Trump’s $50B Pales­tinian eco­nomic plan faces hur­dles

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Matthew Lee

WASH­ING­TON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Satur­day un­veiled a $50 bil­lion Pales­tinian in­vest­ment and in­fra­struc­ture pro­posal in­tended to be the eco­nomic en­gine to power its much-an­tic­i­pated but still un­re­leased “deal of the cen­tury” Mid­dle East peace plan.

The scheme, which calls for a mix of pub­lic and pri­vate fi­nanc­ing and in­tends to create at least a mil­lion new jobs for Pales­tini­ans, was posted to the White House web­site ahead of a two-day con­fer­ence in Bahrain that is be­ing held amid heavy skep­ti­cism about its vi­a­bil­ity and out­right op­po­si­tion from the Pales­tini­ans.

Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas on Satur­day re­it­er­ated his re­jec­tion of the pro­posal and the con­fer­ence.

The “Peace to Pros­per­ity” work­shop on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day will also take place amid height­ened re­gional ten­sions over Iran that threaten to over­shadow its goals.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s senior ad­viser and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner faces high hur­dles in build­ing sup­port for the ini­tia­tive. With no of­fi­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion from the two main pro­tag­o­nists, Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans, and scant en­thu­si­asm from oth­ers, con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty and strong doubts over the plan’s political vi­sion and the distractio­n of po­ten­tial U.S.-Iran con­flict, expectatio­ns are de­cid­edly low. How­ever, Egypt’s gov­ern­ment said Satur­day that it will take part in the peace con­fer­ence in Bahrain.

The 10-year plan calls for projects worth $27.5 bil­lion in the West Bank and Gaza, and $9.1 bil­lion, $7.4 bil­lion and $6.3 bil­lion for Pales­tini­ans in Egypt, Jordan and Le­banon, re­spec­tively. Projects en­vi­sioned in­clude those in the health care, ed­u­ca­tion, power, wa­ter, high-tech, tourism, and agricultur­e sec­tors.

It calls for the cre­ation of a “master fund” to ad­min­is­ter the fi­nances and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the projects that is says are akin to the Mar­shall Plan that re­built Europe af­ter World War II.

The plan fore­sees more than dou­bling the Pales­tinian gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, re­duc­ing the Pales­tinian poverty rate by 50 per­cent and cutting the sky-high Pales­tinian un­em­ploy­ment rate, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments, which do not spec­ify ex­actly how the projects will be funded.

It also calls for link­ing the West Bank and Gaza with a modern transporta­tion net­work, in­clud­ing high-speed rail ser­vice. Such ideas have been floated in the past in pre­vi­ous peace pro­pos­als but have run into Is­raeli se­cu­rity con­cerns.

But an al­ready tough sell that has vexed U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions for decades is made tougher not least be­cause Trump and his aides have re­fused to en­dorse a twostate so­lu­tion to the con­flict that has long been seen as the only vi­able path to last­ing peace. They have also sug­gested they are open to uni­lat­eral Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion of oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory in the West Bank. And, of­fi­cials say there is no in­ten­tion of dis­cussing ei­ther is­sue or the most con­tentious parts of their pro­posal to end the long-run­ning con­flict.

Thus, the core political is­sues that are key to re­solv­ing the dis­pute, such as borders, the sta­tus of the holy city of Jerusalem, Is­rael’s se­cu­rity and the fate of Pales­tinian refugees, will not be raised. Such mat­ters, U.S. of­fi­cials have said, may have to wait un­til the fall, af­ter Is­raeli elections, leav­ing nu­mer­ous ques­tions that po­ten­tial in­vestors will want an­swers to be­fore mak­ing even ten­ta­tive fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments.

Pales­tinian lead­ers, an­gered by what they and their sup­port­ers see as bla­tant U.S. bias to­ward Is­rael, will not par­tic­i­pate in the work­shop. The Pales­tini­ans have called for mass demon­stra­tions against the con­fer­ence. Since Trump took of­fice, he has rec­og­nized Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, mov­ing the U.S. em­bassy there from Tel Aviv, down­graded the con­sulate devoted to Pales­tinian is­sues, shut down the Pales­tinian of­fice in Wash­ing­ton and slashed hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in as­sis­tance to the West Bank and Gaza.

SU­SAN WALSH/AP

White House ad­viser Jared Kush­ner is slated to present the eco­nomic por­tion of his Mideast peace plan on Tues­day.

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