The US “Peace to Prosperity” plan for Palestinian welfare

White House special advisor on Middle East peace Jared Kushner opening the "Peace to Prosperity Workshop" in Bahrain on Tuesday, which was intended to launch the first stage of the US Administration's Middle East peace plan.

Update from AIJAC

06/19 #04

The past week has seen the release of the Trump Administration’s US$50 billion “Peace to Prosperity” economic vision for the Palestinians, and the holding of a “workshop” in Bahrain dedicated to encouraging and further developing this plan on June 24 and 25, with the participation of many Arab states.

The text of the “Peace to Prosperity” plan is here – while analysis of its key points come from Omri Nahmias of the Jerusalem Post. 

A report of the outcome of the workshop – which the US said succeeded in the changing the conversation about Mideast peace – is here. Video of the workshop’s opening address by Senior Adviser to US President Donald Trump Jared Kushner is here.

This Update is dedicated to analysis of both the plan and the workshop.

We lead with legal academic Alan Dershowitz, who focuses on the benefits the White House plan offers to the Palestinian people, and the decision of Palestinian leaders to reject it. He argues that even if the Palestinian leadership reject the plan, they have a responsibility to tell their people what it offers them, and what they are being denied. He goes on give his own view that the plan is a good start, and the Palestinian leadership may be badly damaging their only road to statehood if they do not agree to at least negotiate about it. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz, who says that the Bahrain workshop is important even if there appears little prospect it can bring peace. He says the fact that most Sunni Arab state were ready to attend this conference against the express wishes of the Palestinian leadership moves the needle significantly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pfeffer argues that a prediction made by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu years ago – that the Arab states would eventually come to prefer relations with Israel over championing the Palestinians – appears to be now materialising and Arab leaders are now moving their already strong relationships with Israel, underpinned by shared concerns about Iran, out of the closet. For the rest of this discussion, CLICK HERE.

Finally, former US diplomat Jim Lerner takes on the allegations of critics of the Trump Administration’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. He disputes claims that Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a needless free gift to Israel, that the Trump Administration is abandoning the two-state solution, and that the Administration believes their economic plan will be enough to bring peace without a political agreement. Lerner suggests critics appear to think that “although all past efforts have failed, we must never deviate from them” and encourages everyone to at least give the “bold, fresh, and innovative ideas” of the Administration a chance. For all the details,  CLICK HERE.

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With ‘Mideast Marshall plan,’ Abbas can help — or hurt — Palestinians

by Alan Dershowitz

The Hill, 06/23/19

Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas (L) may be rejecting the economic peace plans, but are likely to come under pressure to reconsider from major Arab actors like Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman (R). 

The White House has unveiled the economic aspects of its Middle East peace plan. As expected, Palestinian leaders rejected it before the ink was dry. But that may not be the final word because there is likely to be pressure on them to reconsider — pressure from their Sunni Arab neighbors and, perhaps, even from their own people.

If ultimately accepted, the plan would provide $50 billion — more than half for Palestinians, the remainder divided between Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon — in educational opportunities, health care, business incentives, infrastructure improvements and many other tangible benefits. Nearly 180 specific projects already are identified.

It would create, for the first time, a physical connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, thus enabling residents of each to transit to the other. It promises realistic protections against the massive corruption that has plagued what, heretofore, has been a Palestinian kleptocracy depriving its citizens of the benefits of funding that has come through the government.

The bottom line is that if Palestinian leaders were to accept — or at least sit down and negotiate about —the proposed peace plan, they could quickly improve the quality of life of their people. This could lead to a two-state solution that would be a win-win for all sides.

But as Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once quipped, the Palestinian leadership “never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” They rejected a two-state solution in 1948, 2001 and 2008. They rejected other opportunities to improve the lives of their people, as in 2005 when Israel unilaterally left the Gaza Strip, ending its military presence and abandoning all settlements. The Palestinians could have created a “Singapore on the Mediterranean” with the financial help they received from numerous sources. Instead, they used these resources not to help their people but to hurt their neighbors, by building rockets, terror tunnels and other offensive weapons.

This negativity has gotten them nowhere. It hasn’t improved the quality of life of Palestinians. To the contrary, it has made it much worse. This has been the history of Palestinian leaders from the beginning: They seem to care less about helping their people and more about hurting Israel. They seem to want their own state less than they want there not to be a neighboring nation-state of the Jewish people.

Well, they are not going to accomplish that goal despite their rockets and terrorism, BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) or U.N. condemnation. Israel will continue to thrive. It is strong militarily, economically, diplomatically and in other ways. Palestinians must come to recognize the reality that Israel is here to stay, whether they like it or not. The remaining question is whether there will ever be a viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. That is largely up to Palestinians.

