Kushner urges Palestinians to take the “Opportunity of the Century”

Jared Kushner kicked off a ‘Peace to Prosperity’ two-day workshop in Bahrain with a speech on the plan to create a million new jobs in 10 years in the Palestinian region. (Screenshot/PtP YouTube)
Updated 26 June 2019

Kushner urges Palestinians to take the “Opportunity of the Century”

  • Jared Kushner kicked off the two-day workshop with a speech on the plan to create a million new jobs in 10 years
  • Palestinians reject the initiative as it does not address the key political aspects of a peace deal

MANAMA: White House adviser Jared Kushner on Tuesday urged the Palestinians to take the “Opportunity of the Century” to have $50 billion pumped into the stagnant economy of the West Bank and Gaza.

“My direct message to the Palestinian people is that despite what those who have let you down in the past say, President Trump and America have not given up on you,” said Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law, opening the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain.

Kusher repeated an earlier caveat that his economic plan would not go into operation until there was a political solution to the Palestinian issue. “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,” he said.

However, he surprised his audience of global business leaders, economists and politicians by saying the Palestinians must accept the economic plan before a political solution could be reached.

“Agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary condition to resolving the previously unsolvable political issues,” Kushner said.

He dismissed mockery of the US peace plan as the “Deal of the Century,” and offered an alternative. “This effort is better referred to as the Opportunity of the Century, if the leadership has the courage to pursue it,” he said.

“We see tremendous potential. What we have developed is the most comprehensive economic plan ever created specifically for the Palestinians, and the broader Middle East. We can turn this region from a victim of past conflicts into a model for commerce and advancement throughout the world.”

Prominent figures taking part in the two-day Bahrain conference include International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, World Bank president David Malpass and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Among the business leaders in Manama for the conference was Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of the UAE property and leisure group Emaar. He was optimistic. “If there is a one percent chance we do something good here, we should get together and try,” he said.

Saudi Arabia indicated support on Tuesday for “international efforts aimed at improving prosperity, investment and economic growth in the region.”

But Riyadh restated that any peace deal should be based on the Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that has been the Arab consensus since 2002. It calls for a Palestinian state in territory not occupied by Israel before 1967, with a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return.

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AS IT HAPPENED: SEE HOW THE FIRST DAY UNFOLDED BELOW - All times local (GMT +2)

21:54 Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa met with the US delegation participating in the workshop at Al-Qudaibiya Palace.
The delegation included senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Bahrain state news agency BNA said.
King Hamad also received a letter from US President Donald Trump, BNA said.

21:10: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa met with the US delegation participating in the workshop.
The delegation included senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Bahrain state news agency BNA said.
King Hamad also received a letter from US President Donald Trump, BNA said.

21:00: The full details of the economic plan can be downloaded here.

Kushner briefly went through the main points and some of the figures, including the four overarching aims. They are doubling GDP, creating 1 million jobs, reducing unemployment and reducing poverty.

20:05: More from Kushner's speech earlier. When he moved on to outline the economic plan that was published Saturday, he addressed the absence of Palestinian business leaders at the Bahrain conference.

"A lot of the leading Palestinian business people who we speak to wanted to be here tonight. They were told by the (Palestinian) authority not to come and because they rely on them for their livelihood it’s not a free market where they can make those distinctions."

20:00: Mohamed Alabbar, founder and chairman of the UAE’s Emaar Properties says the Palestinian cause is one close to the heart of all Arabs.

19:45: Some more details from Jared Kushner's speech. He painted a picture of what could be in Gaza and the West Bank:

"Imagine a new reality in the Middle East. Imagine a bustling commercial and tourist center in Gaza and the West Bank where international businesses come together and thrive. Imagine the West Bank as a blossoming economy, full of entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and business leaders. Imagine people and goods flowing quickly and securely throughout the region as economics become more integrated and people more prosperous.

"This isn’t a stretch, this is actually the historical legacy of the Middle East, specifically of Gaza and the West Bank."

19:45: The first panel - The Time is Now: Building a Coalition for Middle East Prosperity - gets underway, hosted by Nik Gowing.

19:40: Kushner says Palestinian self-sufficiency is the key to helping them reach prosperity, and will be vital in helping create a better business environment climate in the Middle East as a whole...

19:30: Kushner is now summarizing what the "Opportunity of the Century" economic plan actually entails for the conference...

19:25: Kushner tells the conference that the US wants to see peace, security and prosperity for Palestinians, Israelis and all people around the world and that the US has not "given up" on the Palestinian people.

19:15: We are under way, and Jared Kushner is speaking...

18:45: We are still waiting for Jared Kushner's address, and we are being treated to some dramatic music and this holding screen on the live stream...stay tuned, we will have some action shortly...

18:20: Dignitaries for the conference are still arriving and registering and enjoying a welcome reception, so let’s take a look at what we can expect on tonight and tomorrow’s agenda…

- Donald Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner will deliver the opening remarks, with a panel discussion on what the US administration’s plans for “Middle East prosperity” will entail. The panel will be moderated by Nik Gowing, a UK-based professor, author & broadcaster and will include Mohamed Alabbar, founder and chairman of the UAE’s Emaar Properties as well as Stephen Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone.

- Everyone will then enjoy an opening night dinner.

- Tomorrow, the highlights will be a panel entitled “Unleashing Economic Potential” — looking at how trade and job creation can help Gaza, the West Bank and the surrounding region — which will include Mohammed Al-Sheikh, Minister of State, member of Council of Ministers and member of Council of Economic and Development Affairs in Saudi Arabia.

- Kushner will hold a conversation with former UK prime minister Tony Blair, while just before lunch Arab News’ editor-in-chief Faisal Abbas moderates a panel on how to empower the Palestinian people to reach their full potential.


Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.