Experts weigh in on the Kushner ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

peace plan

Pablo Martinez Monsivais

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, stands behind President Donald Trump, left, during a news conference as he announces a revamped North American free trade deal, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

On Saturday, the White House released the economic portion of the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan ahead of the “economic” workshop in Bahrain this week. “With the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over ten years, Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date,” the introduction reads.

In an interview with Reuters Television, Jared Kushner said, “There’ll be praise from some places, there’ll be criticism from some places, hopefully it will be constructive.” Kushner also acknowledged that the administration is fully aware that “you can’t push the economic plan forward without resolving the political issues as well.” But he insisted, “Our thought was that it was better to put the economic plan first. It’s less controversial. Let’s let people study it, give feedback. Let’s try to finalize if we can all agree on what that could look like in the event of a peace agreement.”

Kushner labeled the plan the ‘Opportunity of the Century’ for the Palestinians.

Ambassador Dennis Ross, a former State Department Middle East advisor, tells JI: “There is not a lot that is surprising in the economic plan. It lays out a hopeful vision of what could be possible for development and economic progress if there was peace. Major investment funds, infrastructure development, connecting Gaza and the West Bank, removing barriers to trade and movement, expanding the educational opportunities, reforming the Palestinian institutions and creating the rule of law and property rights, are all good ideas.”

“The question is how does one implement them. It is as if the plan is about laying out a vision and showing how good life could be if the political problems were resolved. That is true, but it is not likely to make the political problems disappear. Take one example: all the development in Gaza is necessary, but Hamas is there so how is that to be handled. And, all this takes money but who is going to provide it — and will they provide if they think there is no political resolution?”

Ambassador Dan Shapiro emails JI: “There are plenty of good ideas in the economic plan — projects for housing, employment, infrastructure, private sector development, and so on. None of them are new. They have been proposed in previous economic plans.”

“But there are two big problems. First, the US had aid programs to support all these goals, but the Trump Administration canceled them (not just the ones required by the Taylor Force Act) and fired dozens of expert staff needed to implement them. Now we are asking others to invest where we have divested. What do we think the response will be?”

“Second, you can’t get others to invest in this effort without knowing the political backdrop. In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, you can’t separate economic, political, and security issues. They have to be solved as a package, and that’s a two-state solution. Every delegation in Bahrain other than the American one will call for it. It is not achievable now, but we should at least be trying to keep it alive. Adding that political framework will be necessary to get any serious investment going.”

CFR’s Martin Indyk: “Kushner’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan paints a detailed and compelling vision of what life could be like for Palestinians once there’s peace.  Unfortunately, it’s a fantasy.  None of the conditions necessary to achieve Kushner’s vision currently exists and nowhere in the plan is there any indication of how those impediments would be removed.  Anybody that has tried to build a road, exploit Gaza’s offshore gas resources, dig a quarry, develop a tourist site, or implement just about any other of the Kushner plan’s ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’ projects knows how impossible it is.  Presumably, Kushner assumes that peace will remove all impediments.  But the Palestinian people no longer believe that peace is possible and certainly don’t think the Trump Administration is going to help them achieve it.  The perfect symbol of their reality is the beautiful girls in school uniforms that grace the last page of Kushner’s plan.  They are wearing the striped uniforms of the UNWRA schools now suffering from the cut-off of all U.S. funding by Jared Kushner. ”

Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller: “If only I had a nickel for every well-intentioned Middle East Marshall Plan that crossed my desk. They all had one thing in common: Failure. Not because building a strong Palestinian economy, institutions, [and] infrastructure isn’t critical. But only a political solution can create incentives, the confidence, and most important the conditions — security, regularity, [and the] predictability required for serious economic growth.”

Jon Lerner a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, writes: “Trump’s Middle East plan is a refreshing change: 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.”  [CNN]

Lerner also criticized Aaron David Miller for “grossly mischaracteriz[ing] the administration’s goals.” According to the former Trump administration official, “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.”

Reached for comment, Miller tells JI, “The 20 plus years I worked on the Arab-Israeli negotiations, my colleagues and I — many of whom were Jews  — received a tsunami of criticism from Arabs, Muslims, Israelis, Evangelicals and American Jews railing against our work  — usually cast in the worst kind of personal invective. But the worst criticism of all came from Jews accusing us of being self haters or antisemites. I find it dismaying in the extreme that this charge is still very much alive and well, and that anyone would accuse me of validating someone else’s hateful antisemitic language which I’ve roundly condemned. I would respectfully advise my critics — as I’ve advised myself — to count to 50, maybe 100 before saying or tweeting something mean-spirited, offensive, and absolutely inaccurate.”

