Trump Administration Reveals 1st Part Of Middle East Peace Plan

May 20, 2019
Originally published on May 20, 2019 6:47 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The White House says it will finally unveil one part of its long-promised Mideast peace plan. The U.S. is gathering business leaders at a conference next month. They will talk up investment in the Palestinian economy. OK. But how does that relate to any plan to draw borders and rules for a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians? Well, NPR's Daniel Estrin has been covering this story. He's on the line from Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who's coming to the conference, and what do they plan to do?

ESTRIN: The White House has not sent out invites yet, but they're saying they're hoping that Mideast leaders and business people will come to the Gulf Arab state of Bahrain. It's going to be a two-day conference next month. And Jared Kushner says he's hoping to try to build a consensus around an economic plan for the Palestinians.

INSKEEP: OK. Jared Kushner, of course, that's the president's son-in-law. He's somebody the president has detailed, along with others, to try to work out a peace plan. But why not discuss the political issues, like who gets which land?

ESTRIN: Right. And that's exactly what the White House has said is that, no, these issues - these huge issues, the political questions like Jewish settlements, like borders - none of those questions will be addressed at this conference.

You know, Kushner says he does have a political plan for Israelis and Palestinians. But he says he knows that there can't be too much economic progress without a political vision, but that it's too much to digest both parts of his peace plan - the political and the economic - at the same time so he wants to roll out his economic part first.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking about the way that Israeli leaders have sometimes talked about this. And they have suggested that a thing that they can help the Palestinians with is greater prosperity because Israelis do not want to give on some other things the Palestinians might be demanding. So how are people responding to this move by the U.S.?

ESTRIN: Right. Well, that's exactly what the Palestinian leaders are fearing is that this is - well, what they've called it is financial blackmail. And they're rejecting this whole concept of a major economic plan without a political horizon. They think Trump is trying to buy the Palestinians with big investment plans and not address, you know, the core demands, the political ones - basically, the end of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and their demand to create an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestinians actually suspect that Trump won't give the Palestinians what they want, which is a state, but just deepen Israel's presence in the West Bank. And - for instance, you know, you can look at the Trump administration. They've been embracing this new effort by Israeli settlers in the West Bank to advance joint business ventures with Palestinian businessmen. The Israeli - the U.S. ambassador to Israel has met with them at a press conference. And Palestinian leaders say, you know what? That's not peace. That's just cementing the status quo. And they think that's what this economic plan is going to be about.

INSKEEP: OK. So what are the risks to this dollars-first diplomacy, if I can call it that?

ESTRIN: Yeah. Well, there's lots of skepticism here among observers and among former officials involved in peace efforts. And, you know, they're asking, will donors commit to a plan and commit money to a plan without the political side of the plan being known? Like, you know, what exactly are people going to be investing in? The Kushner team thinks this is a novel approach. You know, they think this is going to help people imagine something tangible, imagine economic advancement and, you know, maybe encourage people to dip their toes into a peace deal.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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