Jared Kushner's economic blueprint for Palestinians faces boycott and derision

Julian Borger in Washington
Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

A US-designed economic blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace will be launched in Bahrain on Tuesday, without the participation of either Palestinian or Israeli officials.

The Palestinians are boycotting the conference and a late decision was taken not to invite Israelis. A relative handful of Palestinian business leaders are expected in Bahrain, for what is widely seen as a “vanity project” for Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner’s “peace to prosperity” plan envisages $50bn being spent on investments in the occupied territories and neighbouring countries. The plan includes a $5bn transportation corridor joining the West Bank and Gaza.

Kushner told Reuters on Saturday the plan would create a million jobs, halve Palestinian poverty and double the size of the Palestinian economy.

However, the whole plan is contingent on a political solution to the seven-decade conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which looks further away than ever. The Palestinians have rejected the US as a broker because of the Trump administration’s unequivocal support for Israel, and in particular the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have realised that this economic workshop in Bahrain is going to be really nonsense. It is just simply a theoretical piece of work calling for $50bn,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian authority prime minister, said.

Workers place a banner at the pavilion where the US-hosted event ‘Peace to Prosperity’ takes place in Manama, Bahrain, on Monday. Photograph: Matt Spetalnick/Reuters

The Gaza-to-West Bank transport link idea has a long history, but it has never got off the ground largely because of Israeli political opposition. In general, critics of the plan said, the projects are meaningless as long as the Palestinian economy is under an Israeli stranglehold.

Related: Why Trump’s Middle East peace plan is just a sideshow

Zaha Hassan, visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the overwhelming majority of Palestinian business owners and executives, representing 80% of the economy of the occupied territories, were boycotting the event.

“They know very well what’s been hindering Palestinian economic development and investment in the occupied territories and that’s simply the occupation,” Hassan said. “They can’t control the borders. They can’t guarantee that they can export or import or that they can get the raw materials in that they need. They can’t send people out for training … the simple basic things they’re not allowed to do.”

The Bahrain conference will be attended by Gulf Arab states as well as Jordan and Egypt, while Israel is expected to send a business delegation.

Gerald Feierstein, a former senior state department official, said most of those attending were there for cynical reasons.

“Some businesspeople will almost certainly see this as an opportunity to cash in on the proposed $50bn windfall that Kushner has suggested,” Feierstein argued. “But the Gulf governments are motivated more by the need to curry favor with the Trump administration, and the desire to demonstrate support for Trump’s son-in-law on his favorite vanity project, than by any expectation that this will advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.”

“In fact, the Kushner document is not a plan at all. It is more like a wishlist of all the economic projects that have been or could be proposed in a world where there is no Israeli occupation/siege and where there is virtually unlimited funding,” said Khaled Elgindy, the author of Blind Spot, a history of US-Palestinian relations. “It’s a fantasy that is completely divorced from reality.”