The Trump administration will kick off a summit on Tuesday aimed at raising $50 billion to spur economic development in the Palestinian territories, with proposals ranging from a transportation corridor cutting through Israel to solar-powered water treatment plants.
The 96-page economic blueprint released by the White House on Saturday claims to offer “the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinians to date” while the plan’s lead architect, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, has called it the “Opportunity of the Century.”
But experts say some major components of the plan are not new and have failed in the absence of a mutually satisfying political agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Kushner’s plan, to be formally unveiled at a conference in Bahrain, is the latest, glossiest, and most far-reaching attempt at a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, according to Aaron David Miller, a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center who served as a State Department analyst and negotiator in several administrations.
But “new does not mean improved,” he said.
The plan is widely seen as dead on arrival. Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will send representatives to the Bahrain summit. Palestinians and many Arab states have insisted that economic projects cannot proceed without a resolution of key political disputes with Israel.
Experts say many features of the plan have failed not because of a lack of funding or creativity, but because they neglected to address underlying political questions of territorial control and Palestinian sovereignty. Here’s a list of key proposals that have been seen before:
The Trump administration plan, dubbed “Peace to Prosperity,” proposes creating a transit corridor from the West Bank to Gaza to facilitate movement of people and goods between the two Palestinian territories, which are separated by a tract of Israeli land about 25 miles across at its narrowest point.
Trump’s plan proposes building the route — which “could include an interurban rail line”— in stages, starting with an interim passageway in the next two years. The White House estimates the project would take eight years and cost $5 billion.
This isn’t the first time the United States has become involved in efforts to open transportation corridors between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel has restricted movement between the West Bank and Gaza since 1991, when it revoked earlier exit permits and began requiring Palestinians to obtain special permission from Israeli authorities to move between the territories. A “safe passage” agreement reached in 1999 as part of the Oslo peace process briefly opened transportation routes, but they closed amid the violence of the Second Intifada.
A “quartet” of Western powers — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — tried to revive plans for a transportation corridor during the mid-2000s, floating ideas for a railroad or a sunken highway. The Rand Corp. drew up an elaborate proposal for a “ladder of linear cities” between the West Bank and Gaza that would unite divided Palestinian territories and form the infrastructural underpinning of a separate Palestinian state.
But the area remains without such a route because those who have aspired to be its architects have proved unable to successfully navigate the political dimensions of such a project, experts say.
Palestinians remain divided not just by geography, but by competing claims of authority. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip each see themselves as the rightful ruler of the Palestinians.
The two ruling groups possess “two visions of where Palestine is supposed to be and what it’s supposed to be,” Miller said, and bridging the geographic divide will prove impossible without bridging this leadership divide.
“Of all of the things in there, it is probably the most emblematic that this is a political and not an economic problem,” he said of the Trump administration plan.
Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders quickly shut down the Trump administration’s idea for a transit corridor.
“If Israel had not obstructed the Oslo accords, the corridor would have been established. America is reinventing the wheel. Those agreements are already there,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters Sunday.
On Israel Radio on Sunday, Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi implied that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, Israel would not tolerate a proposal to connect the two Palestinian territories.
“It will be relevant, and I definitely think it should be relevant, when Gaza ceases to be a pro-Iranian realm of terror,” he said. “That means, it is not relevant now nor in the foreseeable future.”
The Trump and Kushner plan would also allocate $1 billion toward exploring the Gaza Marine gas field, an untapped source of natural gas on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast. Tapping into this store could fuel the Gaza power plant and the local economy, the White House says.
Palestinians have long seen the gas field as a key to economic and political prosperity since it was discovered in 2000. Yasser Arafat, the longtime leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, extolled the newfound gas at the time a “gift from God” that would put the Palestinian economy on solid footing.
But Gaza Marine, which is estimated to contain 1.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, has remained untouched . Political turmoil has prompted companies including the BG Group and Energean to abandon efforts to develop the field amid the fear of violent flare-ups between Israel and Hamas similar to the war in 2014.
The document outlining the administration’s proposals acknowledges that the White House drew many ideas from previous endeavors.
Several of the energy-related projects the Trump plan urges are underway — but under the leadership of Palestinians, Arab states and international organizations, rather than the United States.
The plan suggests an $80 million, three-year project to upgrade Gaza’s power plant and construct a natural gas pipeline connecting the Gaza Strip to Israeli natural gas.
But Qatar has already offered to help foot the bill for such a pipeline and the Qataris have begun talking to Israeli officials about that effort, which Palestinians say may reduce the chronic blackouts Gaza experiences.
The Trump plan similarly suggests building gas-fired power plants in Jenin and Hebron to provide electricity in the West Bank. The Palestine Investment Fund laid the groundwork for a Jenin power plant in late 2016, though it has yet to fully finance or build it.