“My direct message to the Palestinians is that despite what those who have let you down in the past have told you, President Trump and America has not given up on you,” Kushner said.
“This workshop is for you, and if this is executed correctly, it will lead to a better future for the Palestinian people: a future of dignity, prosperity and opportunity.”
Kushner’s audience in the tiny Gulf kingdom did not include any official Palestinian delegation. Nor was Israel, which will have to sign off on many of the proposal’s projects, represented by government officials.
Those who heard Kushner in person were Arab finance ministers, the heads of international financial organisations and global business executives and investors.
While the representation was broad, many countries’ delegations were not headed by Cabinet ministers, an indication of their uncertainty about the proposal’s viability.
The Palestinians have rejected the proposal – which aims in 10 years to create a million new jobs, slash unemployment and improve living standards in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East – because it does not include a horizon for ending Israel’s occupation and granting independence. US officials say the political portion of the plan addressing such thorny issues may not be released until autumn.
Kushner acknowledged that a political solution is key to the success of the economic proposal. He said it was more important to first set out what is economically possible.
“Agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary precondition to resolving what has been a previously unsolvable political situation,” he said.
Without proposals on borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, the Palestinians say the economic plan is meaningless.
To express their rejection, Palestinians in Gaza called a general strike on Tuesday to protest the meeting, with demonstrators in the West Bank burning effigies of Trump and featuring a donkey pasted over with images of Gulf royals.
“Palestine is not for sale!” protesters chanted. “From Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, we are not tempted by your millions!”
Besides opposition from the intended beneficiaries of the proposal, the plan has been harshly criticised by former diplomats, aid workers and others involved in past peacemaking efforts for being unrealistic and lacking any clear description of who will pay for it.
Trump, Kushner and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argue that a new approach is needed precisely because previous efforts have fallen short. They note that the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will attend and speak at the event, as will the head of FIFA, the international soccer federation, and the managers of numerous large investment funds.
The Palestinians wrote to FIFA chief Gianni Infantino on Tuesday urging him to reconsider his participation.
“How can the President of the highest governing body of football, and the most outspoken person on the importance of separating politics from sports, agree to participate in a political workshop whose objective is to determine the future of Palestine in the absence of Palestinians?” the letter said.
Enthusiasm has also been tempered by the Trump administration’s refusal to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the “two-state solution” that has long been viewed internationally as the only viable path to lasting peace.
The Palestinians cut ties with the White House after Trump recognised contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and say they will not accept a peace proposal from an administration they see as biased toward Israel.
Trump’s Mideast team has recently signalled it will accept Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, the heartland of any Palestinian state, deepening Palestinian suspicions.