MANAMA, Bahrain — White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Wednesday that the door remained open to the Palestinians to engage in a peace plan, as he accused Palestinian Authority leadership of failing its people.
“If they actually want to make their people’s lives better, we have now laid out a great framework in which they can engage and try to achieve it,” US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law told reporters as he closed a two-day economic workshop in Bahrain boycotted by the PA.
“We’re going to stay optimistic,” he said. “We have left the door open the whole time.”
US Mideast Envoy Jason Greenblatt told The Times of Israel that US officials “have received excellent feedback about the workshop. People are inspired and I believe we have succeeded in convincing people to see the benefits of changing the conversation.”
He added: “They look forward to seeing how the economic vision will develop over the coming period, as we get input from others interested in helping Israel and the Palestinians see if they can achieve a peace agreement. They realize that political statements achieve nothing and they appreciate the depth of the economic vision and the potential that it holds.”
The Palestinian Authority says that Kushner’s $50 billion plan is a pretext by the pro-Israel Trump administration to impose a political solution that it says will adopt Israel’s positions on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kushner said that the administration will put out the political component at the “right time” — and said that different people were drafting the political and economic plans.
“One of the common themes of this workshop, everyone is saying that these reforms are possible,” said Kushner, referring to recommendations to improve the Palestinian economy.
“What the leadership has done is that they’ve blamed Israel and everyone else for all the people’s problems, when in fact the common theme coming up is that this is all achievable if the government wants to make these reforms.”
Kushner also rejected criticism of the US peace plan, namely for rolling out its economic components before the political ones.
“They were not paying attention to what we said — that this can only work if there is a political solution, so I don’t deem that as credible criticism,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of normalization between Israel and Arab countries before a peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians, Kushner said “that’s up to the leaders.”
“My job that I’ve been given is to focus and try to create a framework that hopefully will lead to a breakthrough on an issue that has been stuck in the mud for a very long time… Everything’s possible,” he said.
While Arab finance ministers, the heads of international financial organizations, private sector business executives and investors from dozens of states attended the workshop, the participants notably did not include official Israeli or Palestinian delegations, and many countries’ delegations were not headed by cabinet ministers.
Besides opposition from the intended beneficiaries of the proposal, the plan has been harshly criticized by former diplomats, aid workers and others involved in past peacemaking efforts for being unrealistic and lacking any clear description of who will pay for it.
Trump, Kushner and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argue that a new approach is needed precisely because previous efforts have fallen short.
In the West Bank, senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told a press conference the US proposal was an “insult to our intelligence” and “totally divorced from reality.”
“The economic peace, which has been presented before repeatedly and which has failed to materialize because it does not deal with the real components of peace, is being presented once again, recycled once again,” she said.
“The elephant in the room in Manama is of course the occupation itself,” she added. “The Israeli occupation, which was never mentioned — not once.”
Trump has taken a series of landmark steps to benefit Israel including recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital in 2017, leading the Palestinian Authority to cut off formal contact.
The Trump administration has hinted its political plan will not mention a Palestinian state — a goal of US policy for decades — and that it could accept the annexation of parts of the West Bank mulled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend of Kushner.
The “Peace to Prosperity” sets an ambitious goal of creating one million new Palestinian jobs through $50 billion of investment in infrastructure, tourism and education in the territories and Arab neighbors.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, praised the plan for focusing on jobs and said “all the goodwill in the world” was needed to prevent a severe deterioration of the Palestinian economy.
“So if there is an economic plan, if there is urgency, it’s a question of making sure that the momentum is sustained,” Lagarde said.
Tax revenue is being held up in a dispute with Israel, which has blockaded the Gaza Strip for more than a decade because of the Islamist movement Hamas’s leadership of the crowded and impoverished territory.
Mohammed al-Jadaan, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister, said the Palestinian issue was “very important” for the oil-rich kingdom, which would support “whatever brings prosperity to this region.”
“The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope,” he said.
Obaid bin Humaid al-Tayer, minister of state for financial affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said that international institutions should back the plan to decrease risks.
“We should give this initiative a chance, we should be discussing it, and we should try to promote it,” he said.
Israel has voiced support for the conference and, in unprecedented scenes, Israeli academics and journalists openly traveled to Bahrain despite the lack of diplomatic relations.
Coinciding with the Bahrain conference, Oman said it would open an embassy in the Palestinian territories — a first for a Gulf Arab state.
The sultanate said it wished to show “support for the Palestinian people.”
But Netanyahu paid a rare visit to Oman in October, raising speculation the embassy could be a way to soften the blow before recognition of Israel.
Gulf Arab nations have increasingly found common cause with Israel due to their shared hostility towards Iran, although Oman has sought a moderate approach and often serves as a go-between for Washington and Tehran.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.