Leaders gather in Bahrain for launch of $50bn Palestinian economic plan

The ‘Peace to Prosperity’ conference in Bahrain this week will facilitate discussions on a framework for a prosperous future for Palestinians. (Reuters)
Updated 24 June 2019

Leaders gather in Bahrain for launch of $50bn Palestinian economic plan

  • The $50 billion will be divided among Palestinian needs but also support programs for Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, according to the plan

CHICAGO: Although the fractious Palestinian leadership will not be present, President Donald Trump unveiled details of his “Peace to Prosperity” plan that will be the focus of workshops and meetings in Bahrain this week attended by representatives from the Arab world and America.

In a statement on Sunday,  Trump announced: “Today, the United States Government announced ‘Peace to Prosperity,’ a new vision for the Palestinians and the broader Middle East region. Through its supporting programs and projects, ‘Peace to Prosperity’ aspires to empower the Palestinian people to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society. The economic plan consists of three initiatives that will support distinct pillars of the Palestinian society: the economy, the people, and its governance.” 

“With the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years, ‘Peace to Prosperity’ represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinians to date.”

Surprisingly, and despite criticism that the Bahrain conference is intended as a eulogy for Palestinian rights, the documents released by the Trump White House seem to emphasize at every turn the requirement to address the “needs” of the Palestinians.

“Generations of Palestinians have lived without knowing peace, and the West Bank and Gaza have fallen into a protracted crisis,” the introduction to the plan begins.

“Yet the Palestinian story will not end here. The Palestinian people continue their historic endeavor to realize their aspirations and build a better future for their children.”

The plan envisions a goal of providing up to $50 billion in financial support to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society upon three initiatives to support “the economy, the people, and the government.”

The $50 billion will be divided among Palestinian needs but also support programs for Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, according to the plan. Palestinians are to receive nearly $28 billion while Jordan will get $7 billion, Egypt $9 billion and Lebanon $6 billion.

The White House document, which will be delivered by Trump’s son-in-law and special Middle East representative, Jared Kushner, and special Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, during meetings with representatives from countries including the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, predicts it will empower Palestinians “to build the society that they have aspired to establish for generations.”

Writing on Twitter, Greenblatt said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia confirms that His Excellency Minister of Economy and Planning Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri will participate in the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop organized by the Kingdom of Bahrain in partnership with the USA.”

FASTFACT

The plan envisions a goal of providing up to $50 billion in financial support to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society upon three initiatives to support the economy, the people, and the government.

But the plan clearly carries a caveat: “Ultimately, however, the power to unlock it lies in the hands of the Palestinian people. Only through peace can the Palestinians achieve prosperity.”

Trump said that the Israeli government was not invited to the conference in Bahrain only because no officials from the Palestinian National Authority and government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be attending.

Although the US has frozen most grant funds to the Palestinians during the past year, in response to the refusal of Palestinians to participate in peace talks with Israel, the plan appears to be a basis for the delivery of a new funding system for Palestinian needs.

The plan is outlined on a website launched by the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/. 

Most of the funds will come from grants ($13 billion), loans ($26 billion) and private capital ($12 billion).

A key focus of the plan is the expansion of transportation services to Palestinians in both the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Israeli-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 but has since established an oppressive embargo.

The 95-page document also details goals for business development, health care, building government civil service operations, a legal and tax system, defining property rights, “judicial independence,” creating international trade and foreign direct investment, and a system of accountability and government transparency.

In addition, it calls for supporting arts and culture, sports, education and training.

The goal, according to the plan, is to “empower the Palestinian people.”

Not discussed in the plan are the current Israeli military controls over Palestinians, the Israeli policy of confiscating Arab-owned land to build Jewish-only settlements, and Israel’s policies of extrajudicial killing and the targeting of individuals it asserts are engaged in violence.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 56 min 23 sec ago

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.