Such a state can emerge only from negotiations with Israel in which both sides make painful compromises. The new U.S. economic proposals can serve as a building block for such negotiations. Palestinians should go to a conference on the plan in Bahrain this week with open minds. They need not commit themselves to any specific agreements except to listen and to offer suggestions and counter-proposals.

Even if they erroneously decide to continue to boycott that conference, they should publicize the contents of these economic proposals to their people in order to get their views. It is the people, not their kleptocratic leaders, who stand to benefit the most from this “Mideast Marshall plan.”

If the Palestinian people understand how this will improve the quality of life for them and their children, they may demand that their leaders put the welfare of the average Palestinian above ideological, religious and political objections to the Jewish nation-state.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Hamas tyranny over the Gaza Strip are functioning democracies with structures that assure that the opinions of their citizens will be taken into account. But neither could those leaders totally ignore “the street” — Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that the street will not even know what their leaders are denying them unless they become aware of the contents of the U.S. economic plan.

There is no free, independent media on the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Residents can tune into Israeli or international media but they have been taught not to trust either. So it is uncertain whether the Palestinian street will know what their leaders are depriving them of by not engaging with the U.S. and its beneficial economic proposals. It is certainly possible that Palestinian leaders will once again miss an opportunity to help their people and that their people will be misinformed about that missed opportunity.

This may be the Palestinians’ last chance for a peaceful resolution of the long conflict with Israel that has caused so much misery and so many deaths on both sides. When then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down the offer of a two-state solution from President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. called Arafat’s decision a “crime” against the Palestinian people. Will Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas commit yet another crime against his people by refusing even to listen or negotiate?

If he were to agree to negotiate in earnest about the proposed peace plan — the geopolitical elements of which will be rolled out toward the end of this year — there is a significant likelihood that the end result of mutual, painful compromises may be a Palestinian state. If he persists in his refusal to negotiate, he and his people will have no one but themselves to blame for the persistence of an untenable status quo.

The U.S. has presented the first phase of its plan. It’s an excellent, fair start. The ball is now in the Palestinian court. They should reconsider their knee-jerk rejection and begin negotiations that may be the only road to statehood.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School. His new book is “The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump.” 


It won’t bring peace, but the Bahrain conference is still important

Just by taking place, Jared Kushner’s conference has moved the needle against the Palestinians and in the direction of Netanyahu’s vision for the Middle East

Anshel Pfeffer 

Haaretz, Jun. 25, 2019

The “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop currently taking place in Bahrain is important. Not because it will lead to peace: it won’t. And most of the dismissiveness about it has been justified. As one Palestinian leader said, “It’s a technocrats’ conference.” No decisions will be made there and the glossy realtors’ prospectus prepared by Jared Kushner’s team for the event is a copy-paste job, plagiarized from previous failed initiatives, totally devoid of any context or connection to the reality on the ground.

But the Bahrain gathering, which ends Wednesday, is still important. For the first time, official representatives of a significant number of Sunni Arab states will be openly attending an international conference on resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. They will be doing so against the express wishes of the Palestinians, and not one of the cardinal Palestinian demands — statehood, Jerusalem, borders, refugees — will be on the conference’s official agenda.

Emblematic of the changing times represented by the workshop, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa happily gave interviews to visiting Israeli journalists.

Yes, some of the Arab governments are attending only after significant pressure from the Trump administration. And they have reiterated in advance that peace can only be reached through recognizing the Palestinians’ national aspirations.

To signal their dissatisfaction with the agenda, most countries have sent no rank higher than deputy minister. But they are there, at an international conference on the Palestinians, without the Palestinians’ participation. And it is being hosted by and in an Arab country. In public.

So no, it won’t bring peace. But just by taking place, the economic workshop has moved the needle in a major way against the Palestinians and in the direction of Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision for the region.

Throughout his entire career — as early as his days as a freelance Israeli propagandist in the United States, even before he was officially employed as a diplomat — Netanyahu promised that the day would come when the Arab states would choose relations with Israel over championing the Palestinian cause.

Danny Danon, the man who serves in the post that Netanyahu held 32 years ago (Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations), wrote in the New York Times this week that the Palestinians should “surrender.”

Netanyahu has never called for their surrender because, as far as he has ever been concerned, the Palestinians will simply be left with no choice once their Arab brothers abandon them. And Bahrain brings him closer to that objective.

For Netanyahu, it is Israel’s grand strategy; for most of the Arab states, it’s a matter of expediency.

A year ago, on his grand tour of the United States, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told a group of Jewish leaders privately that he and like-minded leaders in the Gulf were conducting a series of surveys to try to assess the views of the wider Arab public. They hoped to find that the “Arab street” was not as pro-Palestinian as some believe, and that it would be willing to accept a gradual normalization of ties with Israel. As far as most Arab leaders are concerned, the main obstacle to closer relations with Israel is the fear of a possible public backlash. If it wasn’t for that, they would have come out into the open years ago.

