Kushner’s Bahrain Economic Workshop: Putting the Cart before the Horse in a Misdirected Palestinian Peace Process
By John Mason, Arab America/Contributing Writer
A Vision of Palestinian-Israeli Peace but with few Details
Son-in-law of President Trump and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, initiated the Administration’s initiative to spark a Middle East peace process. Called the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop, it was launched in Bahrain on June 25. Investors and political leaders from the region were invited, but the Palestinian Authority rejected the invitation out-of-hand. The Israeli leadership was, pointedly, not invited.
While organized around an economic development plan for Palestinians, the proposed new security for the region included no new ideas for how to reach a political settlement. In this respect, the workshop offered few or no ideas for negotiations aimed at a settlement that has not already been considered over decades. The $50 billion proposed by the U.S. for regional investment projects in West Bank and Gaza, an impressive price tag, was a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ amount with no investor or donor names attached to the gift. However, on the recipients’ end, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon were also designated for at least half of those funds.
Asked to “imagine a new reality in the Middle East,” what was dangled in front of the workshop participants was an idea that money could solve the decades-long political and territorial conundrum. No ideas about how political issues would be resolved were discussed. Palestinian leaders rejected the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop out of hand. They aver that the U.S Administration cannot act as honest brokers.
Their reasoning is:
- the Trump White House recently recognized the hotly contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel;
- U.S. giveaway to Israel of Syria’s occupied Golan Heights (with absolutely no legal, much less moral or ethical, right to do so);
- U.S. slashing of its contribution of assistance to Palestinian refugees through the United Nations and USAID;
- the cynicism of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Kushner family’s contributions to the formation of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank; and
- the Trump administration’s total lack of enthusiasm about the formation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the overall context of a two-state solution.
This last point, a two-state solution, is the accepted international view on the most viable plan for peace in the region.
Lack of Realism in Kushner’s Vision
In response to the Economic Workshop was a series of Palestinian protests on June 25 in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians objected to the fact that the workshop made no reference to their hopes and wishes for the end of the occupation and the founding of their own state. The White House has erased almost any sense that Palestinian aspirations for statehood have any relevance whatsoever to a solution. This stance fits well with the Israeli leadership, namely that of far-right-leaning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The reality of how successful the workshop might be was a Kushner statement captured by the Washington Post: “Today is not about the political issues. We’ll get to them at the right time.” That was a really morale-boosting statement to the Palestinians! Its one element of truth was its frankness about how Palestinians are perceived by Trump’s senior advisor. As a sign of their relative interest in exclusively singling out economic development of the region, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did send senior officials, while Jordan and Egypt were represented by just mid-level staffers.
Regional Skepticism over the Kushner Economic Plan
Not all participants agreed with the premise of the workshop. One Arab businessman suggested that it was unrealistic to begin a peace and prosperity conference with an economic thrust, bypassing the question of political rights. Kushner justified this premise, according to the Haaretz newspaper, saying “it was less controversial” than the political element. Further, according to a Haaretz interview with a second businessman, “There’s a small problem here; you need peace and security and open borders before we can talk about a $50 billion investment. If you want to throw away money, you can invest in infrastructure without peace and security.”
U.S. officials in attendance suggested that any movement on the political part of the White House plan would have to await the November elections in Israel. Critical to any peace plan is that the Netanyahu government be able to form a coalition that controls the government, a result that eluded him after the April election.
Even U.S. stalwart friends, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, present at the Bahrain workshop indicated that they were present in Manama to please the U.S. Their representatives, according to Haaretz, said that they would probably not put a single penny into the U.S. plan. Even an Israeli businessman told a reporter that he would not attend because he did not want to endanger his existing investments in the Gulf as well as his ties to Palestinian projects.
What’s it all about, anyway?
Perhaps one can give Jared Kushner the benefit of the doubt in his pursuit of a peaceful solution to the thus-far intractable problem between the Arabs and Israelis over the Palestinian issue. However, given the highly mixed signals that the White House has transmitted to the Palestinians, mainly by default of gratuitous “gifts” recently bestowed on Israel, could only mean that the Bahrain workshop would have limited if any, results. Furthermore, putting forward an economic vision prior to consideration of Palestinian political and human rights issues that have lingered for the better part of eight decades, tainted the workshop with an unacceptable degree of cynicism. In that sense, we can only wonder if the workshop planners were at all sincere in their motives.
(Sources: Washington Post, “Kushner presents vision of the Middle East at peace but no details how to get there,” June 25, 2019; Haaretz, “Bahrain Day 2: Kushner says Palestinians have no reason not to trust Trump,” June 27, 2019; Times of Israel, “In Bahrain, Kushner urges absent Palestinians to seize ‘opportunity of century’”, June 25, 2019)
John Mason, an anthropologist specializing in Arab culture and its diverse populations, is the author of recently-published LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, 2017, New Academia Publishing.