US economic plan for Middle East peace gets chilly reaction

Women wave Palestinian flags during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip June 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 23 June 2019

US economic plan for Middle East peace gets chilly reaction

  • Israeli minister calls a major piece of the White House’s 'peace to prosperity' plan 'irrelevant'
  • Jordan and Egypt restated their support for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

JERUSALEM: The economic component of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan drew chilly responses from regional allies Sunday, two days before it was to be discussed at a conference in the Gulf.
An Israeli minister called a major piece of the White House’s “peace to prosperity” plan “irrelevant,” while Jordan and Egypt restated their support for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pouring cold water on Washington’s focus on economic issues.
The $50 billion economic plan, published on Saturday, calls for massive infrastructure projects and job creation for Palestinians. It makes no mention of Palestinian political aspirations — a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.
The plan does not address the core issues of the conflict: the contested holy city of Jerusalem, sought by both peoples as a capital; the fate of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants; and the borders of a future Palestinian state.
American officials say these issues will not be raised at this week’s conference in Bahrain. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will have official representation at the two-day summit. The US delegation is to be led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said on Sunday that Palestinians do not need this week’s US-led Bahrain meeting to develop their country, they need peace.
The June 25-26 conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, which the Palestinian Authority is boycotting, will discuss US-led proposals for an economic vision to be presented by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, part of a wider plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
While many Arab states are attending the meeting, the plan has drawn rebuke as an attempt to circumvent Palestinian demands for an independent state on lands captured in the 1967 war.
“We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country, we need peace, and the sequence of (the plan) — economic revival followed by peace — is unrealistic and an illusion,” Bishara said on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab finance ministers in Cairo.
“First of all, give us our land and our freedom.”
While the precise outline of the political part of Kushner’s plan has been shrouded in secrecy, officials briefed on it say he has jettisoned the two-state solution that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Kushner told Reuters that the plan, previously dubbed the “deal of the century,” could be the “opportunity of the century” for the Palestinians.
In an address to Sunday’s meeting at the Arab League headquarters, Bishara cited the “bitter experience” of the Palestinians since the 1993 Oslo Accords, including the US decision to cut aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.
“We are careful and skeptical of what is called the deal of the century — or what was called a couple of days ago, the opportunity of the century,” Bishara said.
Sunday’s Arab finance ministers’ meeting was called to discuss the Palestinian budget deficit, which Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit put at $700 million for the current year.
The finance ministers said they were committed to activating a financial safety net for the Palestinians of $100 million a month, agreed upon at previous Arab meetings.
The Trump administration said it did not invite Israeli officials in order to keep the conference apolitical. The Palestinians have refused to attend, saying the US plan adopts hard line Israeli positions and neglects the internationally backed two-state solution.
Speaking Sunday in an interview with Israeli public radio, Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi said one of the proposals in the Trump plan— a land link connecting the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip — was “irrelevant” so long as Hamas controls the latter.
The Trump administration’s outline calls for “a major road and, potentially, a modern rail line” between the West Bank and Gaza, saying this would “reduce the complications of travel for Palestinians” and stimulate commerce.
“It will be relevant when Gaza will stop being a pro-Iranian terror kingdom, meaning it’s irrelevant today and in the foreseeable future,” said Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation and an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The 10-year plan calls for projects worth $6.3 billion for Palestinians in Lebanon, as well as $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza, $9.1 billion in Egypt and $7.4 billion in Jordan.
Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday that the country will not be “tempted” by money into what he said amounts to giving up Palestinian rights.
Berri said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency that although Lebanon is currently dealing with an economic crisis, it would be a mistake to think that billions of dollars could convince the government to abandon Palestinians’ rights as refugees.
Sufian Qudah, a spokesman for Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, said that while Jordan would attend the conference, “no economic proposal can replace a political settlement to the conflict which must be resolved according to the two-state solution.”

*Reuters and AP


    Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

    Updated 11 December 2019

    Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

    • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
    • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
    JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
    A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
    But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
    On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
    It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
    New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
    Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
    Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
    On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
    “After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
    Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
    If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
    The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
    Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
    Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
    New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
    Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
    But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
    Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
    Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
    “If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
    “All the rest is lies and excuses.”
    Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
    He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
    No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
    He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
    To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
    He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
    Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
    Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
    Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
    A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”