Trump has a plan for Middle East peace — what could possibly go wrong?

Trump has a plan for Middle East peace — what could possibly go wrong?
Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

The Trump administration plans a “workshop” in Bahrain June 25–26 on raising money for investments and other economic benefits for the Palestinians. But the Palestinians are boycotting the event.

The American delegation anticipated the Palestinians would reject the invitation. The real purpose of the conference is to get pledges of financing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states—or at best to ensure their silence over the U.S. plans so Arab nations don’t immediately reject it.

“They couldn’t care less what the Palestinians accept,” said author and correspondent Anshel Pfeffer, writing in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper. “They’re trying to buy off the Arab world, at least the parts of it they care about—the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.”

U.S. officials include Jason Greenblatt, the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and of course Jared Kushner, the son-in-law to President Trump, who drew up the plan, and his deputy, Avi Berkowitz. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin leads the group.

Drop the United Nations, Spread Funds Around

With Palestinians scattered over several states in the Middle East as well as the West Bank and Gaza, the object appears to be to give money to countries like Jordan and Lebanon for the welfare of the refugees rather than let the United Nations provide for them. (War-torn Syria, which has some 500,000 refugees, is not mentioned.)

A political explication is not expected to be presented in Bahrain, but it certainly does not include the two-state solution that Israel has more or less rejected while the Palestinians and most of the world still use it as a key talking point even though they have done little to advance it.

Egypt, which does not have Palestinian refugee camps, is reported to be holding out for an increase in U.S. financial support and a designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, a source of political opposition, as a terrorist group. President Trump is said to be considering this move after a meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in April, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Trump has cut the U.S. aid budget to the Palestinians in defunding UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, that delivers education, health and other humanitarian assistance to 5 million Palestinians. Washington had contributed $360 million in 2017. The funds were reduced to $60 million in 2018 and zero in 2019.

The United States also cut $10 million from Israeli-Palestinian sports and culture programs and $25 million from hospitals in East Jerusalem that treat Palestinian cancer patients.

U.S. Envoy Wants to Involve Host Governments

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt said the money had been cut from UNRWA because its business model was “tied to an endlessly and exponentially expanding community of beneficiaries.” He said it was a “flawed operation” that “is in permanent crisis mode.”

Instead, Greenblatt said, “We need to engage with host governments to start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local non-governmental organizations, as appropriate.”

“[I]n Bahrain,” he said, “we and many others will participate in an economic workshop on an alternative path with the potential to unlock a prosperous future for the Palestinians. This is the first stage of a process that we want to begin to showcase what could be—how, if we can achieve a political solution to the conflict, we can also transform the lives of the Palestinians.”

At the same meeting, Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, said he had received last year $1.2 billion for schools, health centers and other operations and appealed for the same amount from donors this year.

“[I]t is political inaction—not the action of humanitarian organizations—that perpetuates conflicts,” he said.

Two-State Solution Still Gets Support

No one in the 15-member Security Council backed the American position. Nor do most of the 193 UN members. Palestine’s deputy ambassador, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, told the council: “No one can deny that we are in need of new efforts and new energy to overcome the suffocating political deadlock, least of all us.”

“‘But “new” cannot mean trampling the law or mocking and discarding the longstanding international consensus’ on a two-state solution,” she said.

Author Vicky Ward, in a book she said was based on countless interviews with people who saw the draft plan, said Kushner had proposed a land swap in which Jordan would give territory to the Palestinian authority and in exchange would get land from Saudi Arabia, which would get back two Red Sea islands it had given to Egypt in 1950. U.S. officials, however, have denied such a dramatic exchange.

Still, the event in Bahrain attempts to decide the Palestinians’ future in hope that Arab countries will support American plans or at least call them a “basis for discussion.” That would allow the Trump administration to deem the conference a success.

Evelyn Leopold is a writing fellow and correspondent for Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She is an independent journalist based at the United Nations as resident correspondent. She was bureau chief for Reuters at the UN for 17 years, and is chair of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She was awarded a gold medal in 2000 for UN reporting by the UN Correspondents Association.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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