In Bahrain, US to launch economic part of Mideast peace plan amid skepticism

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Palestinian demonstrators carry banners during a protest against the US-led Peace to Prosperity conference in Bahrain, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday, June 24, 2019.
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A worker places a banner at the pavilion where the US-hosted event ‘Peace to Prosperity’ takes place outside Four Seasons Hotel in Manama, Bahrain. (Reuters)
Updated 25 June 2019

In Bahrain, US to launch economic part of Mideast peace plan amid skepticism

  • Two-day meeting billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process
  • But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event

MANAMA/JERUSALEM: The first stage of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will be launched on Tuesday at a conference the White House touts as a bid to begin drumming up $50 billion in investment but which Palestinians deride as an “economy first” approach doomed to fail.
The two-day international meeting in Bahrain, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed broader political blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which will be unveiled at a later date.
But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in the Bahraini capital, Manama.
There will be close scrutiny as to whether attendees such as Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states show any interest in making actual donations to a US plan that has already elicited bitter criticism from Palestinians and many others in the Arab world.
Bahrain, a close American ally and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been making preparations for weeks.
Although the conference is supposed to focus on economics, Gulf Arab states hope their presence will also show their solidarity with the Trump administration over its hard-line against Iran, a senior Gulf diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Under the plan, donor nations and investors would contribute about $50 billion over 10 years, with $28 billion going to the Palestinian territories — the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip — as well as $7.5 billion to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion for Lebanon.
Among 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5 billion transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
“I laugh when they attack this as the ‘deal of the century,’” Kushner told Reuters, referring to the lofty nickname that Trump’s peace plan has assumed over the past two years.
“This is going to be the ‘opportunity of the century’ if they have the courage to pursue it.”
Kushner, a senior Trump adviser who like his father-in-law comes from the world of New York real estate, is presenting his plan in a pair of pamphlets filled with graphs and statistics that resemble an investment prospectus.
But pushing back against critics who accuse Kushner of trying to forge a strictly “economic peace,” he told Reuters last week: “A lot of past attempts have failed. Calm down ... and keep an open mind.”
Even so, expectations for success are low. The Trump team concedes that the economic plan — billed “Peace to Prosperity” — will be implemented only if a political solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is reached.
Any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory Palestinians want to build that state.
The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel normal ties with the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state drawn along borders that predate Israel’s capture of territory in a 1967 war and a fair solution for Palestinian refugees. Israel has rejected some of the initiative’s main provisions.
Hanging over the entire initiative are persistent questions about whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” a long-standing principle of Middle East peacemaking that involves creation of an independent Palestinian state.
But the Trump team has consistently refused to commit to it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, has his own domestic problems, facing an election, and possible corruption charges after a long-running police investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
“We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. Although no Israeli government ministers will attend, an Israeli business delegation is expected.
Palestinian leaders have boycotted the workshop, and are refusing to engage with the White House — accusing it of pro-Israel bias after a series of recent Trump decisions. Kushner told Reuters that “some” Palestinian businessmen would be present.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.
“Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important,” he said.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has found itself in rare agreement with its arch-rival Abbas. “The Palestinian people only and no one else can represent the Palestinian cause,” Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri said.
Kushner insists, however, that the economic plan is intended to help draw Palestinians back to the negotiating table by showcasing the benefits a peace deal could bring.
Kushner said that even without the Israeli and Palestinian governments represented, the presence of Israeli business executives and journalists with their Arab counterparts would be significant at a time of rising tensions with Iran.
“People realize that the real threat to that region is Iran and their aggression, and Israel and a lot of the other Arab states have a lot more in common today than they did before,” he said.
David Makovsky, a Washington-based Middle East expert, agreed that although the principal focus of the event was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Iran is higher on the chain of interest right now.”
However, Makovsky, whom the White House has invited as an observer, said of the Trump-Kushner plan: “No one believes you can solve this thing economically without addressing the political issues.”


Mo Salah lookalike reveals highs and lows of being star’s dead ringer

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Updated 22 sec ago

Mo Salah lookalike reveals highs and lows of being star’s dead ringer

  • Salah joined Liverpool in 2017 and, according to transfermarkt, has a current market value of €150 million ($167 million)

An electronics engineer in Cairo who looks like Mo Salah has revealed the highs and lows of being a dead ringer for the footballing superstar.
Ahmed Bahaa is used to being mistaken for the Egyptian player because of the strong resemblance, and has even appeared as Salah in ad campaigns for cellphones and bottled water when the player was unavailable.
Fans take selfies with him, thinking they are standing next to their hero, and foreign TV channels ask him for interviews.
But the 32-year-old revealed he could have been killed because of the physical similarities with the striker.
He went to Arab League Street, one of the most crowded places in Cairo’s Mohandiseen area, to celebrate Egypt winning a soccer match. “People thought I was Salah and crowded around me. I couldn’t get out. The police saved me,” he told Arab News.
Bahaa met Salah at his home once, with the engineer recalling how he was welcomed with warmth and hospitality. The pair took photographs together.
“When I walk on the street, people think I’m Salah,” he said. “They ask to take pictures with me. They always call me Salah at work and public places, not Ahmed. Even my own kids sometimes call me Salah. When the Egyptian soccer team reached the World Cup, I ate, drank and took transportation, all for free, because I looked like Salah. Even when I went out with my wife and kids, a lot of people took photos with me.”

FASTFACT

Fans take selfies with him, thinking they are standing next to their hero, and foreign TV channels ask him for interviews.

There have been examples of mistaken identity in more unusual places too.
“I once went to the British Embassy in Cairo to apply for a visa. All of a sudden the officers took me to a private room. They thought I was Salah and surrounded me while taking photos.”
Salah joined Liverpool in 2017 and, according to transfermarkt, has a current market value of €150 million ($167 million). He has more than 10 million followers on Twitter and more than 33 million followers on Instagram, sharing candid shots of his life on and off the pitch. Bahaa, who has a more modest following on Instagram, is also a fan.
“I used to be a soccer player but had to stop to focus on my work. I have loved Salah since I was young. He is a national symbol and international role model for all young people. I am happy that I look similar to Salah. It’s such a great honor. We look very similar if you compare the hair, chin, and smile.”
The engineer added that he wanted to be a famous actor and make a film about Salah’s success story.