Trump admin Mideast peace plan off to rocky start with economic summit proposal

The meetings at the end of June will mark the plan's first major rollout.

May 20, 2019, 7:17 PM

One day after the Trump administration announced plans for an economic summit that would kick-start its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, the project is already facing a barrage of criticism, questions and rejections.

Palestinian leaders, from government to business, repudiated the summit after the White House announcement Sunday -- highlighting how difficult it will be for President Donald Trump to make a deal after several steps that were seen as supportive of Israel.

The White House announced Sunday that the U.S. will co-host an "economic workshop" with Bahrain in the country's capital, Manama, at the end of June. The two-day summit is where the administration will finally unveil the economic part of its Middle East peace plan, which has been led by Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

An injured Palestinian boy is carried away from the border fence during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest in the southern Gaza Strip, May 15, 2019.
Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

"Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved," Kushner said in a statement Sunday. "We look forward to presenting our vision on ways to bridge the core political issues very soon."

An administration official told ABC News Monday that it's not yet been decided when the political portion of the plan will be rolled out but didn't rule out that it could also be unveiled in Bahrain, where the focus would be on bringing in economic investment to help solve the decades-old conflict.

But already, the plan is facing push back. Palestinian leadership rejected the idea of an economic summit, especially if it ignored the more contentious political issues, such as a Palestinian state, borders between the Israelis and Palestinians and the status of Jerusalem.

"Any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political... and based on ending the occupation," Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday, according to The Associated Press.

Palestinian political leaders were angry because they did not receive an advanced notice of the economic summit plan before the U.S. announcement Sunday, according to Shtayyeh. There has been virtually no contact between the Trump administration and Palestinian leadership since December 2017, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner speaks with guests after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered remarks on immigration reform in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, May 16, 2019.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Since then, the administration has cut direct funding to the Palestinians, as well as to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington and the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem, which acted as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

While the Trump administration has hoped that economic investment would be a strong enough incentive to build support for its plan among the Palestinian people, so far leaders outside of politics have also rejected this summit.

"We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus," said Bashar Masri, a prominent and wealthy Palestinian businessman who said neither he nor any of his employees will participate. "The idea of economic peace is an old idea that is now being asked differently, and as our people have previously rejected it, we reject it now."

Masri is a significant voice, whose opposition was notable: "When a plan for 'economic peace' loses Bashar Masri, it's off to a rocky start," tweeted Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Jason Greenblatt, the president's lead negotiator for the peace plan, condemned the Palestinian rejection, saying the administration's plan includes detailed "real projects and capacity-building programs."

"By encouraging Palestinians to reject the workshop, the PA is shamefully trying to block their path toward a better future. History will judge the Palestinian Authority harshly for passing up any opportunity that could give the Palestinians something so very different, and something so very positive, compared to what they have today," he said Monday. He also denied reports that there was no political plan, only an economic one.

Invitations have also been sent to business leaders and finance ministers from Europe, the Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the wider Arab world, according to a senior administration official. So far, the U.S. is declining to say who in particular was invited.

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