US economic plan for Mid-East peace faces broad Arab rejection

Demonstrators with banners, including one that reads "Palestine is not for sale" in Arabic, protesting in Bethlehem. Arab analysts believe the economic plan being put forward by the US is an attempt to buy off opposition to Israel's occupation of Pal
Demonstrators with banners, including one that reads "Palestine is not for sale" in Arabic, protesting in Bethlehem. Arab analysts believe the economic plan being put forward by the US is an attempt to buy off opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land with a multibillion-dollar bribe.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIYADH/AMMAN/CAIRO • US President Donald Trump's economic vision as part of the wider plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was met with contempt, repudiation and exasperation in the Arab world, even as some in the Gulf called for it to be given a chance.

In Israel, Mr Tzachi Hanegbi, a Cabinet member close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the Palestinians' rejection of the US$50 billion (S$68 billion) "peace to prosperity" plan tragic.

The blueprint, set to be presented by Mr Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law, at a conference in Bahrain tomorrow and Wednesday, envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighbouring Arab state economies.

But the lack of a political solution, which Washington has said would be unveiled later, prompted rejection not only by the Palestinians but also Arab countries with which Israel would seek normal relations.

From Sudan to Kuwait, prominent commentators and ordinary citizens denounced Mr Kushner's proposals in strikingly similar terms: "colossal waste of time", "non-starter" and "dead on arrival".

Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmy said: "Homelands cannot be sold, even for all the money in the world. This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers, not politicians. Even Arab states that are described as moderate are not able to openly express support for it."

Commentator Sarkis Naoum at Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper said: "This economic plan, like others, won't succeed because it has no political foundation."

Officials briefed on the plan said Mr Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution - the long-standing worldwide formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation has dismissed Mr Kushner's plans as "all abstract promises", insisting that only a political solution will work. It said the plans were a bid to bribe the Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation.

On Israel Radio, Mr Hanegbi said Washington had tried to create "a little more trust and positivity" by presenting an economic vision but had touched a raw nerve as far as the Palestinians were concerned.

"They are still convinced that the whole matter of an economic peace is a conspiracy, aimed only at piling them with funds for projects and other goodies so that they will forget their nationalist inspirations. This, of course, is simply paranoia but it's another tragedy for the Palestinians," he added.

Former senior Jordanian politician Jawad al-Anani described widespread suspicion after Mr Trump's decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights.

 
 
 

"This is an unbalanced approach. It assumes the Palestinians are the more vulnerable side and they are the ones who can succumb to pressure more easily. This is a major setback for the whole region," he said.

Mr Azzam Huneidi, deputy head of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, the country's main opposition, said: "The economic plan is the sale of Palestine under the banner of prosperity in return for peace and with no land being returned, and with the bulk of the funds shouldered by Gulf Arab states. A deal with Arab money."

Mr Kushner's economic proposals will be discussed at the US-led gathering in Bahrain this week. The Palestinian Authority is boycotting and the White House did not invite the Israeli government. US-allied Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will take part along with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. Lebanon and Iraq will not attend.

Lebanon's Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Hizbollah, which wields significant influence over the government, has called the plan a historic crime that must be stopped.

Arab analysts believe the plan is an attempt to buy off opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land with a multibillion-dollar bribe to pay off the neighbouring hosts of millions of Palestinian refugees to integrate them.

After Israel's creation in 1948, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon absorbed the most Palestinian refugees, with some estimates that they now account for five million.

Critics accuse Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam's holiest places, of abandoning the Palestinians.

Qatar University's political sociology professor Majed al-Ansari called the plan laughable, saying: "The idea of moving from land-for-peace to money-for-peace is insulting to the Palestinian cause."

Amid fears that it would push them to accept a US plan that favours Israel, Saudi Arabia has assured Arab allies it would not endorse anything that fails to meet key Palestinian demands.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'US economic plan for Mid-East peace faces broad Arab rejection'. Print Edition | Subscribe