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White House to focus on investment in Middle East as part of peace proposal

CNN logo CNN 5/20/2019 By Jake Tapper and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Donald Trump, Jared Kushner are posing for a picture: WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01:  Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner (R) join U.S. President Donald Trump as he holds a press conference to discuss a revised U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. and Canadian officials announced late Sunday night that a new deal, named the 'U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,' or USMCA, had been reached to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner (R) join U.S. President Donald Trump as he holds a press conference to discuss a revised U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. and Canadian officials announced late Sunday night that a new deal, named the 'U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,' or USMCA, had been reached to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The White House announced Sunday afternoon the first part of its Middle East peace proposal, what officials are calling an economic "workshop" to encourage investing capital in the West Bank, Gaza, and the region, a senior administration official tells CNN.

The workshop will take place in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25 and 26, bringing together finance ministers with global and regional business leaders. The effort is being headed by Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser and President's son-in-law, and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who have spent years developing the proposal along with the much stickier political component, which officials said would be announced later in the year.

Asked for comment, Kushner told CNN in a statement that "people are letting their grandfathers' conflict destroy their children's futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist."

The plan will discuss four major components the senior administration official said: infrastructure, industry, empowering and investing in people, and governance reforms "to make the area as investible as possible." Kushner is said to have modeled details of the economic proposal on what has worked in Poland, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.

The economic plan will include a "combination of grant money, low interest loans and then also private capital," a second senior administration told reporters Sunday.

The workshop will attempt to studiously avoid the many political issues that have made peace so elusive for so long: issues such as whether the Palestinians will get their own state, the status of Jerusalem, measures Israel takes in the name of security, and what should happen with Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Israel around the time of the state's creation in 1948. Finance ministers, but not foreign ministers, will be invited along with delegations of business leaders.

"We recognize that this needs to go hand in hand with the political plan, but this will be the first chance to roll out details of the economic plan," the first official said, adding that this will be an opportunity to show Palestinians, Jordanians, Israelis and the Lebanese that "CEOs care about them and want to be investing in the area."

The second official said the workshop will focus only on the economic plan "to show that you can't have peace without economic stability and opportunity, but you also can't have economic opportunity and stability without peace and free of terror and resolving some of these core issues."

"If you can get (the Palestinians') economy going the right way, they really have the opportunity to thrive," they added.

Kushner is calling the event a "workshop" rather than a summit, the first official said, because he is relying on feedback to the proposal from the many speakers and other participants invited, including from the Palestinian territories.

"We think this will showcase the potential of the entire region," the official said. "If there's peace, it will touch on not only the West Bank and Gaza but also Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The economies will become integrated."

"Think about how much money is spent on bullets right now," said the official. "If it could be spent on infrastructure and human capital, think about how much better the region could be."

The official denied that the rollout was being done this way so as to present a vision of a more prosperous Palestinian territory so as to encourage greater concessions in any political talks down the line.

"It's tough to digest both the economic and political proposals at once, since they're both very detailed proposals," the official said.

The economic plan was well-received by Arab countries that have been briefed on it, the second official said, adding that "there's a lot of interest in it."

Asked specifically about Gaza, the official said that "any investment package that comes in there will have to be based on a real, permanent and verifiable ceasefire agreement."

"Hopefully the people of Gaza will see that there is a very, very robust plan that -- and a lot of donors, donor countries throughout the world (are) willing to come in and make investments in Gaza," said the official, who declined to say how many financial commitments the Trump administration has secured from other countries to invest in the Palestinian territories.

On Sunday afternoon, however, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told CNN that the plan is "futile."

"Any economic plan without political horizons will lead nowhere," he said, adding, "Palestinians will not accept any proposals which do not include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."

The decision on whether or not Palestinians would attend the workshop would be made by the leadership of Abbas, Abu Rudeineh said, noting that when a similar meeting was held in Washington in March 2018 to discuss ways of improving the economic and humanitarian situation facing Gazans, the Palestinians had chosen to stay away.

Palestinian and other Arab leaders have previously expressed skepticism about Kushner's plan, given how staunchly the Trump administration has supported Israel and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognizing Israel's claim to the Golan Heights, while suspending funding for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

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