Cut out of the process, Palestinians reject Trump's economic plan for Mideast peace

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said focusing on economic issues "is unacceptable before the political situation is discussed.”
Image: PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-US-DEMO
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah protest against the economic component of a new US peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is due to be unveiled this month during a summit in Bahrain, on June 15.ABBAS MOMANI / AFP - Getty Images

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By Yuliya Talmazan

Without much fanfare, the White House released the economic portion of its long-delayed Mideast peace plan Saturday, promising tens of billions of dollars for the Palestinian economy.

The "Peace to Prosperity" plan will be unveiled at a conference in Bahrain next week as the Trump administration looks to promote its economic vision for how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Unveiling the proposal, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said he welcomed "constructive criticism."

There was plenty of it.

Wary of what they see as a pro-Israel effort to undermine their cause without a serious attempt to find a political settlement that has eluded the region for generations, Palestinians and their backers in the Arab world rejected it out of hand.

"We don't need the Bahrain meeting to build our country," finance minister Shukri Bishara said Sunday.

“The sequence of (the plan) — economic revival followed by peace is unrealistic and an illusion," Bishara added.

'Opportunity of the Century'

The plan for economic revival would take effect only if a political solution is reached.

But there is no clear timeline and it remains unclear what Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump's envoy overseeing the peace plan, have in mind on issues like an independent Palestinian state.

"I laugh when they attack this as the 'Deal of the Century,'" Kushner said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday, referring to Palestinian leaders who have dismissed his plan as an attempt to buy off their aspirations for statehood.

"This is going to be the 'Opportunity of the Century' if they have the courage to pursue it," he added.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is interviewed at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on June 20, 2019.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The Palestinians are furious at what they see as clear bias from the U.S. toward Israel.

Over the last several years, the White House cut funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, has held no meetings with elected Palestinian leaders, closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and endorsed the annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel.

In what was seen as another nod to the Israeli cause, U.S. ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman told The New York Times earlier this month that Israel had the right to annex at least some of the West Bank.

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Many countries and international bodies consider Israeli settlements in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank illegal because they are built on occupied land.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy has been in dire straits for years. Gaza’s economy has also been ravaged under the crippling Israel-Egyptian blockade since 2007.

"Generations of Palestinians have lived under adversity and loss, but the next chapter can be defined by freedom and dignity," the White House said.

Longtime Palestinian politician and leader Hanan Ashrawi was unimpressed.

“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.,” she said in a tweet Saturday.

“Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free and sovereign people.”

Dismantled consensus?

The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the Bahrain conference in protest to the U.S. approach, leading the White House not to invite the Israeli government.

In the wake of the economic plan's release Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said focusing on economic issues "is unacceptable before the political situation is discussed.”

Abbas said that Trump's broader peace plan will not succeed "because it ends the Palestinian cause."

The Palestinian president said that the American scheme adopts Israel's visions and neglects the longstanding two-state solution to the conflict.

"Palestine is not for sale," Ismail Rudwan, an official with Islamic militant group Hamas that governs Gaza, told NBC News.

A woman walks past graffiti depicting President Donald Trump with a footprint on his face in Gaza City on June 23, 2019.Mohammed Abed / AFP - Getty Images

"We affirm our rejection to the deal of the century with all its political, economic and security dimensions."

In a comment to NBC News before the economic plan was unveiled, Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said the Bahrain conference had “exposed” that the Trump administration’s peace plan was about providing the Palestinians with economic help in exchange for them giving up their aspirations to establish a Palestinian state.

In the process, he said Trump was dismantling decades of an international consensus.

The plan was rejected not only by Palestinian leaders, but also figures in Arab states whose help Washington is actively seeking.

It promised billions of dollars to Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, which have absorbed Palestinian refugees and dealt with other ramifications of the conflict for decades.

But on Sunday the Lebanese parliament's speaker said the country does not want investment at the expense of the Palestinian cause.

"Mr. Kushner, Lebanon and the Lebanese will not be false witnesses for selling Palestine," Nabih Berri said.

At home the U.S. plan, released quietly on the Sabbath, was met with a muted response but some criticism.

“Even an ambitious vision of much-needed economic development cannot substitute for a political agreement that will finally resolve the core issues driving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a Washington-based liberal advocacy group.

It also drew mixed responses from the political establishment in Israel.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a cabinet member close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called Palestinians' rejection of the plan tragic.

But Ayman Odeh, leader of the party that represents Israel's Arabs, said Sunday that the only solution to the conflict is to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.

“Someone needs to explain to Trump that you can’t buy everything with money," Israel’s daily Ma’ariv newspaper quoted him as saying.

"Certainly not the Palestinian people’s just national aspirations.”

Josh Lederman, Lawahez Jabari, Paul Goldman, Reuters and Saphora Smith contributed.