Highlights From Jared Kushner’s Bizarre and Fantastical Middle East Peace Conference

In which the West Bank and Gaza are “going to be like a hot IPO.”  

Shaun Tandon/AFP/Getty

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To solve what he called “the war that never ends” between Israel and the Palestinians, President Donald Trump promised to pursue an “ultimate deal” after securing the White House in 2016. No landmark agreement has materialized, but during a two-day summit this week in Bahrain, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner presented a $50 billion “peace to prosperity” plan, promising 179 business and infrastructure projects.

Zero Israeli or Palestinian politicians attended the event, and among Palestinian leaders, the conference was derided as infeasible without a political solution to stabilize the region. Kushner assured attendees that a political solution would be coming with the second part of his plan, providing no specifics. “Today is not about the political issues,” he said in a speech opening the conference. “We’ll get to them at the right time.”

Since taking office, Trump has eliminated more than $200 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza, removing “food aid or basic health services” from “tens and thousands of Palestinians,” the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. His administration has closely allied itself with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government and championed several controversial Israel initiatives like moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and endorsing Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights. Even Kushner’s economic development plan hews closely to a proposal Netanyahu introduced more than a decade ago. 

Gregg Carlstrom, Middle East correspondent for the Economist, offered some pointed commentary from the conference, which in his view appeared to range from laughably naive to bizarre.

Similar to how Trump pitched the beaches of North Korea as a future real estate bonanza for the Hermit Kingdom, Kushner and other top Trump officials followed suit, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin telling investors at the conference that soon the West Bank and Gaza are “going to be like a hot IPO.”  

In a series of panels on the second day, officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined American executives like Randall Stephenson, chairman of AT&T, and Trump fundraiser Tom Barrack for some lofty discussions of technology for Palestine.

“It is easy to be against things, but that is not going to help the Palestinian people, it is not going to help the region,” Kushner told reporters during the summit. “But what we’ve tried to do is take the harder task of being for something.”

Not far but a world away from the wealthy setting of Bahrain, thousands of Palestinians protested in Ramallah during the summit. “The US administration is humiliating the Arab leaders,” one senior Palestinian official said. “The time has come for the Arabs to rise in order to restore their dignity.”

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