/Economic workshop will launch Trumps Middle East peace plan

Economic workshop will launch Trumps Middle East peace plan

Robert Lighthizer, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump

Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser who has been overseeing the development of the administration’s peace proposal with the Middle East, said the U.S. was grateful for Bahrain’s invitation. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The White House announced on Sunday that it would host an “economic workshop” with Bahrain late next month, opening the door for the first stage of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

The “Peace to Prosperity” workshop is slated to take place on June 25 and June 26 in Manama, Bahrain.

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“This workshop is a pivotal opportunity to convene government, civil society, and business leaders to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement,” the White House said in a statement.

To the extent that administration officials have been willing to discuss the peace proposal, they’ve focused mostly on the economic opportunities that could become available to Palestinians.

Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser who has been overseeing the development of the administration’s peace proposal with the Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, said the U.S. was grateful for Bahrain’s invitation and for the opportunity “to present our ideas for creating greater economic vibrancy in the region.”

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

CNN quoted a senior administration official on Sunday as saying the plan would focus on four major components: infrastructure, industry, empowering and investing in people, and governance reforms “to make the area as investible as possible.”

The focus on economic opportunities in the region has led some critics to wonder whether Kushner and his team hope to persuade Palestinians to forgo many political rights — including having their own state — in exchange for aid and development assistance.

Palestinians leaders, activists and others have dismissed such a possibility as a nonstarter, noting that they’ve fought for political rights for decades and won’t give up. Administration officials, meanwhile, have said the plan will include a political component, but have given almost no details other than to say the phrase “two-state solution” is unlikely to be used.

“I think the Palestinian leadership will say no to everything, because they’ve said no to generous offers that have been made to them in the past,” an Israeli official told POLITICO. “The question is what will be the greater response of the Arab countries and the Palestinian street.”

Others agree it is unlikely that Palestinians will agree to abandon political rights for the sake of economic improvement.

“You can’t buy people off like that,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street. “No amount of industrial zoning is going to actually substitute for the right of a people to be free in a land of their own. It isn’t in human nature to be like, ‘That’s OK. We’ll accept second-class rights.’”

The Trump administration has indicated that it will rely on other Arab countries to fund much of any proposed investment in the Palestinian territories. But at this stage, there’s no guarantee those other countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will sign up to do so or come through on any pledges that they make.

Still, Kushner and his team appear to be betting that they can line up Arab countries in support of their plan, or at least persuade them not to shut it down. They view the relatively muted response from Arab countries in the wake of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as evidence that the Palestinian issue is not the driving force that it once was in the region.

“The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives,” Kushner said in his statement on Sunday.

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