Brookings Institute’s Tamara Cofman Wittes tweeted: “I’ve said many times that I expected the Kushner ‘plan’ to be more like a real estate marketing brochure than a detailed proposal. I think that view sums this up pretty well. Moreover, perusing the vision and programmatic elements offered here, one can’t help but wonder at the logic of Trump Admin in cutting off dozens of US assistance programs that were designed to advance precisely these goals.”

IPF’s David Halperin tells JI: “For an Administration that has gone out of its way to denigrate efforts made by its predecessors and pledged to take a new approach, this effort comes across as unoriginal, uninspiring, and even detached from reality. The Trump Administration’s ongoing campaign against the Palestinian leadership ensured that the economic plan, no matter how creative or bold its contents, would be rejected (and same for the not yet published political plan). But the lack of any realistic vision for how these ambitious projects would be implemented — the absence of any discussion of the substantial  role Israel will need to play to facilitate all of this or any discussion of the necessary political context — will give cover to Arab states that are already reluctant to engage in this effort to continue to only do the absolute bare minimum so as not to insult the United States.“

ZOA’s Mort Klein tells JI: “The Arab-Islamic war against Israel was never based on economics, therefore it cannot be resolved by economics. What has to happen is the Arabs have to change their beliefs, and rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, and economics is not going to change that.”

Professor Eugene Kontorovich writes… “Take the Palestinians’ ‘No’ for an Answer: The Palestinian Authority cannot be forced to accept a peaceful settlement, and Israel doesn’t wish to return to its pre-Oslo control over the Palestinian population. But rejectionism, culminating this week in Bahrain, must have consequences… The Palestinians’ no-show in Bahrain should end their ability to hold development and growth hostage.” [WSJ]

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — While on a tour in Jordan Valley with National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the release of the economic portion of the peace plan. But he told reporters, “In general, I would say that we’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness. I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan rejected it outright. That’s not the way to proceed.”

Dr. Einat Wilf emails JI: “The most important element of the White House economy peace plan could be if, through its emphasis on economic cooperation, it forwards the process of normalisation between Israel and the Arab world, thereby slowly eroding Arab support for the Palestinian position of ‘No Israel as a sovereign state of the Jewish people’ and ‘Palestine from the River to the Sea.’ This may then accelerate the process by which the Palestinians develop alternative negotiating positions, such as a Palestinian state next to the State of Israel, without demand for return, which would finally enable the attainment of peace based on a true two states for two peoples formal.”

Dr. Dore Gold, former Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emails JI: “What is striking about the White House economic plan is the understanding it contains about how regional solutions may be prove pivotal for changing many long standing challenges for the Palestinians and not just the Arab states.  Take Northern Sinai, where Egypt has waged an insurgency war against ISIS. Our own research at the Jerusalem Center, led by General Shapira, has show how new development funds would help undercut the jihadists, by providing jobs to the Bedouin. But the establishment of a deep water port there, adjacent to the Gaza Strip would also provide the infrastructure needed for radically changing the situation in Gaza itself. Similarly, the West Bank could be integrated into efforts making Jordan into a conduit connecting Iraq and the Gulf states with Israel’s Mediterranean ports. There is one prerequisite for all this to advance that those attending the Bahrain meeting need to internalize: the military defeat of Hamas and pro-Iranian terror groups who do not want to allow such solutions to advance.”

VIEW FROM RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a briefing with foreign press, “We will not accept America to be the sole peaceful mediator for the Middle East cause… We don’t trust the Americans alone… We will not be slaves or servants to Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt or David Friedman. They are the ones making the judgment, and we will not accept this or let them say whatever they want.”

Khaled Elgindy, a nonresident fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, emails JI: “First off, we need to be clear about what it is and isn’t. The Kushner document is not a plan. At best it’s a wish list of all the economic projects that have been or could be proposed in a world where there is no Israeli occupation/siege and where there is unlimited funding. It’s a fantasy that is completely divorced from reality. Nor is it about peace. It has nothing to do with ending Israeli occupation, without which there is no chance of peace, but instead is aimed at making the occupation more comfortable. But even that is not credible because it offers no path for implementation.”

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