Concrete Sums Dangled by US Leave Palestinians Unmoved
White House talks of $50-billion international fund for regional development if there’s peace with Israel, but Ramallah first wants to hear the political bottom line
The Trump White House has partially lifted the veil on the agenda for this week’s conference in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, where it will seek to begin raising some $50 billion to help improve people’s lives if Israel and the Palestinians sign a peace agreement. Yet the latter call both the plan and the conference a waste of time.
A slick presentation on the White House website gives the fundraising and disbursement plan a name: Peace to Prosperity. It earmarks $28 billion for projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the rest going to Egypt ($9b.), Jordan ($7.5b.) and Lebanon ($6b.). The projects would mostly involve infrastructure of the type that helps economies grow, such as transportation and telecommunications, but also private initiatives that encourage “entrepreneurship, small businesses, tourism, agriculture, housing, manufacturing and natural resources.”
There is a single phrase referring to a timeline, mentioning “the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years.” There is no mention as to how long it might take to raise such an amount, nor is there mention as to when the funds might begin flowing.
If the fundraising plan reaches fruition, will the money serve as an inducement to get the sides talking? Will it be ladled out in parallel to progress in negotiations? Or will it be disbursed only once a peace deal is signed and delivered?
In the website presentation, there is only this: “If implemented, Peace to Prosperity will empower the Palestinian people to build the society that they have aspired to establish for generations. With the support of the international community, this vision is within reach. Ultimately, however, the power to unlock it lies in the hands of the Palestinian people. Only through peace can the Palestinians achieve prosperity.”
The real problem – at least in the eyes of the Palestinians – is that nowhere does the plan get to the nitty-gritty of what they want: statehood. They are saying to the Americans: First let’s discuss what peace should look like, then let’s talk money.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meeting with members of the foreign press Sunday evening in Ramallah, agreed that the Palestinians needed financial help, but that this should come second.
“We need the economic [support], the money and the assistance, but before everything there is a political solution,” he said, adding: “For America to turn the whole cause from a political issue into an economic one, we cannot accept this.”
That’s why the official Palestinian leadership and the vast majority of top Palestinian business and financial figures are staying away from Bahrain – this and the fact that the Trump Administration has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy there, along with a number of other slights, real or perceived, leading Ramallah to impose a blanket boycott on US officials, and now, apparently on their plans.
Abbas condemned Washington for what he saw as its abandonment of a political solution, having particularly harsh words for those seen as being in the vanguard of the US plan.
“We will not be slaves or servants for Greenblatt, Kushner and Friedman,” he said, referring Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s lead Middle East peace negotiator; Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East and other areas; and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel and an unabashed supporter of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Nevertheless, he told the foreign press that if the Trump Administration were to reverse its decisions and actions concerning Jerusalem, he would reconnect with Washington.
It appears that some $15 billion of the funds mentioned in the Peace to Prosperity plan would be outright grants, and $25 billion would be in the form of subsidized loans, with an additional $11 billion being raised from private capital. There is no mention as to how much the United States itself might contribute, but the wording indicates an expectation that wealthy Gulf nations will be big givers.
For those concerned about transparency, the plan says the fund will be managed by a multinational development bank and overseen by a committee that determines where the money is to be allocated. It is no secret that since the 1993 Oslo Accords and the rise of the Palestinian Authority, donor countries have long expressed fears that much of the money they’ve given has ended up in the pockets of the powerful and their cronies rather than invested in projects intended for the public good.
Grisha Yakubovich, a reserve Israeli colonel who once headed the civilian department of COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for administering large parts of the West Bank, says he thinks the Palestinians are making a mistake by staying away from Bahrain – although he understands them.
“If they [attend the conference], they will actually do things that [contradict] the narrative they’ve constructed over the years,” he told The Media Line. “How can they sell this narrative for money?”
Yakubovich points to a protest campaign mounted against Hamas several months ago by residents of the Gaza Strip who had become weary from a long string of deadly clashes with Israeli troops along the border fence. One of their main complaints centered around the fact that Hamas had been inciting the clashes over the transfer, via Israel, of foreign assistance, which lately has been coming from Qatar to the tune of millions each month.
Some social media posts aimed at Hamas, according to Yakubovich, said, “‘You sold us for a dollar and [for a bit of fuel to run the enclave’s electrical generating plant].’ The meaning is, you [Hamas] send us to the fence; you send us to fight the Israelis; we are being injured and some of us are being killed – and it is all about dollars and a little bit of diesel fuel.”
From the Palestinian perspective, therefore, popular discontent of this type could arise again if the subject is money.
“For the last 70 or 80 years,” he told The Media Line, speaking from the Palestinians’ perspective, “we have been building this narrative to free the state of Palestine, to create Palestine, to fight the enemy, and now, because of a few billions of dollars, you are selling this narrative?”
Another nagging suspicion among the Palestinians is that they and their cause are being thrown under the proverbial bus as Washington seeks to throw money at Sunni Arab nations willing to align themselves with the US against Shi’ite Iran. Still, the countries going to the Bahrain conference – which Washington early on dubbed a “workshop” – have gone out of their way to say that they will be there solely for the benefit of the Palestinians and would never agree to anything Ramallah opposes.
To emphasize this, some are sending relatively low-level functionaries. Egypt and Jordan, for example, are each sending a deputy finance minister. Gulf states, by contrast, are sending more-senior officials. Saudi Arabia will be represented by both its finance minister and its minister of economy and planning, as well as another senior cabinet minister. Qatar will be sending its finance minister, and the United Arab Emirates its minister of state for financial affairs. Bahrain, the host country, will be represented by its minister of finance and national economy.
“Of course we feel betrayed that Arab countries are participating in the workshop,” Dr. Dalal Iriqat, an assistant professor of conflict resolution at the Arab American University in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, told The Media Line. “But they would face sanctions by the United States if they did not attend.”
She noted that none of the countries was sending its foreign minister, and some not even a finance minister.
Iriqat feels the Trump Administration has backtracked on where the Palestinians have been making progress, and that at the end of the day, it would almost certainly manage to find fault with Ramallah.
“The Americans after the workshop will blame the Palestinians without giving us the respect of having seen the plan, [which] neglects all reality they [have] imposed and the facts on the ground [they are responsible for over] the last two years,” she said. “No one will give up a Palestinian state, the sovereign state of Palestine itself, the refugees’ right of return and east Jerusalem as our capital.”
She noted, however, a positive outcome of the endeavor.
“I find it interesting,” Iriqat told The Media Line, “that a by-product of the workshop is Palestinian unity, in bringing the people and leadership together.”