Analysis

Economic Side of 'Deal of the Century' Holds Some Surprises, but It's More Vision Than Blueprint

The U.S. economic plan shouldn't be analyzed from too pragmatic a perspective. Its intent is to convey a message to the Palestinians that if a political agreement is reached, they could benefit greatly from it

File photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt meet in  Ramallah, West Bank, 2017.

Just days before the opening of the U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference in Bahrain, and without much fanfare, the Trump administration revealed on Saturday the economic component of its plan to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians on the White House website. It’s that same plan that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt have been working on for more than two years.

The bottom line is that beyond a flow of money, $50 billion to be exact, the U.S. economic plan to be presented this week at the Peace to Prosperity meeting in Bahrain contains some surprises involving policy, and contrary to expectations, some of which will not be terribly welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

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A considerable number of officials in Israel were surprised to see the Trump administration's plans to provide a geographic link between the West Bank and Gaza Strip through Israeli territory after years of a clear and deliberate policy of “divide and conquer.” Israeli officials also see other proposals, in the fields of technology and education, for instance, as unrealistic considering the fact that currently the United States is not funding even simpler and more pressing humanitarian projects, such as a desalination plant for Gaza, which for the most part is now being funded by European taxpayers.

The so-called "'deal of the century' is jumping a hundred steps ahead,” some have said over the initial reaction to the Americans’ colorful printed proposal, but actually, that was precisely the intention. There is no point analyzing it from too pragmatic a perspective.

The entire concept, as Greenblatt himself said several times in the past, is to present a “vision” to the Palestinians. The intent, he said, was to convey a message to the Palestinian people and their leadership that if political agreement is reached, here’s what could happen, here are the many great things that the Palestinians could benefit from. And if no agreement is achieved, he said, the intention is for them to better understand the conflict, to enable people to dream, as he put it, of what could be accomplished to replace the current situation.

In other words, the plan should be analyzed as a proposed narrative for a better future rather than a description of the near future. U.S. officials have been careful to note that the economic section is just one of plan's two parts, and that its political part will be presented after Israel’s September 17 election.

The intent is that the infusion of money would only be relevant if the two sides also accept the second part, which apparently requires more difficult compromises. If that is the case, then the economic portion of the plan is the carrot that is being offered to the recalcitrant side before the stick. Nevertheless, U.S. administration officials insist — in the face of the primary criticism against them — that they are not trying to bribe the Palestinians.

Against the backdrop of the criticism that there is too great a focus on the economic aspects at the expense of the Palestinians’ national aspirations, the plan opens with the follow, among other statements: ״Yet the Palestinian story will not end here. The Palestinian people continue their historic endeavor to realize their aspirations and build a better future for their children.”

From a general standpoint, the printed plan and the information on the White House website seem to reflect a desire to appeal directly to the hearts of the Palestinians themselves while bypassing the leadership and presenting a vision for a brighter future that depends mainly on their readiness to cooperate. It’s in the best of America's capitalist tradition, which conditions individuals’ prosperity first of all upon their own actions.

Further on in the document are details on the range of the proposals themselves. Beyond linking the West Bank and Gaza, it describes major investment in infrastructure including water and electricity facilities, of the kind that the United States is not currently funding and there is concern that existing facilities will collapse. The plan also provides details about investment in higher education, the establishment of industrial zones and incentives for the private business sector. The Americans are also proposing upgrades to border crossings with Egypt and Jordan. On the other hand, there is no mention of building an airport in Gaza, even though such a proposal appears in the existing plans for long-term quiet between Israel and Hamas led by Egyptian mediation.

In their initial reactions to the U.S. proposal, Israeli and Palestinian leadership responded as expected. Netanyahu had no reason to respond, having taken the position that the Palestinians have already scuttled efforts in the past, while praising and supporting for his good friend in Washington, the president, whom Netanyahu would assure that Israel is ready to listen.

From the Palestinian point of view, there is nothing to talk about when it comes to economic issues until the Israeli occupation ends and the Palestinians are given a sovereign independent state. Under such circumstances, it’s reasonable to assume that the vision will remain just that and that the printed plan will join others before it in a drawer.

It might have helped if someone at the White House had bothered to issue a version in Arabic, in addition to the publication in English. That will happen soon, they promise, but in the meantime Washington is preparing to discuss the details of the plan in Bahrain next week. And those invited to the conference, one can now understand, mostly have deep pockets.