Bahrain conference to discuss US $50bn Palestinian economic plan

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Media captionIs Palestinian-Israel peace plan out of reach?

The first part of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be discussed at a conference in Bahrain.

Government, civil society and business leaders have been invited to a two-day “workshop” on proposals for generating rapid Palestinian economic growth.

The proposals, unveiled by the White House on Saturday, call for $50bn (£39bn) to be invested over 10 years.

Palestinian leaders have rejected the plan and will not be in Bahrain.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, insisted on Sunday that, before anything else, there had to be a political agreement.

Mr Trump is not expected to release the political part of his peace plan until possibly November, once Israel holds a general election.

Who is going to Manama?

The workshop will take place at the Four Seasons hotel in the Bahraini capital.

The US delegation will be led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt.

The finance ministers of several US-allied Gulf Arab states are also expected to attend, along with International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Jordan and Egypt will send less senior officials, while Lebanon and Iraq have said they will not participate in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The US has not invited any Israeli officials because of the Palestinians’ absence.

What does the US economic plan propose?

The White House says the plan – “Peace to Prosperity” – is a “vision to empower the Palestinian people to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society”.

It envisages donor counties and investors contributing $50bn for a newly created fund administered by a development bank. About $27.5bn would go to projects in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip – areas the Palestinians want for an independent state – while the rest would go to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

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Media captionMr Kushner said it could create 1m jobs in the West Bank and Gaza

The projects would seek to “unleash the economic potential of the Palestinians” by:

  • Opening up the West Bank and Gaza to regional and global markets. One proposal is for a $5bn transportation corridor for Palestinians directly connecting the territories that would include a major road and possibly a rail line
  • Upgrading and constructing essential electricity, water and telecommunications infrastructure to increase capacity and improve efficiency, such as by supporting the conversion of the Gaza Power Plant from diesel fuel to natural gas
  • Promoting private-sector growth in entrepreneurship, small businesses, tourism, agriculture, housing, manufacturing, and natural resources
  • Strengthening regional development and integration by boosting the economies of Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon and reducing trade barriers
Stall selling bread at a market in the West Bank city of Hebron (22 May 2019)

EPA

Palestinian economic woes

  • 67%of youths in Gaza are unemployed

  • 24%of Palestinians live below the $5.50 a day PPP poverty line

  • 70-80%of Gaza’s GDP comes from aid or the Palestinian Authority

Source: World Bank

The aims of the plan are to more than double Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP) within 10 years; create 1 million jobs; bring down the unemployment rate to nearly single digits, and reduce the poverty rate by 50%.

What do the Palestinians say?

The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, cut off diplomatic contacts with the US in late 2017 after Mr Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

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EPA

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Mahmoud Abbas said he was certain the Manama workshop would not be successful

Since then, the US has ended both bilateral aid for Palestinians and contributions for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa).

The Palestinian Authority has also reacted angrily to recent suggestions that the US peace plan would not be based on the so-called “two-state solution” – the international community’s shorthand for a final settlement that would see the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.

President Abbas asserted that the Manama workshop would not be successful.

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AFP

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The US says it wants to “unleash the economic potential of the Palestinians”

“We will not be slaves or servants for Greenblatt, Kushner and [US ambassador to Israel David] Friedman,” he told foreign journalists in Ramallah.

“We need the economic [support], the money and the assistance,” he added. “But before everything, there is a political solution.”

A spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, insisted the Palestinians “will not sell out their rights for all treasures on earth”.

What do the Israelis think?

Israel has not officially taken a position towards the US plan.

“We’ll hear the American proposition; hear it fairly, and with openness. And I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan, reject it outright,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday while touring the Jordan Valley with US National Security Adviser John Bolton.





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