Kushner’s plan is glossy, but not realistic - GulfToday

Kushner’s plan is glossy, but not realistic

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Palestine-protest2-750

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The Palestinian Authority and business community boycott finished off the credibilty of last week’s US workshop convened in Bahrain to discuss the Trump administration’s economic plan for Palestine, Egypt’s northern Sinai, Lebanon and Jordan.

The plan has been drafted by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump’s corporate lawyer Jason Greenblatt, and Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer now serving as US ambassador to Israel David Friedman. All three are dedicated backers of Israel and its efforts to colonise the whole of Palestine and can hardly be expected to develop a balanced proposal — which the economic plan is not.

Without Palestinian support the 40-page plan, “Peace to Prosperity,” released on the White House website ahead of the workshop, was never going to gain traction in the region. Consequently, Israel was not asked to attend. Under strong US pressure, Egypt and Jordan sent second level officials rather than high ranking political figures. Lebanon did not take part. Syria, which hosts the second highest number of Palestinian refugees after Jordan, was not invited or mentioned in the plan.

Businessman Ashraf Jabari from the flashpoint West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron), the sole Palestinian speaker at the Bahrain event, may have ruffled Kushner’s fine feathers by insisting that peace must be attained through negotiations leading to an end to the Israeli occupation and Palestinian statehood. Jabari, who resides in the Israeli-controlled sector of al-Khalil, has been roundly condemned by the Palestinian Authority for promoting collaboration with Israel and living peacefully with Israeli colonists who are grabbing Palestinian land.  One of the members of Jabari’s 13-man delegation, Saleh Abu Mayala, was arrested by Palestinian security officers in al-Khalil. He was released after being briefly detained.

An unidentified businessman who spoke to the Washington Post agreed, “You need peace and security and open borders before we can talk about a $50 billion investment.  If you want to throw away money, you can invest in infrastructure without peace and security.”  Half that amount is slated for the Palestinian territories, the rest for neighbouring countries.

This article is, however, not about Palestinian opposition to the Kushner initiative but about Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon which are meant to benefit from the plan but want nothing to do with it.

The US has proposed a $9 billion aid package to be dispersed over 10 years to develop Egypt’s North Sinai where the country’s army is battling radicals attached to Daesh. Egyptian officials agree that building infrastructure and creating jobs are means to fight conversion to the radical cause. Cairo estimates the Sinai development plan should cost $16.2 billion and could be completed by 2022 if funds are available.  Therefore, the amount Kushner proposes falls very far short both in the amount on offer and the time frame.

The plan calls for Gazans to move from the densely populated coastal strip into North Sinai and for the establishment of industries and commercial ventures which would employ both Egyptians and residents of Gaza, which borders on Sinai. Egypt, however, has long rejected ties to Gaza or assuming responsibility for Gaza which was under Egyptian rule from 1948 until occupied by Israel in June 1967. Egypt became more than ever determined to keep its distance from Gaza after Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, seized power in 2007. Egypt has accused Hamas of stirring radicalism in North Sinai and arming Daesh militants.

Egyptian economist Abdul-Khalik Farouk told Reuters that Cairo had received $850 billion in loans, investment and grants between 1974 and 2010, dwarfing the sum Kushner proposes.

A majority of Egyptians continue to oppose their country’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, rendering the deal a “cold peace.” Accepting a plan crafted by Kushner et al would be roundly condemned by Egyptians. Speaking on behalf of many Egyptians one man dismissed the idea that Gazans could settle in Sinai by saying he would not cede “one grain of sand” to the Kushner deal.

Amman is resisting the plan as it could threaten Jordan’s identity and national security if the kingdom were compelled to provide citizenship to all Palestinians residing there and, perhaps, even West Bankers who remain stateless. Jordan has always insisted on the internationally accepted “two-state solution” involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, although the Trump administration is determined to eliminate this possibility.

Jordan is under strong pressure to capitulate to the Kushner diktat. Last month Greenblatt said that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which provides for Palestinian refugees should be shut down.

This would leave Jordan with the prospect of providing shelter, education, health, and welfare services to the country’s UNRWA-dependent two millon Palestinian refugees. Burdened with more than a million Syrian and thousands of Iraqi refugees, Jordan is in no position to assume UNRWA’s responsibilities.

Under the Kushner economic plan, Jordan would receive $7.5 billion, hardly enough to fully settle the refugees and mollify Jordanians who would deeply resent acceptance of the plan and could be expected to flow into the streets to protest.

Lebanon, which did not send an envoy to Bahrain, has flatly rejected the Kushner plan although Beirut would get $6 billion to settle permanently the 450,000 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA. Beirut has always argued that Palestinian refugees must return home and advocates the two-state solution which could give them the opportunity to settle in a Palestinian state.

Lebanon argues granting citizenship to and integrating the Palestinians, a majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, would change the fragile communal balance of power in the country and could ignite civil war.  Like Jordan, Lebanon is also burdened with more than one million Syrian refugees and is in no mood or position to create a precedent by accepting Palestinians.

“Those who think that waving billions of dollars can lure Lebanon, which is under the weight of a suffocating economic crisis, into succumbing or bartering over its principles are mistaken,” parliament speaker Nabih Berri stated. The influential Shia Hizbollah movement has called the Kushner plan “an historic crime” that must be eliminated.

Even former British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted that the two-state solution is the only acceptable option for resolving the Arab/Palestinian conflict. “It’s absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics...”

Kushner’s plan, like Kushner himself, is slick and glossy but, as a New York Times editorial, put it, “divorced from reality.”  Perhaps it was meant to be. Rejection of the plan Kushner called the “Opportunity of the Century,” may very well be the administration’s objective as it will not have to roll out its political plan which is certain to cause consternation across the region.

Once the “Deal of the Century” is out of the way, Trump can go on punishing the Palestinians who, as far as he is concerned, do not matter anyway.

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