What if They Offered the Palestinians $50 Billion and No One Showed Up?
The Trump administration’s two-day “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain, came to a close on Wednesday. To paraphrase Shakespeare, it was an event full of pomp and splendor, signifying little to nothing.
The conference was supposed to be based on the administration’s “economic plan”—apparently dreamed up primarily by Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt—to turn the Palestinians into a thriving people living in peace with Israel. The “political plan” is supposed to stay under wraps until sometime after the Israeli reelections in October.
In the lead-up to the conference, the administration unveiled its 40-page, 10-year, $50-billion economic plan for the Palestinians. It speaks of $27.5 billion for projects in the West Bank and Gaza along with $9.1 billion, $7.4 billion, and $6.3 billion respectively for Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon—countries with sizable Palestinian populations. Aims include “doubling the Palestinian gross domestic product, reducing the Palestinian poverty rate by 50 percent and cutting the sky-high Palestinian unemployment rate to nearly single digits.”
It sounds large-hearted and ambitious. The problem is that it’s cut off from reality.
To begin with, the Palestinians reject the plan out of hand. They see the administration as—apart from Israel—Public Enemy No. 1 for such unforgivable sins as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cutting funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which keeps Palestinians in a permanent “refugee” condition. Precisely one Palestinian businessman broke an official boycott and showed up at the conference.
The Arab world in general, for that matter, took a dim view of the conference. Lebanon, too, boycotted it, while Jordan and Egypt—also supposed beneficiaries—sent only mid-level officials. If the administration could claim one success, it’s that the finance ministers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates showed up. But even if that reflected genuine support for the plan, it’s of no avail with the plan—so far—dead in the water.
Indeed, just who is supposed to fund all the projects remains a mystery. As Eyal Zisser, an Israeli academic and astute commentator, points out: “It isn’t entirely clear…where the money will come from. The Americans hope Persian Gulf emirates will donate generously, but these countries have a reputation for being quick to promise money, whether on behalf of the Palestinians or other regional issues, without actually following through.”
The plan also includes an item that’s profoundly troubling to Israel: a transportation artery of some kind between Gaza and the West Bank that would cut straight across Israeli territory. So far Israel has succeeded to prevent Gaza-based Hamas from taking over the West Bank. But once Gaza-based Hamas can funnel operatives, weaponry, or whatever else it wants to the West Bank through the envisioned “corridor,” the situation gets precarious.
And that points to a larger problem with the plan: it’s full of visions of Palestinian progress at a time when the Palestinians are divided between the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, a corrupt dictatorship, and Gaza, an Islamist entity; both these entities profoundly hate Israel and see it as having no right to exist; and furthermore, the two Palestinian entities are—at least on the governmental level—deeply hostile to each other.
On the whole, the Trump administration has made good moves in the Middle East—from treating Israel as a respected ally instead of an irritant or a wayward “friend” that needs to be set on the right course, to putting Iran in a well-deserved economic pressure cooker. The “Peace to Prosperity” plan, however, is an extension of illusions of previous administrations. As long as the Palestinians hate Israel and show no aptitude for peace or democracy, they’re a problem for Israel to manage and don’t deserve the coddling.