By Ahmad Sas - On 25-26 June 2019, Bahrain hosted the two-day Peace to Prosperity Workshop, in which Jared Kushner, Donald’s Trump’s Senior Advisor, introduced the economic part of his long-awaited peace plan for the Middle East. The multibillion-dollar initiative aims to unlock economic development by encouraging international investment and job creation as a first step towards ending the long-term Israel-Palestine conflict. According to the plan, developing the Palestinian economy should take place before implementing the political solution. Government officials from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the US, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as senior officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and a team from the European Union (EU) attended the conference.
The Kushner plan should be understood in the context of US policy towards Israel/Palestine in general. The US has defunded institutions and development programmes like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), it closed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission to the US, moved its Embassy to Jerusalem following its recognition of the city as the capital of Israel and signed a declaration recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, contested by Syria. These policies have created widespread scepticism about the intentions of the US in the region, as acknowledged by Kushner himself. Yet, he assured the commitment of the US towards the interests of the Palestinian people and the entire Middle East, urging them to accept the plan which he considers as the ‘opportunity of the century.’ The US acknowledged the difficulties of the plan’s implementation and the limitations of its economic approach, admitting that a strong political vision should be coupled with this part of the deal. This overlap between the economic and political approaches might lead to a ‘dead end,’ especially with the Palestinian and regional insistence on the two-state solution–which is unlikely to be offered by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister.
Two years of work by Kushner, and others, resulted in a carefully contextualised (at least in theory) economic plan, that aims to assist the troubled Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with a major allocation of investments over the next decade. Another significant part of the investments would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. This aid would be allocated to encourage regional trade and attract more investments, mainly from the Gulf states, Europe, Asia, along with private investors. The plan centres on three main pillars: 1. unleashing the potential of the Palestinian economy, 2. empowering the Palestinian people, and 3. enhancing Palestinian governance. Kushner described this formula in his introductory speech as ‘a game-changer.’ In fact, it represents a well-tested theory where economic integration can succeed where diplomacy cannot. However, caution is enjoined as security risks can eliminate international investment opportunities however promising they seem. A political consensus and a stable political commitment is needed over the long-term.
Perspectives of the Arab Gulf
The Arab Gulf might agree on the main features of the solution, which includes a sovereign Palestinian state, yet, their methods differ state to state. Recently, Israel and key regional actors, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have seen an alignment of their interests, particularly in terms of security. Iranian expansionism, its fuelled insurgences, terrorists and proxies, and its nuclear programme are generating security challenges for both Israel and the Arab world in general. Since the re-eruption of the Qatar crisis in June 2017, there has been variance between the Gulf states concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict. Qatar, for instance, due to its wide support of the Muslim Brotherhood, remains committed to supporting Hamas and its military wing, Ktaeb Al-Qassam, in the Gaza Strip. Iran supports the same groups. Ending such support topped the demands of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE for restoring their relations to Qatar.
Oman has adopted a neutral position and Sultan Qaboos of Oman has showed commitment to the peace process, by hosting both of the conflict. Netanyahu landed in Muscat, on 25 October 2018, a day after Mahmoud Abbas’ three days visit to the Sultanate came to an end.
The US peace initiative is still in its infancy, despite the marathon-negotiation to bring both sides to the table. This initiative has already shown peace dividends: prior to the workshop, Manama issued permission for Israeli media agencies to cover the conference, and, on sidelines, Bahraini Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, was interviewed by the Times of Israel. The Foreign Minister reiterated Bahrain’s good faith in ending the conflict and bringing peace to the Middle East. He stated that: ‘We do believe that Israel is a country [here] to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it.’
The Euro-Gulf Information Centre (EGIC) is committed to monitoring the development of the Israel-Palestine conflict due to its significance for the stability of the entire region. EGIC believes peace is an objective goal that should be enjoyed by all people in and beyond the Middle East.
11 July 2019