1. The “Deal of the Century” is rolling out (partially)
It took more than two years, numerous visits to the region, meetings with (some of) the key players, and countless promises for a deadline made only to be broken weeks later, but the moment has come— the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, is finally being presented.
The White House announced the convening of an economic “workshop” in Bahrain on June 25-26, a gathering at which the administration will present its economic component of the grand deal being proposed to the parties.
The invitation and explanations provided afterwards by top administration officials do not reveal much. The main idea behind the economic chapter of Trump’s peace plan is getting the world to make the Palestinians (and Jordanians, Egyptians and Lebanese) an offer they cannot refuse: up to $68 billion in investments that will turn the troubled region into a booming paradise and will breathe life into the struggling Palestinian economy.
Initial reception of the Trump administration’s economic peace plan, which is dubbed “Peace to Prosperity,” was, not surprisingly, mixed. Israelis seemed to welcome the idea, though it is not clear what role they will play in reviving the Palestinian economy, if any. Palestinians, as expected rejected the plan, arguing they will not discuss economic development while still under occupation.
The timing of releasing the Trump-Kushner economic peace plan is seen as beneficial for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s still in the midst of negotiations to form a new coalition and stressing the economic chapter of the deal could help ease talks with current (and probably future) Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who will be in charge of these talks from the Israeli side. At the same time, putting off the more contentious political chapter of the peace deal until after Bibi has a new government could help the Likud leader avoid unnecessary friction with potential coalition partners from the right.
2. Where will the money come from?
While details are scarce, it is already clear that the U.S. has no intention of footing the bill for Palestinian reconstruction. Trump has made clear throughout his term that he is averse to spending American money overseas, whether it be foreign aid, investment, or military intervention. That’s why the first step in putting together this massive financial package is getting the world, and specifically the Gulf countries, to make multi-billion dollar pledges for the cause.
There’s basically an unspoken deal offered to the Saudis, the Emiratis, and other nations in the region: We, America, are listening and taking care of your two pressing needs—curbing Iran and solving the Palestinian issue. You, in return, will have to pick up the tab.
Will this work?
On the one hand, Gulf states have both the motivation and the resources to raise a large part of the needed amount (leaving some for the Europeans, Japan and other nations to share). On the other hand, no one likes to spend huge amounts of money, especially not before seeing the goods and being sure there is a real return, in this case, a deal with the Palestinians. So even the economic chapter of the peace deal is likely to face difficulties when it comes to translating warm sentiments and heartfelt pledges into hard currency.
3. But wait, there’s (maybe) more to come
As fraught with uncertainty as it may be, the economic component of the peace plan is the easy part. Way more difficult is the second part, the American plan for settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, including the definition of the Palestinian entity, and the issues of borders, sovereignty, settlements, security, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
Presenting the economic chapter first is supposed to make dealing with all these issues— which have led veteran American negotiators in past decades to throw their hands in the air and give up—a little more palatable. In a sense, the Trump administration is waving a huge check in the face of the Palestinians and telling them ‘this can all be yours, if only you buy into our plan for solving the conflict.’
But what if the Palestinians don’t bite? What if their leadership turns down the economic incentives before even hearing the details of the peace plan?
Kushner and his team have been clear. They vowed that the second part of the plan will indeed be presented and that in no way will America leave the region with only an economic program and nooverall vision for solving the conflict.
When? Later on. The initial deadline for presenting the full plan after the month of Ramadan will expire the first week of June, as will the second deadline right after the Shavuot holiday in mid-June. We’re now looking at sometime after the economic conference, which puts negotiators at the beginning of July, at the earliest. But then again, who presents a peace plan during summer break?
4. A top general’s warning
Lt. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Eisenkot stepped down several months ago from his position as chief of staff, the top commander of Israel’s armed forces. He’s now spending time in Washington as a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Last week, Eisenkot delivered a sobering speech at the institute, a speech that corresponded with a private meeting he held days earlier with Trump’s peace negotiator Jason Greenblatt. The message coming from Israel’s former man on the ground was polite, but clear: don’t give up on the Palestinian Authority. “Without the coordination, there will be a lot of friction”, he explained, noting that maintaining cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is an interest of both sides.
Three years ago, statements of this sort would have been benign. It was clear to all that the Palestinian Authority is Israel and America’s best bet for stability and that military cooperation between the two is key to maintaining Israel’s security. But the Trump administration has taken a different path, seeking to undermine and defund the PA. Eisenkot’s message to decision makers in Washington is about the need to tread cautiously, to remember that whether or not the “deal of the century” succeeds, there’s still a need to keep current mechanisms in place in order to avoid chaos.
5. How involved is Trump?
Make no mistake, this is the Trump administration’s peace plan. He’s the one touting time and again the notion that only Trump (and Kushner) can pull it off, against all odds. “They say it’s like the impossible deal,” Trump said as recent as last February. ”I would love to be able to produce it”.
But just how involved is the commander-in-chief in the details of the deal?
Everything Americans know about their president indicates that Trump is not the guy to read a 400 page peace plan in detail. Kushner even said as much in a public appearance last month, noting that while Trump has read many parts of the deal, he “hasn’t seen the latest draft”. Kushner stressed, however, that his father-in-law has been “very involved” in creating the plan and is a “very hands-on leader.”
And just how hands-on Trump is on the issue will be crucial once the second part of the plan is rolled out and leaders in the region will face the choice of accepting or rejecting it. Kushner and Greenblatt are both well-respected by Israel and Gulf countries, but the final push can only come from the man at the top. If Trump fully applies himself and makes clear to all players that this is his plan, turning it down becomes a lot harder. If he leaves it to his deputies, leaders in the Middle East will sense this is not a priority for the administration, and will feel free to fudge their response, condition it, or outright reject the deal.