The Billion-dollar Question in Trump’s Peace Plan

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during an interview at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, June 20, 2019.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during an interview at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, June 20, 2019.Credit: \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON — After the White House released the economic chapter of its Middle East peace plan on Saturday, analysts in Israel, Washington and the Arab world all asked the same question: Where will the money come from?

The Trump administration wants to create an international fund that will invest $50 billion in the Palestinian and regional economy. Just over half of that sum would go to the Palestinian territories, and the rest to neighboring countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon

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The “Peace to Prosperity” plan includes a long list of programs and projects that could be carried out with that sum, but doesn’t contain a detailed explanation of how that money will become available in the first place..

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is leading the White House team working on the project. He told Reuters that “the whole notion here is that we want people to agree on the plan and then we’ll have a discussion with people to see who is interested in potentially doing what.”

>> Trump's Mideast plan: $50 billion for Palestinian projects, travel corridor between West Bank and Gaza ■ Trump's Bahrain conference – not what you imagined ■ Jared Kushner's 'paradigm-busting' Mideast peace deal just won't work ■ Getting Jordan and Egypt to Bahrain was an American achievement — but it might be Trump's only one

In other words, the Trump team first wants the plan to receive support from as many regional players as possible — and only then will the debate shift to practical funding mechanisms. 

An administration official told Haaretz that this approach is based on a pragmatic reading of the situation: Countries will not want to commit large sums of money to a plan before they see it has at least a decent chance of succeeding. Thus, the implementation of the economic chapter will rely on regional players’ reactions to the peace plan’s political chapter, which will not be released before Israel’s do-over election on September 17 — and could possibly be delayed until a new Israeli government is formed, something not expected to happen before November.

The official who spoke with Haaretz said the administration could seek financial commitments from the Gulf states, as well as from countries in Europe and Asia that have a history of investments and donations in the Palestinian arena. However, the official added that it is very likely those commitments will only become actual investments after the entire peace plan is available — and depending on how it is received.

Still, the administration views this week’s economic workshop in Bahrain — which will convene Tuesday and include representatives from several Arab countries, but not Israeli or Palestinian Authority officials — as an important step in securing the support of those Arab countries. The administration believes the discussions in Bahrain will clarify the level of involvement that various countries would like to have in the projects outlined in the plan.

Dan Shapiro, the previous U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote Saturday that “the Trump Administration has shut down aid programs that support every one of the goals in this Palestinian economic plan.” Shapiro was referring to the White House’s decision to cut all civilian U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, including support for economic projects, hospitals and coexistence groups. “It is now pushing others to invest where we have divested,” Shapiro continued. “What do you think the response is going to be?”

A similar criticism was voiced by Joel Braunold, executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace — an umbrella organization of groups aiming to build relations between Israelis and Palestinians. He noted that the administration’s promotional materials used images of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists from the very same organizations that had lost their funding under Trump.

One example he noted was The Parents Circle, an organization that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones as a result of the conflict. Activists from the organization appear at least twice in promotional materials for the economic plan — yet it had lost its grant for U.S. support last year because of the administration’s policies.

Robi Damelin, who lost her son during the second Intifada, told Haaretz of the photographs: "Mr. Kushner is using them [the photographed individuals] as a pawn by displaying their pictures to illustrate and unveil his “Economy First” plan for Mideast peace. He did not ask their permission which would not have been granted." The Israeli director of The Parents Circle Rami Elhanan also wrote on Facebook: "First, they deny USAID assistance to bring the Palestinians to their knees and then are not ashamed to use the picture of this aid itself in order to promote a false and deceptive "peace" plan." 

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, wrote Saturday evening that the plan is “ambitious but achievable.” He also called it an “economic vision,” adding that “this innovative economic approach coupled with a political agreement (if achievable), can transform the region.

Noa Landau contributed to this report. 

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