Jared Kushner, adviser to US President Donald Trump, held a conference call today with Israeli and foreign reporters in order to summarize the peace workshop in Bahrain a week ago, and to explain the path that the US administration would follow after publication of the economic part of the plan.
Kushner said that it was important for the US to connect businesspeople and get feedback from those present, and that the US was impressed by the people who participated. He commented that the conference had attracted a large and impressive audience of leading businesspeople from all over the world, and that a great many people had tried to join at the last minute, making it necessary to turn some of them down. Kushner said that the conference taught the US that there was a lot of interest in doing business in the Palestinian Authority, but admitted that he was aware that there is no way to make progress in investments without a political solution of the issues. He asserted that if the political issues are solved, there would be be enormous interest in investing in the region.
The economic plan published in June lists $50 billion in economic projects and foreign investments, most of which is aimed at the Palestinian economy. Construction of a natural gas power plant, road infrastructure connecting the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, founding a Palestinian University, and widespread governmental reforms are only some of the projects listed in the displays and information presented by the US. Despite the attendance by businesspeople from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Dubai, etc., Palestinian businesspeople did not attend. One businessman who did come was arrested by the Palestinian Authority on his return to Hebron. He was released after 24 hours.
Kushner also said that he had received feedback from those present to the effect that the plan was very detailed and full of new ideas, but that there were many assessments, which were being processed. He said that most of the people had praised the plan. According to Kushner, the US feels that it has started a process of dialogue in the Arab world. "Palestinians are starting to see that Israel is not responsible for their problems, it’s their leaders," he stated.
Kushner added that he believed that there will be normalization with Israel in the future, and that more economic opportunities would arise for the peoples of the region. He observed that the dialogue initiated by the US was a very healthy one - a different sort of dialogue that made it possible to look at the problems from different directions.
Kushner said that in his opinion, the Palestinian leadership made a "strategic mistake" and looked very stupid by not coming. He said that the administration would publish its political vision later. He criticized the Palestinian leadership, saying that it was unclear what they were trying to do for their people and was failing to take steps that could make progress. He explained that Trump hoped to see a solution for the problem, because he cared about the Palestinian people, and the question had been deadlocked for too many years.
Talking about PA chairperson Mahmoud Abbas, Kushner said, "I have a lot of respect for President Abbas," adding that he understood that quite a few events had hampered him, such as the loss of the Gaza Strip to Hamas and the inability to form a united government. "We believe that he wants to make peace," Kushner stated, but explained the US had chosen to approach this difficult matter by trying to avoid earlier mistakes. He declared that the US would not enter the old path of dialogue that had achieved nothing in the past. He explained that the parties had become estranged, and that the US was therefore trying to do things differently by constructing a very detailed plan. He said that when people see the political peace plan, they would realize that it is also very detailed, like the economic plan.
Commenting on specific investments, Kushner said that the economic plan would be carried out if there was a peace agreement. He said that the US did not expect people to start investing now before there was any political progress. He declared that the plan was on a large scale, but would not begin without an understanding between the parties about peace.
Kushner added that many of those present at the conference were among the Palestinian Authority's largest donors, but that they were frustrated that there was no transparency about where the money was going. He said that the US had spoken with the major donors, all of whom understood that long-term goals were involved designed to lead to economic growth that would improve the situation in the region."
Kushner remarked that the conference had also been attended by businesspeople from Africa, who said jokingly that if the Palestinian Authority was not interested, they would be glad to get the investments themselves.
Asked about infrastructure projects in Sinai, Kushner said that President el-Sisi was outstanding and had helped Trump a lot, but that there were no plans at present for investments and infrastructure in Sinai.
Responding to criticism that the economic plan had not mentioned the two-state solution, Kushner said that the purpose had been to present the economic plans, reiterating that there was no plan to make economic investments before a political solution was achieved. He explained that the US had tried to separate the economic plan from the political result, and said that the people who attacked the plan had not listed to or read it.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 3, 2019
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