RIYADH/AMMAN/CAIRO/WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic vision as part of the wider plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been met with contempt, repudiation and exasperation in the Arab world, even as some in the Persian Gulf called for it to be given a chance.
The $50 billion “peace to prosperity” plan, set to be presented by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, at a conference in Bahrain this week, envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.
The White House on Saturday outlined the plan, which includes 179 infrastructure and business projects and would fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years; the rest would be split among Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Some of the projects would be in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in the adjacent Gaza Strip, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave.
The plan also proposes nearly $1 billion to build up the Palestinians’ tourism sector, a seemingly impractical notion for now given the tenuous security in the occupied West Bank and the frequent flare-ups between Israeli forces and militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The Trump administration hopes that wealthy Persian Gulf states and nations in Europe and Asia, along with private investors, will foot much of the bill, Kushner said in a recent interview.
But the plan’s lack of a political solution, which Washington has said will be unveiled later, prompted rejection not only from Palestinians but also in Arab countries that Israel would seek normal relations with.
From Sudan to Kuwait, prominent commentators and ordinary citizens denounced Kushner’s proposals in strikingly similar terms: “colossal waste of time,” “nonstarter,” “dead on arrival.”
“Homelands cannot be sold, even for all the money in the world,” Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmy said. “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.”
While the precise outline of the political plan has been shrouded with secrecy, officials say 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 Strip.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has dismissed Kushner’s plans as “all abstract promises,” insisting that only a political solution will solve the problem. It said the plans are an attempt to bribe the Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation.
Jawad al-Anani, a former senior Jordanian politician, described widespread suspicion after Trump’s decisions to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize 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,” he said. “This is a major setback for the whole region.”
Azzam Huneidi, deputy head of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition force, 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.”
Kushner’s economic proposals will be discussed at a U.S.-led gathering Tuesday and Wednesday. The Palestinian Authority is boycotting and the White House did not invite the Israeli government.
U.S.-allied Persian Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will take part along with officials from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. Lebanon and Iraq will not attend.
Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, which wields significant influence over the government, has previously called the plan “a historic crime” that must be stopped.
Arab analysts believe the economic plan is an attempt to stop opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land with a multibillion-dollar bribe to pay off the neighboring hosts of millions of Palestinian refugees to integrate them.
“It is disingenuous to say that this plan is purely economic, because it has a political dimension that has implications that are incongruous with the political aspirations,” said Safwan Masri, a Columbia University professor. “A big part of the $50 billion will go to neighboring states to settle the Palestinian refugees in those countries.”
After Israel’s creation in 1948, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon absorbed the most Palestinian refugees. By some estimates, they now number around 5 million.
Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center, said, “I see it failing miserably while benefiting U.S. adversaries in the region,” a reference to Iran.
In recent years, Iran’s bitter rivalry with a bloc led by Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has increasingly pushed the Arab-Israeli struggle into the background.
While Riyadh and its allies have welcomed Trump’s harder line against Tehran, which has cast itself as the guardian of Palestinian rights, critics accuse Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s holiest places, of abandoning the Palestinians.
Amid fears that it will push them to accept a U.S. plan that favors Israel, Saudi Arabia has assured Arab allies it would not endorse anything that fails to meet key Palestinian demands.
Ali Shihabi, who heads the Arabia Foundation which supports Saudi policies, said the Palestinian Authority was wrong to reject the plan out of hand. “It should accept it and work on delivering the benefits to its people and then move forward aggressively with nonviolent work . . . to seek political rights,” he tweeted.
Prominent Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor has also criticized the Palestinians’ refusal to go to Bahrain, calling it “short-sighted at best, self-defeating at worst.”
“There is no harm in listening to what will be placed on the table,” he wrote last month.
Yet even in the Persian Gulf, backing for Kushner’s plan is limited.
Majed al-Ansari, a political sociology professor at Qatar University, called it laughable and unrealistic.
“The idea of moving from land for peace to money for peace is insulting to the Palestinian cause,” he said. “It is very clear that Kushner’s idea is about paying for Palestinian approval of Israel taking over all their land and basically giving no concessions to the Palestinians.”
Kuwaiti researcher Maitham al-Shakhs predicted Washington will be unable to implement the plan through diplomacy and might have to impose it by force: Trump “gave Israel Jerusalem and the Golan, and every day he gives them gifts at the expense of the Arabs.”
Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said the Palestinians are entitled to reject Kushner’s plan because it does not meet their minimum aspirations. “The plan is not even palatable to the wider audience in the region. It will be a sell-off of a just cause,” he said. “The Gulf states will have a hard time to force it on the Palestinians. They will have a hard time convincing the Palestinians. . . . It’s not what people expect after years of conflict and struggle.”