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Tuesday, June 25, 2019, 18:07
US to solicit funds for Mideast peace plan at Bahrain conference
By Reuters
Tuesday, June 25, 2019, 18:07 By Reuters

In this June 24, 2019, photo, Palestinians wave national flags and hold a banner denouncing the US-led Peace to Prosperity conference that opens on June 25 in Bahrain, Gaza City. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

MANAMA/JERUSALEM — The Trump administration launches its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday with a bid to drum up US$50 billion dollars to fund investment in the region, although the political details remain a secret and Palestinians have already denounced the approach as a sell-out.

The two-day international meeting, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington's long-delayed broader political blueprint to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to be unveiled at a later date.

Under the plan, donor nations and investors would contribute about US$50 billion to the region, with US$28 billion going to the Palestinian territories - the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip - as well as US$7.5 billion to Jordan, US$9 billion to Egypt and US$6 billion for Lebanon

But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in the Bahraini capital, Manama.

There will be close scrutiny as to whether attendees such as Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states show any interest in making actual donations to a US plan that has already elicited bitter criticism from Palestinians and many others in the Arab world.

READ MORE: Egypt, Jordan, Morocco to attend Palestinian conference

Trump on Monday imposed sanctions on Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other officials after Iran downed an US drone last week.

The Saudi delegation is led by Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan and includes the governor of sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund, state news agency SPA said on Tuesday.

Under the plan, donor nations and investors would contribute about US$50 billion to the region, with US$28 billion going to the Palestinian territories - the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip - as well as US$7.5 billion to Jordan, US$9 billion to Egypt and US$6 billion for Lebanon.

Among 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a US$5 billion transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.

"I laugh when they attack this as the ‘deal of the century,’" Kushner told Reuters, referring to the lofty nickname that Trump’s peace plan has assumed over the past two years.

"This is going to be the ‘opportunity of the century’ if they have the courage to pursue it."

READ MORE: Trump's Mideast peace economic plan faces Arab rejection

Kushner, a senior Trump adviser who like his father-in-law comes from the world of New York real estate, is presenting his plan in a pair of pamphlets filled with graphs and statistics that resemble an investment prospectus.

PEACE TO PROSPERITY

Expectations for success are low. The Trump team concedes that the economic plan - billed "Peace to Prosperity" - will be implemented only if a political solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is reached.

Any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel's security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel's settlements and military presence in territory in Palestinians want to build that state.

In this Feb 14, 2019, file photo, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner attends a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland. (CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI  / AP)

In an interview with Al Jazeera set to air on Tuesday, Kushner offered a rare glimpse into the possible political contours of the plan, saying a deal would not adhere to the Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-led plan that has been the Arab consensus on the necessary elements for a Palestinian deal since 2002.

"I think we all have to recognize that if there ever is a deal, it's not going to be along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative. It will be somewhere between the Arab Peace Initiative and between the Israeli position," Kushner told Al Jazeera.

The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel normal ties with the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state drawn along borders that predate Israel's capture of territory in a 1967 war and a fair solution for Palestinian refugees. Israel has rejected some of the initiative's main provisions.

ALSO READ: Qatar says US needs Palestinians on board for ME peace plan

Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important.

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President

Hanging over the entire initiative are persistent questions about whether the Trump team plans to abandon the "two-state solution," a long-standing principle of Middle East peacemaking that involves creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The United Nations and most nations back the two-state solution and it has underpinned every peace plan for decades.

But the Trump team - led by Kushner, Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman - has consistently refused to commit to it, keeping the political stage of the plan a secret.

"We'll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. Although no Israeli government ministers will attend, an Israeli business delegationis expected.

Palestinian leaders have boycotted the workshop, and are refusing to engage with the White House - accusing it of pro-Israel bias after a series of recent Trump decisions.

Kushner told Reuters that "some" Palestinian businessmen would be present, but declined to name them.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.

"Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important,"he said.

ALSO READ: Trump team faces tough audiences as it sells Mideast plan

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has found itself in rare agreement with its arch-rival Abbas. "The Palestinian people only and no one else can represent the Palestinian cause," Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said.

He said the Trump approach "seeks to turn our political cause into a humanitarian cause, and to merge the occupation into the region."

Kushner said that even without the Israeli and Palestinian governments represented, the presence of Israeli business officials and journalists with their counterparts from the Arab world would be significant.

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