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Trump Administration To Present Economic Part Of Middle East Peace Plan

Jun 24, 2019
Originally published on June 24, 2019 11:14 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Palestinians and Israelis are not about to sit down and make peace. But many powers in the Middle East are set to meet and talk around that idea. The Trump administration will be at a conference over part of its Middle East peace plan this week in Bahrain. The Palestinians are boycotting this meeting, and Israeli officials are not invited.

What's on the table for regional powers is a multibillion-dollar proposal to invest in the Palestinian economy. The White House unveiled the plan over the weekend. Its principal authors include Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been covering this story from Jerusalem.

Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is this plan?

ESTRIN: It's a plan to fund the Palestinians and other regional countries $50 billion - more than half of it's for the Palestinians, the rest for the other countries. And the White House wants to upgrade Palestinian hospitals and roads and trade and create a million jobs for Palestinians and double their GDP. So it's this huge plan. They're calling it a kind of a Marshall Plan to give Palestinians better lives.

But there is an elephant in the room here, which is what about all those big political questions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Do the Palestinians get independence? Do they get control over their own borders, or does Israel still maintain overall control? And when Jared Kushner was asked about this by Reuters - are you going to address these political questions now? - he said this.

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JARED KUSHNER: When we're ready. Again, that's - again, same we've been working on now for two years. It's a very extensive document, something that I do think will, again, make people look at this a little bit differently and hopefully bring people to the table to start having a discussion about how to resolve these longstanding issues. But that's a separate topic. And it's - and we'll deal with it at a later date.

INSKEEP: Daniel, I'm getting the impression that Kushner's plan is not a peace plan. It's a sort of incentive for a peace plan. Is that the way to think about this? He's saying if the Palestinians were to make a peace plan, here's some investments that would be on the table. Is that right?

ESTRIN: That's right. He's calling it a vision of what peace could look like if the two sides agreed to a peace plan.

INSKEEP: And so what do the Palestinians think about that?

ESTRIN: Well, they haven't trusted the Trump administration ever since it took all kinds of steps that have angered the Palestinians, like siding with Israel's claim to Jerusalem and cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. And now Palestinian officials, like the president, Mahmoud Abbas, who appeared in a press conference yesterday, he said, wait, so the U.S. wants to - is first cutting all this money to us and now wants to give us money?

And they're saying, you want to buy us with money instead of letting us have what we really want, which is our own state. Abbas even called Kushner - he said, we will not be slaves or servants of Kushner, so definitely not on board with this.

INSKEEP: What are the Israelis saying about this?

ESTRIN: Well, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said, we will keep an open mind about it. And he hasn't said very much more. He said that while he was giving a tour to national security adviser John Bolton. They were in the West Bank, in a place that Israel says it can't give up that part of the land, next to Jordan, for security reasons. And John Bolton supported that. So, you know, there are questions here about what kind of political reality the White House is supporting.

INSKEEP: And just so I understand, is this a meeting of the people who would pay for this Kushner plan were it ever to happen? Is that effectively the case?

ESTRIN: I think that's the idea. The White House wants to invite Arab countries and investors and get feedback on the plan and to coordinate investments in the future. But, you know, a lot is unclear. First of all, is the U.S. going to be putting any money on the table? And will anyone put any money on the table if there's no political framework that's clear right now?

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks as always for your insights - really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.