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Kushner holds ‘open door’ to wary Palestinians in Bahrain peace push

By AFP - Jun 27,2019 - Last updated at Jun 27,2019

Palestinians in Gaza city shout slogans during a protest against a US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain on Wednesday (AFP photo)

MANAMA — Jared Kushner said on Wednesday that the door remained open to the Palestinians to engage in his peace initiative as he accused their leaders of not caring about their own people for rejecting his $50 billion economic framework.

US President Donald Trump's son-in-law launched a long-awaited Middle East initiative with an intimate two-day conference in Bahrain, where economic leaders touted his plan as holding the potential to jumpstart the Palestinians' stagnant economy.

The Palestinian Authority boycotted the "Peace to Prosperity" workshop, accusing the unabashedly pro-Israel Trump of dangling the prospect of cash to try to impose political solutions and ignoring a fundamental issue of Israeli occupation.

Closing the conference at a luxury hotel in the capital Manama, the 38-year-old real estate investor promised to put out the political plan at “the right time” and said the Palestinian Authority could help its people by embracing the US recommendations.

“If they actually want to make their people’s lives better, we have now laid out a great framework in which they can engage and try to achieve it,” Kushner told reporters.

“We’re going to stay optimistic,” he said. “We have left the door open the whole time.”

He said the Trump administration was trying a fresh approach to the long intractable Middle East conflict and that the authors of the economic framework had not seen the political plan.

“What the leadership has done is that they’ve blamed Israel and everyone else for all the people’s problems, when in fact the common theme coming up is that this is all achievable if the government wants to make these reforms,” Kushner said.

In the occupied West Bank, senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told a press conference the US proposal was an “insult to our intelligence” and “totally divorced from reality”.

“The economic peace, which has been presented before repeatedly and which has failed to materialise because it does not deal with the real components of peace, is being presented once again, recycled once again,” she said.

“The elephant in the room in Manama is of course the occupation itself,” she added. “The Israeli occupation, which was never mentioned — not once.”

Trump has taken a series of landmark steps to benefit Israel including recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, leading the Palestinian Authority to cut off formal contact.

The Trump administration has hinted its political plan will not mention a Palestinian state — a goal of US policy for decades — and that it could accept the annexation of parts of the West Bank mulled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend of Kushner.

The “Peace to Prosperity” sets an ambitious goal of creating one million new Palestinian jobs through $50 billion of investment in infrastructure, tourism and education in the territories and Arab neighbours.

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, praised the plan for focusing on jobs and said “all the goodwill in the world” was needed to prevent a severe deterioration of the Palestinian economy.

“So if there is an economic plan, if there is urgency, it’s a question of making sure that the momentum is sustained,” Lagarde said.

Tax revenue is being held up in a dispute with Israel, which has blockaded the Gaza Strip for more than a decade because of the Islamist movement Hamas’ leadership of the crowded and impoverished territory.

Mohammed Al Jadaan, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister, said the Palestinian issue was “very important” for the oil-rich kingdom, which would support “whatever brings prosperity to this region”.

“The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope,” he said.

Coinciding with the Bahrain conference, Oman said it would open an embassy in the Palestinian territories — a first for a Gulf Arab state.

The sultanate said it wished to show “support for the Palestinian people”.

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