White House’s Middle East Economic Plan Lacks Historical Understanding

June 28, 2019 by HJ Mai
Senior advisor Jared Kushner attends the National Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on November 20, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The White House earlier this week unveiled its long-awaited and highly touted Middle East peace plan. Well, at least the economic portion of it. 

To unveil the plan, Washington convened a two-day workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25 and 26. While the workshop was attended by numerous leaders from the Arab world, the bigger headline was the leaders that didn’t attend. Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments participated in the workshop that aims to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict that has lasted more than seven decades. 

The economic component of the peace plan, whose development has been spearheaded by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, aims to unleash the economic potential of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by promoting capital investments, improving education and health care, and enhancing governance structures.

The White House hopes that oil-rich Gulf states will finance the plan by injecting upward of $50 billion into the economies of Palestine and neighboring Arab countries. Rolling out an economic vision without a clear path to lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a questionable decision, given that Kushner himself said the plan’s economic component hinges on reaching a political solution. 

“To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political solution to the conflict. One that guarantees Israel’s security and respects the dignity of the Palestinian people,” Kushner said on Tuesday. “The reason why we thought it was important to bring out the economic vision before the political vision is because we need people to see what the future can look like.”

As if the absence of Israelis and Palestinians in Bahrain wasn’t a clear indication in itself, the first phase of the plan – often referred to as the “deal of the century” – did not live up to its billing. 

“The Palestinian issue is primarily political, and pouring money into it won’t solve it. Kushner’s plan is indicative of his lack of understanding of the history and dynamics in the region, offering a simplistic and unviable, immoral non-solution to a longstanding, complex issue,” Nancy Okail, the executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told the Guardian. 

Kushner told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. will put out its political plan when time is right. He added that both Israelis and Palestinians would have to agree on a political solution, adding that might never happen. 

“In short, the U.S. economic plan is based not so much on postponing the political issues but on assuming that these issues are the invention of Palestinian leaders who have blocked their people’s prosperity,” Nathan J. Brown, a professor at George Washington University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, wrote in a policy analysis piece.

Palestinian leaders rejected Kushner’s plan before its official presentation. 

“The economic situation should not be discussed before the political one,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday. “As long as there is no political solution, we do not deal with any economic solution.”

Assuming that nation states and private corporations would invest in a region that has been plagued by unrest since 1948 appears naïve. Without a political solution that addresses whether there can be a two-state solution, and the status of Jerusalem, Trump’s deal of the century won’t amount to anything more than another broken promise.

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