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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has endured for over half a century, through violent eruptions and pushes for peace. A weak Palestinian government is grappling with economic crisis as Israel retains control of the West Bank. But Palestinians are not optimistic the Trump administration’s new peace plan will yield a solution. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports and talks to Judy Woodruff.
For over half-a-century, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has ground on, through attempts at peace and, more often, frustration and violence.
Israel still occupies much of the West Bank, as a weak Palestinian government stumbles on amid economic crisis.
Gaza, from which Israel withdrew its forces in 2005, is under the control of the militant group Hamas that routinely attacks Israel, which responds with often deadly force.
Meantime, civilians there suffer. The last true efforts at dialogue are now a generation old, and the years since have been wracked by instability, by terrorism, mistrust and a widening separation of the people.
Now another American president has stepped into roiling waters of this decades-long conflict, with the division between Israel and Palestine as deep as it's ever been.
The first part of a new two-phase Trump plan are debuting this week in Bahrain.
But, as special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from the West Bank, Palestinians hold out little hope it will change their lives.
It was meant to kick-start President Trump's deal of the century, a plan that Israelis and Palestinians would agree to, ending the most intractable conflicts in the world.
Led by the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the Peace to Prosperity Workshop in Bahrain hosted panel discussions between business leaders and government officials from various countries on developing the economy of the Palestinian territories; $50 billion was announced as potential investments and loans over the next decade.
No specific details have been released of where the money would go, and it is dependent on getting donors on board.
The goal of this workshop is to begin thinking about these challenges in a new way. We need to bring change so that this region can become investable and as a center of opportunity, as opposed to an area that is written off and overlooked.
Neither Palestinian nor Israeli government officials were there.
In the West Bank, which has been occupied and controlled by Israel, Palestinians loudly rejected the launch of Kushner's plan for their future.
Mustafa Barghouti is a senior politician in Ramallah.
No money in the world can substitute our right for freedom. No money in the world can substitute our right to be in Jerusalem. This Palestine and Jerusalem is not for selling. It's not to be sold. And Palestinians will never accept that.
No one knows yet what Kushner's plan is for the thorniest political disputes here, like Palestinian statehood, the right of refugees to return, or the future status of Jerusalem.
These people believe the Trump administration is trying to lure them with money before presenting the political side of the deal, which could include major concessions to Israel.
But long before Palestinians started hearing about potential money coming into the area, they have actually been experiencing severe cuts in funding. The Trump administration drastically reduced the United States' contributions to the U.N. here in Palestine.
In September of last year, Trump canceled all U.S. government funding to the United Nations agency responsible for caring for Palestinian refugees, called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, or UNRWA.
It provides services like schools and health clinics to the families of Palestinian refugees who fled their homes when Israel was created. By ending the U.S.' $300 million annual payment, Trump has also ended 70 years of American support and sent a message to the Palestinian people.
President Donald Trump:
That money is on the table. That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.
Here in Jalazone refugee camp in the West Bank, over 15,000 here still hold on to the right to return to the homes inside Israel their families fled in 1948, when the country was formed.
These men in a coffee shop told us they would never give up that right just to have the aid money.
Without any — give some rights for the Palestinians, what — what — it's nothing. It's nothing.
The camp's health clinic is funded by the U.N. Since Trump's cuts, other countries have stepped in the fill the gap, but it's not guaranteed to last, and places like this are financially squeezed.
Jared Kushner's event in Bahrain is being branded as an effort to wean Palestinians off aid and replace that with a booming economy.
Actually, that is absolutely unworkable, given the fact that Israel is in charge of everything.
Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian political leader. She points out that the Bahrain event makes no mention of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Palestinians don't have full control over their own economy, regardless of how much investment they receive.
So, we can't even import or export at will, and Israel collects our money, our customs for us, and charges us 3 percent, and then treats the money as though it's its own, as a means of blackmail and so on.
So we are entirely skeptical about these plans that do not deal with the causes of the problem. If we were in charge of our land and resources and our lives and our infrastructure and so on, we have always said we can build a very vibrant and successful economy.
Dr. Ashrawi was denied a visa to the U.S. earlier this year, after 40 years of negotiating with five different American presidents and administrations.
She says the Trump administration has been using high-pressure tactics to force Palestinians into being more amenable to Kushner's plans.
I have never seen an American administration, Republican or Democrat, that has acted this way, with such tremendous recklessness, irresponsibility. It's as though it's a personal enterprise for them.
We have never said that American administrations have been objective. They have always sided with Israel, but they have always maintained a minimal respect for international law, a minimal respect for the rights of Palestinians, of the Palestinian people.
The greatest challenge to any peace deal now will be trying to persuade the Palestinians to work with the Trump administration.
