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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. national security adviser John Bolton (left) grabs ear protectors Sunday during a flight in an Israeli military helicopter over the Jordan Valley with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

JERUSALEM -- The economic component of the Mideast peace plan from President Donald Trump's administration drew chilly responses from regional allies Sunday, two days before it was to be discussed at a conference in the Persian Gulf.

An Israeli minister called a major piece of the White House's "peace to prosperity" plan "irrelevant," while Jordan and Egypt restated their support for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of Washington's focus on economic issues.

The $50 billion economic plan, published Saturday, calls for infrastructure projects and job creation for Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday cast doubt on the $50 billion figure. "We have heard these lies before," he told foreign journalists in Ramallah, West Bank.

The White House called the proposal "the most ambitious international effort for the Palestinian people to date." However, the proposal makes no mention of Palestinian political aspirations -- a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, all lands that Israel captured in 1967.

"The Palestinians' economic problem isn't a lack of money; it's a lack of liberty," Aaron David Miller, a former senior Mideast adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote on Twitter.

The plan does not address the holy city of Jerusalem, sought by both peoples as a capital; the fate of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants; and the borders of a future Palestinian state.

American officials say those issues will not be raised at this week's conference in the Gulf nation of Bahrain, set for Tuesday and Wednesday. Trump's Mideast team, led by his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are calling the event a "workshop" to discuss the proposal.

"For too long, the Palestinian people have been trapped in inefficient frameworks of the past," Kushner said in a statement released by the White House. "The 'Peace to Prosperity' plan is a framework for a brighter, more prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region and a vision of what is possible if there is peace."

However, expectations for talks at the conference are low. The Palestinians will not be attending; they have rejected the U.S. proposal, accused the U.S. of unfairly favoring Israel, and said there can be no economic plan without a political dimension aimed at ending Israeli occupation.

Israel also is not attending. The Trump administration said it did not invite Israeli officials in order to keep the conference apolitical.

The conference will instead include a collection of officials from Arab countries, a handful of private Israeli citizens and Palestinians, and a roster of figures from international business and finance, many with connections to Kushner. The goal is to line up international financial support and investment interest.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are main sponsors for the conference but have not yet specified what they might pay to underwrite Kushner's plans.

Munib al-Masri, 85, a billionaire industrialist, said he immediately rejected his invitation, arguing that the event is doomed to fail without Palestinian and Israeli input.

"It's like going to the wedding and the bride and groom aren't there," he said.

But Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the Arab news outlet Al-Jazeera on Saturday that the session can be a success without the Palestinian Authority.

"I don't know that the Palestinian Authority is the last word on how to create a better life for the Palestinians," Friedman said. "The Palestinians themselves should have a say in that."

THE U.S.' PLAN

The 10-year plan pledges to more than double Palestinian economic activity, reduce the unemployment rate to nearly single digits and cut poverty by 50%.

The plan also calls for $27.5 billion worth of projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The remaining $22.5 billion or so would be divided among projects in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, which either border the Palestinian territories or have large populations of Palestinian refugees.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday that the country will not be "tempted" by money into what he said amounts to the surrender of Palestinians' rights.

Sufian Qudah, a spokesman for Jordan's Foreign Ministry, said that while Jordan would attend the conference, "no economic proposal can replace a political settlement to the conflict, which must be resolved according to the two-state solution."

The projects envisioned for the region are in the health care, education, power, water, high-tech, tourism and agriculture sectors, and they include a land link through Israel between the West Bank and Gaza.

Speaking Sunday in an interview with Israeli public radio, Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi said the land-link proposal was "irrelevant" as long as the Hamas militant group controls the Gaza Strip.

The Trump administration's outline calls for "a major road and, potentially, a modern rail line" between the West Bank and Gaza, saying this would "reduce the complications of travel for Palestinians" and stimulate commerce.

"It will be relevant when Gaza will stop being a pro-Iranian terror kingdom, meaning it's irrelevant today and in the foreseeable future," said Hanegbi, Israel's minister for regional cooperation and an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, speaking during a tour of the Jordan Valley with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, said Israel would "hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness."

Dave Harden, a former mission director for the U.S. Agency for International Development in the West Bank and Gaza, said the proposal had some positive aspects, such as its regional approach, but does not appear realistic.

Harden is now chairman of the Georgetown Strategy Group, a Washington consulting firm that does work in the West Bank. He said the plan underplays how difficult raising the money would be, much less the complexities of implementing projects on the ground. He said that ultimately Israel is the "dominant party" and would be the key player in approving most of the projects.

Harden also noted that the U.S. agency has been working on similar projects for the past two decades, but the Trump administration cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians last year and recently closed the agency's office in the region.

"We've done all this stuff before," he said. "There's an irony there."

Other critics focused on the presentation of the proposal. The U.S. team produced a 40-page overview and a 96-page list of projects, pie graphs and projections, but it also produced promotional materials that included photos taken from groups that lost their funding from the U.S. last year.

Parents Circle, a coexistence group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families, lost 30% of its budget when the Trump administration cut Palestinian aid. A photo of one of its members is used to illustrate the U.S. plan's section on "enhancing Palestinian governance."

"I think it's one of the most cynical and insensitive acts," said Robi Damelin, a spokesman for the group.

Information for this article was contributed by Shahar Golan, Josef Federman and Mohammed Daraghmeh of The Associated Press; and by Anne Gearan, Souad Mekhennet, Loveday Morris, Ruth Eglash, Rosalind Helderman and Alice Crites of The Washington Post.

A Section on 06/24/2019

Print Headline: U.S. plan for Palestinians draws shrugs in Mideast

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