It is now pretty clear that the prospect of economic prosperity is at the core of the much-touted and much-awaited Trump “deal of the century” to resolve the Israel-Palestinian dispute. It seems that political and territorial issues will be negotiated later within the context of concrete economic expectations which were outlined with specificity last Saturday. The Administration also announced on Saturday that the U.S. expected to raise more than $50 billion to improve conditions for the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors, who would be expected to lean on the Palestinians to move forward.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser on the peace plan, told Reuters that the plan would create a million jobs, cut in half Palestinian poverty and double the Palestinians’ GDP.
While there have been economic components to previous peace plans, they were vague with political and territorial issues typically addressed first, effectively in a vacuum. Those talks foundered on the failure of the Palestinians to come down from their negotiating starting points. The thinking seems to be that the Palestinians will be more apt to compromise when vast sums of money are staring them in the face and their Arab neighbors will be motivated to encourage them for the same reason.
The Trump proposal was immediately dismissed by both PA President Abbas and the Gaza leadership as an attempt to bribe the Palestinians. Some Arab states also rejected the plan because the Palestinians were against it.
A two-day White House-led conference convened in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain in the city of Manama on Tuesday, to discuss the economic plan and to develop a way forward to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Attendees included business executives, investors and diplomats. Pointedly, political and territorial issues are not on the agenda.
The PA boycotted the event and Israel was consequently not invited, although civilian Israelis were well represented. While several Arab countries were represented they were represented by second-tier officials, reportedly in order to not offend the Palestinians.
There also seems to be a possible collateral benefit in the offing simply by virtue of the Manama conference taking place at all. Dennis Makovsky, currently a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was involved in some of the Obama administration’s efforts to broker a peace agreement. According to Makovsky, cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been taking place in the shadows for some time and the conference may spur an expansion and in the light of day: “It’s been going on for years under the table, but the table seems to be levitating, because it’s very crowded under there.”
It is hard to say whether anything can bring about an agreed upon resolution of the conflict. Indeed, we continue to believe that there can be no progress unless the Palestinians accept that Israel comes to the table with a negotiating position superior to their own by virtue of Israel’s acquisition of land in successful defenses against Arab wars of annihilation. And this acknowledgement has yet to be evidenced. But who knows? We are reminded of the old and sage advice: follow the money.