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Kushner says peace deal is needed for Palestinian economic plan to succeed

Posted at 3:58 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 17:58:01-04

Pitching his $50 billion proposal to revitalize the Palestinian economy, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner argued Tuesday that his economic proposal will only succeed if there is a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But he also argued that agreeing to a clear pathway to economic prosperity for the Palestinians is a “necessary precondition” to resolving the conflict.

Kushner’s pitch reflected the criticism that Palestinian leaders and others have directed his way in recent days, arguing that an economic plan is not worth discussing without first addressing the political issues at the core of the conflict.

But Kushner did just that — focusing solely on economics — as he kicked off the White House’s “Peace to Prosperity” economic conference here in Bahrain, addressing a smattering of Arab leaders, businesspeople and other international officials.

“To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political solution to the conflict,” Kushner said. “However, today is not about the political issues. We will get to those at the right time.”

Kushner is in the Middle East to sell a plan that few, if any, outside his team have seen, which emphasizes Palestinian economic opportunities first without touching their longstanding political aspirations for a state. The conference, meant to highlight the plan’s economic platform, includes no Israeli or Palestinian government officials, and so far no pledges to fund its $50 billion estimated cost.

The Trump administration has had no engagement with Palestinian leaders since the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the end of 2017, prompting an uproar from Palestinians. The White House has also cut off health and education aid to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. The administration has said little about US settlement building and offered no criticism when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu floated the possibility of annexing parts of the West Bank earlier this year.

On Tuesday Kushner sought to paint a picture for Palestinians — whose officials boycotted the conference — and the conference’s attendees of a post-conflict future, one in which the West Bank and Gaza can host a thriving Palestinian economy that improves the lives of Palestinians and boosts the region’s economy as a whole.

“Imagine a new reality in the Middle East. Imagine a bustling tourism and commercial center in Gaza and the West Bank,” Kushner said, as he encouraged attendees to “begin thinking about these challenges in a new way” and to view the conflict “through a different lens.”

Palestinian officials have rejected Kushner’s plan

Kushner delivered his remarks at the end of a second day of small-scale protests in the West Bank and Gaza directed at the White House-organized conference. In remarks in recent days, Palestinian officials have soundly rejected the White House’s proposal out of hand.

The issue for Palestinians is “100% political,” not economic, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Monday.

“When we speak about investment and improving living conditions without really tackling the roots and causes of the problem, I think the whole workshop is totally misleading and it’s just simply an intellectual exercise,” Shtayyeh said.

With Palestinian leaders rebuking the effort altogether, Kushner sought to take his message directly to everyday Palestinians.

“My direct message to the Palestinian people is that despite what those who have let you down in the past tell you, President Trump and America have not given up on you,” Kushner said. “This workshop is for you.”

A senior administration official and source familiar with the planning process said that Gulf Arab states encouraged Kushner to release the economic portion of his peace plan first, believing it would be better received and could set the stage for the more controversial political part of the White House plan.

Kushner on Tuesday also argued that addressing the economics of the region and financial situation of Palestinians was necessary to resolving the conflict.

“Peace can only be achieved if it comes with a pathway for people to improve their lives,” Kushner said. “That is why agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary precondition to resolving what is a previously unsolvable political situation.”

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco were among the Arab countries attending Kushner’s summit — but of those countries, only Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain dispatched high-level officials to represent them.

Attendees at the conference who spoke with CNN largely said they had come to listen to the White House’s initiative and expressed support for anything that has even a remote possibility of improving the situation in the region. But a lack of details about the political aspect of the plan kept most attendees from outright endorsing the breadth of the administration’s peace effort.

A senior administration official said the White House did not expect any of the attendees to make concrete financial pledges by the end of the conference and did not anticipate a sweeping joint statement to emerge at the end of the conference.