Saudi Arabia: Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan speaking during a panel discussion in Bahrain on a plan for Palestinian economic prosperity. (Screengrab)
Updated 27 June 2019
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Saudi Arabia: Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

  • UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."
  • Tony Blair insists to Jared Kushner that there must be a two-state solution

MANAMA: Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said Wednesday the Kingdom will support whatever economic plan will bring prosperity to the Palestinians.

Speaking on the second day of an international conference on a US initiative to improve the economic plight of Gaza and the West Bank, Al-Jadaan said he was “very, very optimistic” about the plan. 

“The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope and we and our colleagues share the view that whatever brings prosperity to this region, we will support it,” he said, alongside US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and the Bahraini and Emirati finance ministers.

“We have been a great supporter of Palestine for decades … so its not something we are going to shy away from and we will continue supporting the Palestinians,” Al-Jadaan added.

 

 

The initiative was outlined by Donald Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday as the conference in Bahrain got under way. The $50 billion economic formula would see investment in infrastructure, tourism and education.

Palestinian leaders have accused the plan of legitimising Israel’s occupation of their territory and for being secondary to a political resolution to the conflict. But on the second day of the conference, both Arab and western political leaders, ministers and  business chiefs discussed what needed to be done to make the plan work.

Al-Jadaan said the plan was a “great opportunity” and that there was a “significant international commitment” to support the people of Palestine to bring prosperity and opportunities.

“You need political commitment, you need clear transparency, you need predictability for the private sector to join, you need the rule of law … and you want to make sure that there is proper governance in place,” he said. 

The UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."

Earlier, Jared Kushner discussed the initiative with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who insisted there still must be a two-state solution to the conflict. The White House has not said it backs the principle, and the political element of its plan has not yet been revealed.

 

 

"It's absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics, but it's likewise completely futile to think politics will work without economics buttressing it," Blair told the gathering.

The foreign minister of Bahrain also reiterated the need for a two-state solution but said the plan was an "opportunity not to be missed".

"I think if we take this matter seriously it could be a very important game-changer," Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said.

In an earlier panel, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas said the initiative “will definitely require a lot of work but it is definitely achievable.”

Bahrain’s Labor Market CEO Osama Al-Absi, told the panel, entitled Empowering the People, “we must look at how post-war economies were built” in order to make the plan work.

International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said generating economic growth in conflict-riven countries can be a struggle.

The IMF puts unemployment at 30 percent in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza, which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival in the Israeli-occupied West bank.

"Gaza right now is feeling a lot of pain because of bad leadership and the sanctions that have been imposed on them because of it," Kushner said. "So the question that (Hamas)leadership has to ask themselves is...do they hate their neighbour in Israel more than they love their citizens and their people?"

The 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects in the plan include a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, which has been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, told the gathering it is difficult to build an economy with a "siege and unstable situation".

"Frankly, we demand an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967," said the businessman from Hebron who has co-founded a trade group to boost business between Palestinians and Israeli settlers."

Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments attended the Bahrain meeting, which takes place amid a years-long stalemate in other international efforts to resolve the conflict.
Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi, speaking in Ramallah, said the Manama conference was "quite disingenuous".
"It is totally divorced from reality. The elephant in the room is the (Israeli) occupation itself," she said.

*With Reuters


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.