The Trump Administration has signaled that they expect to unveil a portion of their long-awaited Middle East Peace Plan at a “Peace to Prosperity” conference to be held in June in Bahrain. Reports suggest that Jared Kushner, who was given the Middle East Peace Process portfolio by the President, is ready to present its economic component. It reportedly contains all the marks of a proposal designed by the Netanyahu Government and reflects the thinking which has been ever-present in Israel for years; address the Palestinians economic needs and everything else will follow.
While there are many questions as to how the President and his surrogates are proposing to move ahead, many regional observers recognize that one of the roads to any eventual peace with Israel and the creation of an independent Palestinian state must be secured by the Palestinians’ establishing a strong economic base. Their problem has been that when there were Palestinian leaders like Salem Fayed–who had a very strong academic and professional finance background and served in the Palestinian Authority Government from 2002-2013—he was frustrated by political corruption. Fayed sought to innovate and modernize the Palestinian economy, but he was marginalized by the rest of the Palestinian leadership.
During the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli settlers left behind an entire agricultural infrastructure as well as hothouse operations. Despite the fact that third party funding purchased this business—so Hamas would not be taking over an Israeli industry—when the Israelis left Gaza, the Palestinians destroyed the entire highly productive agricultural project.
In addition, Israel and the Palestinians both know that most surveys of Arabs living within Israel have repeatedly indicated that they have a better quality of life—especially economically—than do the Palestinians. They have suggested that it would not be in their financial interest to be part of Palestine as it exists currently.
All of this suggests that it is indeed important to address the economic situation of the Palestinians. Kushner’s problem is that it cannot be achieved by a group of rich Arab States meeting and deciding for the Palestinians how and what to do to improve their economic life. (It is expected that Israel will attend the conference, but the Palestinians have already announced that they will boycott it.) Absent a clearly developed and accepted political framework within which they would be functioning, the Palestinians are correct that all this activity suggests is that the oil barons and the U.S. would be throwing money at Palestinian problem and solving nothing.
The Trump plan also must be seen as pressuring Israel as well as the Palestinians to take sincere steps toward finding a acceptable accommodation. Economic proposals alone are not viable. Israel is under no burden—certainly not from Trump or Kushner—to take any serious steps towards reconciliation with the Palestinians. Correct though it may be that the Palestinians lack leadership and are divided into at least two distinct groups–the PA and Hamas; nevertheless, Israel has never held a stronger security position vis-à-vis the Palestinians than it does today.
There is another very critical piece that is missing in separating the political and the economic dimensions from the discussion. The Bahrain meeting appears to consist of those states which are pro-U.S. and anti-Iran leaving out the other States which are suppliers of forces and materiel to Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc. The Bahrain meeting, therefore, will consist only of countries in the region who in principle are all in agreement with Washington.
At this juncture the Administration’s proposal will make some people and Israel believe it was a successful initiative; but the Palestinians will view it as unproductive.