally dubbed “Peace to Prosperity” — said that the economic package, if implemented, would double the Palestinians’ gross domestic product, create more than one million jobs in the territories, reduce Palestinian unemployment to single digits (it was 31 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank), and cut the Palestinian poverty rate by 50%.

Cars sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Ramallah Road on May 1, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

But while the proposal calls for a confluence of grants, low-interest loans and private investments over a span of 10 years, it does not promise any specific monies to be allocated from the US government or any specific corporations.

The White House envisions the plan being funded mostly by Arab states and wealthy private investors. Most of that money would go directly to the West Bank and Gaza, but some, according to the plan, would be funneled to neighboring countries like Jordan and Egypt.

The $50 billion would be divided through $26 billion in loans, $13.5 billion in grants and $11 billion in private investment.

The proposal does include a number of specific projects, including border crossing updates, power plant upgrades, infrastructure improvements to boost tourism, career counseling and job placement service, and re-building and modernizing Palestinian hospitals and health clinics.

It also calls for linking the West Bank and Gaza, which is currently ruled by the Hamas terror group,  with a modern transportation network, including high-speed rail service. Such ideas have been floated in the past in previous peace proposals but have run into Israeli security concerns.

Trump administration officials have suggested in the past that the economic component of the deal would be tantalizing enough to Palestinian people that they would pressure their political leaders to engage with Washington.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets US President Donald Trump In the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (Fadi Arouri, Xinhua Pool via AP)

After US President Donald Trump announced in December 2017 that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the administration as an honest mediator in negotiations.

Since Trump took office, he has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, downgraded the consulate devoted to Palestinian issues, shut down the Palestinians’ diplomatic office in Washington and slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.

The White House has come under criticism for emphasizing the economic aspects of its peace plan over the political issues that need to be resolved.

Kushner has sought to assuage those concerns by saying that economic gains can only be realized through a political solution to the conflict.

“If you can also get that whole region starting to lift, and if you can get a quicker flow of goods and people in all the different areas that are necessary in industry instead of bullets and munitions and war, then I think that will really lead to a big increase in investment in the area and more jobs and better quality of life and hopefully more peace along with it,” Kushner said in an interview with the Reuters news agency on Saturday.

The proposal unveiled Saturday also said as much.

“With the support of the international community, this vision is within reach,” the document says. “Ultimately, however, the power to unlock it lies in the hands of the Palestinian people. Only through peace can the Palestinians achieve prosperity.”

Times of Israel Staff and agencies contributed to this report

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