Palestine Center Brief No. 329 (June 26, 2019)
By Mohamed Mohamed
On Saturday, June 22, the administration of President Donald Trump disclosed details of a proposed economic plan titled, “Peace to Prosperity – The Economic Plan: A New Vision for the Palestinian People.” This plan is the focus of the Bahrain conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Unsurprisingly, this so-called “new vision” did not come from the Palestinian people.
Rather, it came from an American administration that has gone out of its way to antagonize Palestinians and make life for them as difficult as possible, whether in humanitarian, economic, or political terms.
Yet somehow, with its massive bias toward Israel over many decades, and especially over the past few years, the US ridiculously still considers itself to be an honest mediator in the conflict, and it assumes that Palestinians would actually accept this plan.
The White House proposal consists of a 10-year, $50 billion plan for Palestinian investment and infrastructure development, which would be provided by both public and private funds. Specifically, $27.5 billion would be allocated for projects in the West Bank and Gaza, $9.1 billion for projects in Egypt, $7.4 billion for Jordan, and $6.3 billion for Lebanon.
These projects would focus on healthcare, education, power, water, technology, tourism, and agriculture. The plan claims that it will double the Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP), reduce the poverty rate by 50 percent, and create one million jobs (thus reducing the unemployment rate to single digits).
It claims that it will reduce infant mortality from 18 to 9 per 1,000 births, increase average life expectancy from 74 to 80 years, double the potable water supply, increase Palestinian exports as a percentage of GDP from 17 to 40, increase the female labor force participation from 20 to 35 percent, establish at least one Palestinian university in the global top 150 of universities, and a number of other lofty goals – all in 10 years with just $50 billion.
To say the least, anyone reading this should be skeptical of how realistic these goals are, for many reasons. But the main reason is not due to the inability of Palestinians to achieve these goals. On the contrary, Palestinians have remained steadfast and resourceful while resisting the Israeli occupation for more than 70 years. Despite the adversity that they face, they are still standing strong.
Nor is the problem due to the Palestinians’ inability to govern themselves, as Jared Kushner strongly (and condescendingly) implied in an interview with HBO.
The main problem is Israeli occupation and its control of every aspect of Palestinian life, which thwarts any chance of economic survival. This is the bottom line. As many have pointed out in the run-up to this so-called workshop, how can the economic situation of Palestinians improve without a political resolution?
How can the Palestinian GDP double when Israel maintains control of their movement and total control of their borders? Will Israel allow free trade of Palestinian products internally and will it allow exports to neighboring and foreign countries? Will Palestinians still be restricted from using Israeli settler-only roads in the West Bank? Will Israel agree to Palestinian air travel or allow them to regulate their airspace?
How will the situation in Gaza improve if it remains under a complete Israeli siege and frequent bombardment? The plan calls for modern transportation systems (such as high-speed rail) that would link Gaza with the West Bank. Does that mean the siege would be lifted and attacks will cease?
The US plan also mentions investment in the agricultural sector. “Area C” in the West Bank, the designated area where Israel maintains full control of security and land management, contains the majority of land that is suitable for agriculture and farming. Will Israel withdraw from this area, which rightfully belongs to Palestinians? Will it stop destroying Palestinian olive trees and will it crack down on the Israeli settlers who maliciously damage or destroy Palestinian trees and crops?
In Gaza, about 35 percent of agricultural land lies within the militarized border buffer zone that Israel has imposed and is inaccessible to Palestinians, so many farmers find it very difficult to make a living. Israel also sprays chemicals along the Gaza border, which destroys Palestinian crops and is blamed for health problems. Will Israel cease and desist from such behavior?
The world and its economies today are increasingly reliant on modern technologies and high-speed data connectivity. Until recently, Israel refused to allow Palestinian access to even 3G wireless internet technology, which is already almost 20 years old. Will Israel allow Palestinians to control their electromagnetic spectrum and to modernize their communications capabilities?
These are only some of the questions, but the list can go on and on. The point is that an economic plan for Palestinians is worthless if the underlying political issues are not addressed first.
And as others have mentioned, this plan is basically a big attempt to bribe the Palestinians into relinquishing their political rights and freedoms. But what many non-Palestinians do not realize is that the issue is not simply a matter of economics or money. This is a moral issue, and most Palestinians will not sell their dignity, their freedom, or their right to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, the current US administration, Israel, and the Arab gulf countries who will be expected to bankroll the plan, think that the Palestinian people can be bought if the price is right.
It is ironic, if not absurd, that the US administration proposing this so-called plan for peace and prosperity to “empower the Palestinian people to build a better future for themselves and their children,” is the same administration that cut aid and funding to UNRWA and to hospitals serving Palestinians, for political purposes. These are organizations providing the most basic of needs to Palestinians and their children, whether through healthcare, educational, or other critical humanitarian services.
If the goal is to empower Palestinians, why would anyone do that and try to twist their arm into submission? Clearly, the US administration’s intentions are disingenuous, and it is astonishing that it would think Palestinians would ever accept such a proposal.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.