There is no question that, from their perspective, a security alliance with Israel against Iran — preferably with American backing — coupled with trade and tech sales, are more important than any notion of solidarity with the Palestinians. But for now at least, the public mood is shifting only gradually, so lip service to Palestinian aspirations and token resistance to “normalization” continue. Which is why the event in Bahrain is so important: It’s another sign of Arab leaders bringing the burgeoning secret relationship into the open.

This doesn’t necessarily spell ultimate disaster for the Palestinians. Their nosedive down to the bottom of the global agenda is not yet final. Kushner and the rest of President Donald Trump’s Middle East team may all be gone in 18 months and the next U.S. administration could reverse their policies. The Europeans may sort out their own internal problems and become a diplomatic force again. The Arab leaders’ calculations could change. Israel may yet come under pressure once again to make concessions and the two-state solution could be back on the table.

But that is all in an uncertain future. For now, Bahrain is happening.


Trump’s Middle East plan is a refreshing change

By Jon Lerner

CNN.com, June 23, 2019

Lerner argues that critics are badly misrepresenting what the Trump Middle East peace team, led by Jared Kushner and Eli Greenblat, are trying to do, both at Bahrain and more broadly. 

In his recent CNN.com article, Aaron David Miller claims to know the “real” goals of the Trump Middle East peace plan. This is strange, because Miller has not seen the plan or been involved with its creation. I have.

Miller grossly mischaracterized the administration’s goals. Not once, but three times, he claims the administration’s policies are aimed at pleasing domestic political constituencies and he mentions “wealthy Jewish donors.” This is a more polished, but no less wrong, version of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s infamous anti-Semitic trope that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”

As a former Middle East policy negotiator, Miller is undoubtedly familiar with the pitfalls that have prevented previous breakthroughs in this troubled region. But like other seemingly intractable conflicts in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Balkans, breakthroughs do happen. They often happen after circumstances change, new approaches are taken, or the parties decide to change their calculation of what’s in their own best interests.

Administration critics adopt the odd view that, although all past efforts have failed, we must never deviate from them. They are offended by alterations to old formulas, when the old formulas achieved no peace. I witnessed this dead-end thinking countless times at the United Nations.

Nowhere is this truer than on the idea of a “two-state solution.” Contrary to Miller’s assertion, the Trump administration has never sought to kill the idea of two states. President Trump himself has said he prefers it. But the administration does not see it as an untouchable holy grail. Past efforts to encourage such a solution have been rejected, more so by the Palestinians than the Israelis.

The Trump administration is no less committed to peace than its predecessors. The key difference is that Trump does not feel tied down by the unsuccessful formulas of the past, and he and his team are willing to openly challenge that conventional thinking.

The Jerusalem decision is a prime example. The historic move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not a “free gift” to Prime Minister Netanyahu as Trump critics claim. It brought to fruition longstanding US policy as expressed by large bipartisan congressional majorities, and it recognised reality.

There has never been a peace agreement scenario under which Jerusalem would cease to be Israel’s capital. So why go on with the charade that this is still a negotiable issue? The charade only served to encourage unrealistic Palestinian goals and was therefore harmful to peace prospects.

The goal of the Trump plan is to end this decades-long conflict and create conditions for a better life for Palestinians and Israelis. The plan will begin to be rolled out at this week’s conference in Bahrain.

The vision presented in Bahrain will demonstrate the enormous potential for lifting up the lives of millions of Palestinians. This is no small thing. Economic conditions are quite poor in the West Bank, and among the world’s worst in Gaza.

Critics will quickly point out that an economic plan alone won’t bring peace. No one disputes that. The administration’s extensive and detailed ideas on the thorny final status issues will be revealed soon.

But while political leaders gravitate toward the hottest button issues, no one should sell short the importance economic conditions play in the lives of ordinary people. The Trump plan contains specific and realistic projects that could double Palestinian GDP, create a million new jobs in Gaza and the West Bank, and cut poverty in half. Imagine what that would do to the lives of millions of Palestinian young people who would face a far better future than they face today.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas may have denounced the Administration’s proposals, but he is 84 years old and does not necessarily represent the aspirations of younger generations of the Palestinians, Lerner argues.

And there’s the rub. Palestinian political leaders have already denounced a proposal they have not yet seen. It is perhaps no coincidence that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is 84 years old. Like some of the American and United Nations diplomatic hands who have failed for years, Abbas seems unable or unwilling to shed the preconceptions that have guided him for decades. But the younger generations of Palestinians, not to mention future generations, have everything to gain from the Trump plans.

While critics cling to constructs that have proven unimplementable, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and the Trump team are doggedly moving forward with bold, fresh, and innovative ideas for how to solve one of the world’s most difficult conflicts. They know the odds of success are long. If they weren’t, the problem would have been solved long ago. But we should all wish them well this week, and in the weeks and months ahead.

Jon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and served as deputy to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in 2017-18. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.