Palestinians Say They Won't Take Money Over Aspirations For An Independent State | WGLT

Palestinians Say They Won't Take Money Over Aspirations For An Independent State

May 20, 2019
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For nearly two years, the White House has promised to offer a peace plan for the Palestinians and Israelis, and now it says the first phase will be a meeting next month. There, the U.S. will seek money from regional powers to pump up the Palestinian economy. But today, the Palestinian leadership says it will stay away - that it won't take money in exchange for the right to an independent state. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem to talk more about what we know about this conference. And Daniel, first, what is this conference going to look like?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, the White House is calling it an economic workshop. It's going to be in the Gulf state of Bahrain on June 25 and June 26. And the U.S. is inviting business leaders and finance ministers from the region, from Europe. And that is where the U.S. says it's going to be unveiling its economic peace plan for the Middle East.

CORNISH: And how'd they outline this plan? What can we expect?

ESTRIN: Well, we don't really know the details yet. But a senior administration official briefed reporters about it and said it's a very detailed plan to invest in infrastructure, in industries, to make the Palestinian territories more attractive for investment. And they say they've looked at models of examples of economies that have grown in recent years, like in Poland and in Singapore.

CORNISH: So the political issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - I mean, is that addressed? - the drawing of borders or a state, that kind of thing?

ESTRIN: Well, they're saying that this part of the plan is not going to address that. The administration says it does have a plan to address those political issues. And they say, yes, economic progress cannot happen without resolving the political disputes. But the White House says they're not going to unveil their political plan next month. They want people to focus on economy first.

CORNISH: Now, as we mentioned earlier, Palestinian leaders are not buying into this. What are they saying about this approach?

ESTRIN: Right. The Palestinian Authority leadership is really firmly against this whole idea. They say they were not consulted about the Bahrain conference. They say they're not going to go. They say, you know, look at what the Trump administration has already done - a series of pro-Israel moves like backing Israel's claim to Jerusalem, like cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership says this U.S. economic peace plan is really just extortion and blackmail. They're saying it's an attempt to buy off the Palestinians and dismiss what the Palestinians really want, which is political. What they want is ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and creating an independent Palestinian state.

Today one major Palestinian businessman, Bashar Masri, wrote something really interesting on his Facebook page. He said he was invited to this U.S. conference next month, but he said he's not going. He would not be willing to endorse something that's outside the Palestinian national consensus, he said.

It's pretty remarkable to hear that kind of criticism from him because he's a real estate developer. He's got a lot of press coverage in the U.S. He's kind of a celebrity. He's built a new Palestinian city with a fancy mall and condos. So he's been seen as admired by the Trump administration, and this is what he's saying.

CORNISH: In the meantime, have we heard from any other regional powers?

ESTRIN: We have heard - interestingly, not heard from Israeli leaders yet. But the Trump administration said they've gotten a lot of very good feedback on their peace plan - on the economic side of the peace plan as they've discussed it with Middle East leaders in recent months.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thanks for your reporting.

ESTRIN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.