Palestinians simply don't believe Trump is an honest broker of peace because of his outspoken support for Israel. Last year, moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city Palestinians claim as their future capital, was fraught with controversy.
Trump appointed David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel, and he is member of Jared Kushner's Middle East peace plan team. Friedman supports Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law.
On the first day of Kushner's economic conference in Bahrain, a small group of Palestinian protesters burned tires near the Beit El settlement, before being dispersed by Israeli forces. Friedman is a major financial donor to the settlement.
The public simply doesn't trust this administration. The administration has damaged its own credibility.
Dr. Khalil Shikaki is a pollster in the West Bank. He has widely surveyed Palestinians' attitudes to American administrations efforts towards peace over the years, and says the plan to offer money is unlikely to work.
The administration makes a big mistake. It shows lack of understanding of the psyche of the Palestinians when it starts with material benefits as a carrot, so that Palestinians can see what they would be missing if they reject the political part of the plan.
This is something that is likely to create the exact opposite reaction among the Palestinian public that the administration hopes it will elicit.
Israeli officials were not invited to Bahrain, after Palestinian officials refused to come. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is a major supporter of Jared Kushner's efforts. The two men are close friends.
But Netanyahu's hands are, for now, tied. After 10 years in office, he failed to form a coalition government this spring after elections, so has called new elections for September.
Until then, he will be campaigning, and cannot afford to be seen entering into negotiations with the Palestinians. That leaves Kushner having to wait until an Israeli government coalition is formed in order to formally announce the political plan for peace, perhaps as late as November.
What's the problem with the beginning of November? At the beginning of November, you start to bump into — you start to bump into the American election cycle.
And the question is whether the administration at that time is going to want to roll out a plan which might succeed, but then might fail, during an election campaign. I mean, no candidate wants to go into elections with something — a big failure in foreign policy on their resume.
Herb Keinon is a columnist and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. He says Israelis are willing to give this effort by the Trump administration a try.
Maybe look at it with an open mind. Go in with an open mind. Maybe it can lead to somewhere better than where we are at now, right, because what we have tried up until now just hasn't done it.
Until Jared Kushner and his team reveal their political plans, it's not clear what is being tried out. The Bahrain event appears to be offering the Palestinian a $50 billion carrot after two years of stick, and the Palestinians have said no.
For them, Trump's deal for Middle East peace may be over before it begins.
And Jane joins me now from Ramallah on the West Bank.
So you have shown us in this piece the deep dismay there on the West Bank with this Trump plan. What more are you hearing on the streets from the people?
That's true, Judy.
People here effectively feel — they say they feel as though they're being bought off. And it's important to remember nobody here, none of the Palestinians we have spoken to, really know what the political components of any future Kushner or Trump administration plan will be.
But they're saying that, even though they don't specifically know the details, they don't trust that it will be within their interests.
We spoke to in this story a pollster here who said that he put to Palestinians in the West Bank, even if the Trump administration gave you everything that Palestinians have been asking for, things like statehood, Jerusalem as a capital, et cetera, would you accept the deal?
And around 50 percent of the people came back and said they wouldn't. That comes down to a lack of trust at the moment. An example of that has been basically whenever we saw Vice President Pence come to the region in December 2017.
Now, but he came here just shortly after the Trump administration had announced that it was going to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. As a result, Palestinian leadership refused to even meet with Pence. And that has really been the situation here and the backstory to the Palestinian response to this Bahrain conference.
And, Jane, I know we don't make ourselves the story, but, yesterday, you and your colleagues came under assault when you were reporting.
Tell us a little about that.
There was a very small protest, just a small — like half-a-dozen people gathered in protest to what's going on in Bahrain at the moment outside or close by a settlement just outside of Ramallah. And we were there filming there.
It was so small, in fact, they were actually leaving. And, at that stage, the Israeli security forces that had been there, that had been firing tear gas at the protesters who had been burning some tires down on the road, they pivoted and started firing tear gas towards a large group of journalists.
We were in our car by this stage, and literally trying to drive away whenever a volley of gas canisters were fired at us, one of which smashed the car window as we were trying to get away. One hit the car door.
Nobody was severely injured, but it was a real example of how tense things are here. But it is certainly concerning.
Well, disturbing to hear, and we're just glad that you and your colleagues are well.
Thank you, Jane Ferguson, reporting from the West Bank.
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Jane is a New York-based special correspondent for the NewsHour, reporting on and from across the Middle East, Africa and beyond. She was previously based in Beirut. Reporting highlights include the lead up to and aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, front-line dispatches from the war against ISIS in Iraq, an up-close look at Houthi-controlled Yemen, and reports on the war and famine in South Sudan. Areas of particular interest are the ongoing cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, Islamist groups around the world, and US foreign policy.
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