Not for sale: Palestine rejects US economic plan to restore peace

In a move that has invited criticism from Palestinian leaders and pro-Two States activists across the Arab world, the US has announced a $50 billion global investment fund to boost Palestine’s economy if it agrees to a peace agreement with Israel. Years in the making, US President Donald Trump has long cherished the hope that this Palestine peace plan will resolve the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict, crucial to bringing peace in the MENA region.

According to CNN, his son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner will pitch the proposal titled “Peace to Prosperity” to international investors and foreign government officials during a two-day US economic workshop beginning Tuesday in Bahrain.

The economic part of the Palestine peace plan calls for a combination of grants, low-interest loans, and private investments over 10 years—more than half of which ($27 bn) would be spent on Palestinian territories.

What exactly does Jared Kushner’s plan propose?

Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt—key supporters of Israeli right-wing policies against Palestinians—have outlined 179 infrastructure and business projects in their proposal, including a 25 mile-long travel corridor between the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip, and a $1-bn injection to boost the Palestinian tourism sector.

The latter will possibly include repairing, restoring, and upgrading historical and religious sites and beachfront areas, but it is well known that the only Palestinian seaside falls in Gaza and is closed off to the rest of the world.

The Palestine peace plan will also involve a $590-mn upgrade of Gaza’s main power plant that could produce reliable energy in years as well as $500-mn investment to build a world-class university in either Gaza or the West Bank. To open Gaza to the rest of MENA, close to $900 million would be pumped in to upgrade its border crossings and cargo terminals.

Speaking to Reuters, Kushner said the plan, if executed, could create a million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, reduce Palestinian poverty by half, and double the Palestinians’ GDP.

Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt would also be beneficiaries to $23 billion of the deal.

Why the criticism?

First, all these endeavours seem unlikely to materialise, given the tight security and frequent flare-ups between Israeli forces and rebel factions at the borders, which would inevitably restrict movement to and from the disputed territory.

Also read: Israel, Hamas mark ‘March of Return’ anniversary with truce

This has led commentators to call the proposal impractical and the funds meaningless as long as the occupation of Palestine continues to restrict the flow of people, goods, and services. Heavy sanctions and restrictions imposed by the Palestinian Authority on the movement of goods and people in and out of the West Bank have further prolonged the economic crisis in the region. 

However, Kushner’s plan offers no clarity on where the funds will come from, but the World Bank and IMF are likely to attend the conference this week to flesh out the details. For now, the roadmap remains awfully theoretical.

According to the Trump administration, wealthy Gulf states and private investors will foot the bill; Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other oil-rich nations are expected to be present during the presentation. It is not known whether Iran will attend.

Furthermore, the Palestinian “state” finds no mention in the 96-page document, while Palestinian leadership has called the peace plan out as an attempt to buy their national aspirations out. Critics have even compared it to a real estate brochure, while commentators and citizens across the Arab world have variably termed it a “colossal waste of time”, “non-starter”, and “dead on arrival”.

“This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers, not politicians,” opined Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmy said. “Even Arab states that are described as moderate are not able to openly express support for it,” he said.

Response from Palestine and pro-Palestine observers

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, has rejected the plan at the very outset. “Economic situation should not be discussed before the political one,” he said.

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, told Al Jazeera that Kushner’s plan is “an effort to buy Palestine for peanuts and give Palestinians nothing in exchange”.

Also read: Airbnb takes down listings in contested West Bank area – Why BDS matters

Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) wrote, “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. Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free and sovereign people,” she wrote on Twitter.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, paraphrased that sentiment saying Palestine is not for sale.

Even Israeli newspapers have called it a “pile of empty business-speak” that hinges on the expectation that Palestine would barter away its quest from autonomy for 5G.

Political resolution must precede economic dialogue

It is clear that Palestinians want political freedom before discussing economic development and are definitely not interested in engaging in any negotiation involving the two.

Palestinian Authority (PA) is boycotting the conference in Bahrain, while Israel has not been invited to the table, although the Israeli authorities have extended nominal support for the plan. One of PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s close aides has even criticised PA for being paranoid and short-sighted about the proposal.

Last March, Palestine had also boycotted the international summit held by the White House to end the Gaza crisis, as a protest against Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Recently, he recognised Israel’s right to annex Golan Heights.

Last January, the US announced cutting $65 million out of a $125 million aid package for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Angered by the complete overhaul of years of US policy on Palestine, sources representing the country’s interests spoke to Al Jazeera about how the Trump administration appears to want to erase the Palestinian cause and turn it into “an aid project” beneath all its claims to “fix Gaza” and restore peace in the region.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law and pose obstacles to the Palestinian people’s goal to establish a state; however, Israel, disinterested in a two-state solution, continues settlement building in the occupied West Bank. 

In a 2018 report, EU diplomats in East Jerusalem had warned about Israel’s attempts to legitimise illegal settlements in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem by developing archaeological and tourism sites. According to this report, the heart of Arab-majority districts is having settler-run excavation sites, a proposed cable-car project with stops on confiscated land, and the designation of built-up urban areas as national parks.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

Israel-PalestineJared KushnerTrump Administration