June 23, 2019 / 9:22 AM / 3 months ago

Palestinians don't need Bahrain meeting, they need peace: finance minister

CAIRO (Reuters) - Palestinians don’t need this week’s U.S.-led Bahrain meeting to develop their country, they need peace, Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara gestures during a news conference in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The June 25-26 conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, which the Palestinian Authority is boycotting, will discuss U.S.-led proposals for an economic vision to be presented by U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, part of a wider plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The $50 billion plan envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.

While many Arab states are attending the meeting, the plan has drawn rebuke as an attempt to circumvent Palestinian demands for an independent state on lands captured in the 1967 war.

“We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country, we need peace, and the sequence of (the plan) - economic revival followed by peace - is unrealistic and an illusion,” Bishara said on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab finance ministers in Cairo.

“First of all, give us our land and our freedom.”

While the precise outline of the political part of Kushner’s plan has been shrouded in secrecy, officials briefed on it say he has jettisoned the two-state solution that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Kushner told Reuters that the plan, previously dubbed the “deal of the century”, could be the “opportunity of the century” for the Palestinians.

In an address to Sunday’s meeting at the Arab League headquarters, Bishara cited the “bitter experience” of the Palestinians since the 1993 Oslo Accords, including the U.S. decision to cut aid to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.

“We are careful and skeptical of what is called the deal of the century - or what was called a couple of days ago, the opportunity of the century,” Bishara said.

Sunday’s Arab finance ministers’ meeting was called to discuss the Palestinian budget deficit, which Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit put at $700 million for the current year.

The finance ministers said they were committed to activating a financial safety net for the Palestinians of $100 million a month, agreed upon at previous Arab meetings, Emirates News Agency (WAM) said.

The ministers will work to activate the safety net “in support of the state of Palestine in facing the pressures and financial crises it is exposed to,” WAM said.

Writing by Aidan Lewis and Yousef Saba; Editing by Sami Aboudi, Raissa Kasolowsky and Jan Harvey

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