UNITED NATIONS, MAY 22 2019 — The Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan drew criticism at the United Nations Wednesday, with European and UN officials saying Palestinians should not be coerced into selling off rights to run their own country.
Addressing the UN’s top body in New York, Jason Greenblatt, the United States envoy on the Middle East, talked up a meeting about boosting the Palestinian economy in Bahrain next month that marks the start of a new US-led peace initiative.
The “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop, to be held in Manama on June 25-26 and co-hosted with the US, has already been rebuffed by Palestinian officials and business leaders who want their political demands to be addressed in any solution to the decades-old conflict.
“This is the first stage of a process that we want to begin to showcase what could be,” Greenblatt told council members, saying the Bahrain meeting had the “potential to unlock a prosperous future for the Palestinians.”
“How, if we can achieve a political solution to the conflict, we could also transform the lives of the Palestinians. It would be a mistake for the Palestinians not to join us. They have nothing to lose and much to gain if they do join us.”
Greenblatt and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner have spent two years developing a peace proposal that they say could provide a framework for fresh talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Their proposal, which has been delayed for a variety of reasons these past 18 months, is expected to address core political issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, and drive billions of dollars from the oil-rich Gulf into Palestinian projects.
But Palestinian officials view the so-called “deal of the century” as a sop to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will nix their plans to create their own state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — all territory Israel captured in 1967.
Controversially, the proposal is understood to ditch reference to the creation of a Palestinian state, which has been a bedrock of US policy and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for more than two decades.
Greenblatt’s comments were met with scepticism in New York.
“Only a two-state solution can meet the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians and deliver sustainable peace and security,” said Germany’s UN ambassador Christoph Heusgen.
“It is indispensable that a solution is negotiated and guarantees the right to self-determination also for the Palestinians.”
France’s UN ambassador, Francois Delattre, said Paris would only back plans that stuck to a long-established framework of Palestinians getting more than financial support but also end up running their own country
“France stands ready to support any effort, including economic, as long as it fits in the perspective we have defined together: the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state, a true condition for the economic growth of the country,” Delattre said.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN coordinator for Middle East peace, said more funding for Palestinians was welcome, but that it was no substitute for a deal that tackled long-standing disagreements between the two sides.
“Humanitarian and economic support is very important for people, as well as for creating an environment conducive for viable negotiations. However, the solution to the conflict remains a fundamentally political process,” Mladenov said.
Palestinian officials have boycotted US peace efforts since late 2017 when Trump decided to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of US policy.
Without naming the US, deputy Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, said she rejected efforts to force an “unfair compromise” on the Palestinians through “financial and political pressures”.
“The vision that will offer Palestinians new opportunities to realize their full potential is one in which independence is the centerpiece,” Abdelhady-Nasser told envoys.
The Trump administration has sought to enlist support from Arab governments for its plan, which is likely to call for billions of dollars in finance for the Palestinians from the Gulf, according to sources. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have said they will attend talks in Bahrain.
In New York, Greenblatt also called for dismantling the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, saying it was a “Band Aid” solution and that its services should be run instead by charities, the UN or governments of host countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon.
Speaking via video-link from Gaza, UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl said the agency was “running on fumes” after plugging a $446m deficit last year through budget cuts and new donor contributions.