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What Palestinians want more than Trump’s peace plan

The White House has unveiled part of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, a $50 billion economic blueprint designed to double Palestinian GDP and create a million jobs. Jared Kushner likened the proposal to the Marshall Plan, which revitalized Western Europe after World War II, but the response among Palestinians was not enthusiastic. Nick Schifrin talks to Gwyn Lewis and Mattias Schmale of UNRWA.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    This weekend, the White House unveiled the first half of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, a $50 billion economic blueprint designed to double Palestinian GDP and create a million jobs, while not addressing, for now, their political future.

    The report's author, senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, compared it to the Marshall Plan that revitalized Western Europe after World War II.

  • Jared Kushner:

    This is a similar notion, where you're not just giving people a fish, like we have been doing here for a long time. You're teaching them to fish, and then you're buying them fishing rods and you're helping them become something that will be much more sustainable.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The response among Palestinians wasn't enthusiastic.

    Protesters demonstrated across multiple cities. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians want a political solution first, even if he admitted they also need economic support.

    Today, more than a million Palestinian refugees live in absolute poverty. More than 250,000 are unable to meet basic food needs.

    The sole agency dedicated to assist them is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA. The Trump administration has cut all economic support to UNRWA.

    Before the plan's release, I spoke to Matthias Schmale, UNRWA's Gaza director, and Gwyn Lewis, UNRWA's West Bank director, and asked why the Palestinian response, even before the plan was made public, was so negative.

  • Gwyn Lewis:

    Well, I don't think any Palestinian would argue with the fact that West Bank and Gaza need economic development and economic support.

    I think that's something that everybody agrees with. I think what the Palestinian community are saying to me — and the refugees in particular, because that's whom we work with — Is that they want to be part of the discussion. They don't want somebody to come in and decide for them on their economic future.

    The challenge of just looking at the economics — and this is what the Palestinian Authority has been saying, I think, very, very publicly — is, at what cost? And if there's not going to be any political agreement, economic investment is not going to suffice.

    There is a real interest in economic investment, but there needs to be a political process as well.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And it has to happen simultaneously, you think?

  • Gwyn Lewis:

    Absolutely, yes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Matthias Schmale, let me turn to you and ask about Jason Greenblatt's criticism of the agency.

    Recently, he was speaking to the U.N. Security Council. And this is what he had to say:

  • Jason Greenblatt:

    UNRWA is a Band-Aid. And the Palestinians who deserve — who use its services deserve better, much better.

    We do not have to wait until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in place to address that fact.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Is UNRWA a Band-Aid? Is there an economic plan that can replace UNRWA, as these U.S. officials are saying?

  • Matthias Schmale:

    No, UNRWA is not a Band-Aid.

    What we do in Gaza, where I work, is provide basic education. We run 274 schools, which had 280,000 students in them in the school year that has just finished.

    I fail to see how providing basic education to very marginalized people is Band-Aid. We run 22 primary health care centers, which provide one million consultations over each three-month period. Again, I cannot understand how keeping people healthy is Band-Aid.

    The reason is as — because of political failure. What the refugees need is a solution, a just solution, in the form of a country they can call their own.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, in Gaza — the U.N. has warned that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020, 52 percent unemployment, 67 percent youth unemployment, 13 hours of power cuts every day.

    It seems like the trends are going in the wrong direction. How do those get fixed?

  • Matthias Schmale:

    It's already unlivable for the 52 percent who are unemployed. What's livable about living in a place that's cut off from the rest of the world, with little or no chance to find a decent job?

    Now, how can this be fixed? I think one clear thing that needs to happen is to ease or lift the blockade. You cannot have a thriving economy in a place of two million people that is cut off from the rest of the world.

    And, of course, there also needs to be good governance inside Gaza in terms of those people who control Gaza.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Can Hamas provide good governance?

  • Matthias Schmale:

    Well, I think their track record over the last 10 years or so is a dismal one. So there are many people who are skeptical that they can do so.

    And I'm one of those, who on behalf of the United Nations, says we need prepare for and carry out decent elections. There were elections 15 years ago or so. And it's really over time that elections happen and that proper alternatives are presented for people to vote on.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Gwyn Lewis, there is, of course, a distinction, not only between Gaza and West Bank, but also between the U.S. and Israel.

    The U.S. — the Trump administration, I should say, has defunded UNRWA. Israel, though, has long — not necessarily called for UNRWA's dissolution, but has specific criticisms of UNRWA, says that UNRWA politicizes the conflict.

    You have heard these criticisms, especially the textbooks that are in schools.

    And while I was in Gaza during the war in 2014, seen weapons stored in UNRWA facilities.

    So what's your response to the Israeli criticisms of the organization?

  • Gwyn Lewis:

    The first one, the curricula is really — the U.N. generally, not just UNRWA, all of the U.N. uses the textbooks of the country of origin. It's good practice.

    So the textbooks that we use are the Palestinian Authority textbooks. Now, we don't just use them. We monitor them and we review them before we use them in the classroom.

    So when we find problematic materials in our textbooks, we develop other materials to address them, or we — we also train our teachers on how best to approach the subjects, so the children are taught in a constructive way.

    The other issues, when there have been issues with our schools — and there have been a couple of occasions where we have found arms in the schools — it was UNRWA who flagged it with the Israeli authorities. It was UNRWA who asked Hamas to remove the weapons from our schools.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Matthias Schmale, I'm wondering how your reception has been here in Washington. What are the U.S. officials saying to you, and what are you asking of them?

  • Matthias Schmale:

    We didn't come here thinking we will get checks written anytime soon.

    But we see it as important to maintain this relationship. The United States is — consists of many people, and we shouldn't just be led by those people who are currently running the White House.

    And we have met many people who are very sympathetic to the plight of Palestine refugees. And so, yes, the message I will give them is one of cautious optimism that, at one point, we may be able to rebuild this partnership.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Matthias Schmale, Gwyn Lewis of UNRWA from Gaza and the West Bank, thank you very much.

  • Gwyn Lewis:

    Thank you.

  • Matthias Schmale:

    Thank you.

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