His conference in Bahrain hears of big dream plans divorced from reality.
The slick promotional publication, titled “Peace to Prosperity,” described a $50 billion investment surge in the Palestinian economy over the next decade, like a fantastical New York real estate promotion. Palestinians certainly could use the investment and jobs in their economically depressed communities, where unemployment last year was 31 percent.
The publication touted what was supposed to be an economic foundation for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, presented at a conference in Bahrain this week by Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law, senior adviser and, formerly, New York real estate developer.
Mr. Kushner invited participants to “imagine a new reality in the Middle East.”
But except for its patronizing tone, there’s little new about the plan, which relies heavily on the construction of much-needed infrastructure projects that are retreads of proposals the World Bank, the United States and others made in previous failed peace efforts.
The most ambitious undertaking would be a $5 billion transportation corridor from the West Bank to Gaza that could link the two Palestinian territories with a major road and possibly a modern rail line. To facilitate the flow of Palestinian people and goods with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the region, facilities at key border crossings would be upgraded, new cargo terminals would be built, old ones would be refurbished and new security technology would be installed.
Although it deals only in generalities, the plan also envisions investing in upgrades to Palestinian electric grids, the Gaza Power Plant and renewable energy facilities. In an effort to double the water supply in five years, new desalinization and wastewater treatment facilities, wells and distribution networks would be built. Financial incentives would encourage private Palestinian businesses to expand the limited existing digital capabilities by developing high-speed telecommunications services.
Other proposals focus on expanding educational opportunities, jobs, housing, tourism and the rule of law.
While tantalizing, the plan as it stands is, to be gentle, unrealistic.
Israel controls the economic life of the Palestinian territories, meaning none of the proposals are possible without its concurrence. Yet the plan makes no demands on Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Gulf states, along with European nations and private investors, are expected to help finance the plan, but there have been no actual commitments, and the idea that the Arabs would bankroll a peace plan that sidesteps a Palestinian state is unlikely.
Making the whole initiative even more surreal, it arrives after the administration in which Mr. Kushner serves sharply cut funds for programs that support Palestinian schools and health care.
The fact that officials of the Israeli and the Palestinian governments, whose futures are most at stake, were absent from the two-day conference in Bahrain, and that many Arab and European countries sent only lower-level representatives, underscores the broad international discomfort with Mr. Kushner’s economic proposals and the promised plan for resolving Israel-Palestinian political issues that is supposed to follow it.
Team Trump is betting that dangling lucrative investments will cause Palestinians to abandon their aspirations for an independent state, a goal the United States supported as part of a negotiated peace since 2002, until President Trump voiced a more fluid view. If it were that easy it would have happened years ago.
Palestinian leaders, who halted contact with Washington months ago, rejected Mr. Kushner’s economic blueprint out of hand. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, allies with Israel against Iran, were supportive but made clear that the plan needed to be combined with a political solution.
The one truly enthusiastic cadre appeared to be billionaire investors who, seemingly for the first time, were seeing economic potential in a long-ignored part of the world. Many of them expressed such eagerness about eventually underwriting projects promoted by the plan that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “It’s going to be like a hot I.P.O.”
Mr. Kushner is right when he says the “old way hasn’t really worked.” However, by presenting a plan that ignores Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood and their demands for ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, he is making success even less likely. “If we are going to fail,” he has said, “we don’t want to fail doing it the same way it’s been done in the past.”
What happens next is anybody’s guess. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted in a recent closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders that the plan may be “unexecutable.” But if Mr. Kushner can mobilize powerful investors and international businesses as cheerleaders for Mideast peace, he could make a real contribution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fended off a challenge to his fragile coalition Monday as a key partner backed away from a threat to quit the government, staving off snap elections but leaving the embattled leader’s position so precarious that U.S. hopes to begin a peace process in the coming months could be thrown off course.
Naftali Bennett’s decision to stay on as education minister and keep his Jewish Home party in the ruling coalition lessens the possibility of early elections, at least for now, though the government’s majority remains razor thin, with 61 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset... “Any schmuck in the coalition can blackmail him with whatever reason, it’s really hard to handle,” Mr. Navon added... His announcement follows a week of crisis in Mr. Netanyahu’s government, triggered Wednesday after the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest at the government’s policy toward Gaza. Mr. Lieberman, who said Israel’s response to a flare up in violence with Gaza hadn’t been tough enough, subsequently withdrew his Yisrael Beiteinu party from government, costing the coalition five seats... In the wake of that resignation, Mr. Bennett said he would withdraw his party unless he was appointed defense minister... Mr. Netanyahu announced Sunday that he would keep the defense brief for himself. He is now the
- foreign minister,
- defense minister and
- health minister, as well as the
- prime minister.
.. Mr. Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009 and won three successive elections. He is favored to win again in a 2019 contest.
.. looming over him are a string of corruption probes, with indictments possible in the coming months, which analysts said are also figuring into his calculations about when to hold elections. Police have so far recommended Mr. Netanyahu be charged with criminal bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption probes, but it is up to the attorney general to decide whether to bring charges.
EVANGELICAL VOTERS MADE UP A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF DONALD TRUMP’S BASE IN THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. THEIR POLITICAL AGENDA MAY NOT BE PEACE OR PROSPERITY, BUT INSTEAD BRINGING US CLOSER TO THE END OF TIME.
It is hard to imagine how this would coax the Palestinians to offer more concessions in a negotiation with Israel. What they see is that the United States under Mr. Trump has embraced the views of Israeli right-wing nationalists and tried to take two of their most important negotiating issues — the status of Jerusalem, which Mr. Trump undermined by announcing late last year that the United States embassy would be moved to Jerusalem, and now the right of return — off the table.
Through all the decades of peace negotiations, the Palestinians had believed that the United States, dedicated to Israel’s security, was the only power that could fairly mediate with Israel on their behalf. Mr. Trump has abdicated this leadership role, risking a humanitarian disaster and renewed violence.