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Kushner holds open door to wary Palestinians in Bahrain peace push

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, accused Palestinan leaders of not caring about their people’s welfare for rejecting his $50 billion economic plan

Manama, Bahrain | AFP |  Jared Kushner said Wednesday that Palestinians were still welcome to engage in his peace initiative, and accused their leaders of not caring about their own people for rejecting his $50 billion economic plan.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law launched a long-awaited Middle East initiative with a 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 however, accusing the unabashedly pro-Israel Trump of dangling the prospect of cash to try to impose political solutions, and of 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 unveil a political plan at “the right time” and said the Palestinian Authority could help its people by embracing 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.”

He said the US 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.

“The common theme coming up is that this is all achievable if the (Palestinian) government wants to make these reforms,” Kushner insisted.

– ‘Insult to our intelligence’ –

In the occupied West Bank, senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told media 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 bitterly divided Jerusalem as the Jewish state’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 an annexation of parts of the West Bank mulled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend of Kushner.

– ‘Urgency’ for Palestinian economy –

The “Peace to Prosperity” plan 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, 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.

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”.

Obaid bin Humaid al-Tayer, minister of state for financial affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said that international institutions should back the plan to decrease risks.

“We should give this initiative a chance, we should be discussing it, and we should try to promote it,” he said.

In Paris, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said France backed a two-state solution, which the US is thought to have abandoned.

Along with respect for international laws and UN Security Council resolutions, France envisaged “one goal, two states – Israel and Palestine – living in peace and security,” Agnes von der Muhll said.

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

But Netanyahu paid a rare visit to Oman in October, raising speculation the embassy could be a way to soften the blow before recognition of Israel.

Gulf Arab nations have increasingly found common cause with Israel due to their shared hostility towards Iran, but Oman often serves as a go-between for Washington and Tehran.

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