Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Gulf states warm to Israel, see possibility of Palestinian peace deal



Gulf states warm to Israel, see possibility of Palestinian peace deal

Gulf states that long opposed Israel's every move are proposing a rapprochement in the hopes of restarting the Palestinian peace process.

The development comes just days ahead of historic meetings between President Trump and Middle Eastern leaders. It consists of a draft proposal reportedly offered up by Sunni Muslim Gulf states and offers closer economic and diplomatic ties with Israel in exchange for significant moves in restarting the Palestinian peace process.

The plan, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is outlined in a draft document circulated by the Gulf states, the mostly Sunni Muslim countries that line the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

It could significantly alter the Middle Eastern diplomatic and economic landscape if embraced by the various parties. The proposal would allow Israeli planes to fly through Gulf state airspace and enable direct communications with the Jewish state, both of which today are limited by the long-running hostility in the region. In exchange, the Gulf states reportedly call on Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and ease trade restrictions in the Gaza Strip.

The Journal quoted a “senior Arab official” said to be involved in the discussions, who said, “We no longer see Israel as an enemy, but a potential opportunity.”

The report states that the Arab proposal is aimed in part at aligning them with President Trump, who has expressed a willingness to work with them on pushing the various sides toward a new Middle East peace deal. The Journal says that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the countries who have told the U.S. and Israel they are willing to open their airspace and allow direct communications, in exchange for the Israeli concessions with the Palestinians.

A Middle East analyst close to the White House tells Fox News about the report, “the president has been clear that he wants to see peace and integration between Israel and its Arab neighbors, not least of all so they can cooperate against the threat posed by Iran. This is a welcome step in that direction. It makes many requests of the Israelis and the White House knows the Israelis can't meet all of them, and the President won't pressure them to. But these sorts of initiatives are the sorts of deals the President wants to see from regional players.” 

Israel has not yet officially commented on the proposal. And while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed calls to curtail settlement building, in March he said that Iran’s threat to its Gulf State neighbors opens the possibility of closer ties with Arab countries beyond Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel has peace agreements.

He talked about “nurturing these interests” by normalizing ties with countries in the region and “opening new diplomatic streams between us and the Palestinians.”

President Trump met with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, part of the UAE, on Monday (May 15th) in Washington.  After arriving in Saudi Arabia on Friday (May 19th), he is expected to attend an “Arab, Islamic and American Conference” on Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and over a dozen heads of state from Arab and Islamic nations including Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Then, on Monday (May 22nd), Trump is expected to travel to Jerusalem for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.


Saudi Arabia Pledges $40 Billion Investment in US Infrastructure Ahead of Trump Visit

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund set to announce plans next week to coincide with Trump’s visit to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is planning to cement ties with US President Donald Trump by investing $40bn in US infrastructure development, according to media reports.

The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund is set to announce the plans which may be unveiled next week to coincide with Trump’s visit to the kingdom, sources told Bloomberg on Thursday.

Trump will be making his first foreign trip since taking office on 19 May, visiting Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem then heading to Europe.

According to CNBC, Saudi Arabia has been expressing an interest in investing in the US for months.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told CNBC in March his government believed US infrastructure, in particular, was an attractive investment.

“The infrastructure program of President Trump and his administration is something that we’re interested in because it broadens our portfolio and it opens a new channel for secure, low-risk yet healthy return investments that we seek,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is also eager to reset relations with the new US administration after bilateral relations deteriorated under former US president Barack Obama, who brokered a historic 2015 nuclear deal with the kingdom’s chief regional rival Iran.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia claimed a “historic turning point” in relations after Trump met Riyadh’s deputy crown prince and minister of defense Mohammed bin Salman in the White House in March.

Following Trump’s meeting with Salman, whose father is the king, the White House issued a statement saying the president supports developing a “US-Saudi program undertaken by joint US-Saudi working groups” that would invest in energy, industry, infrastructure and technology.

The program would potentially be worth $200bn in direct and indirect investment in the next four years, the statement added.

Trump has said he intends to push for $1 trillion in US infrastructure investments over the next decade, with $200bn coming from taxpayers and the rest from the private sector.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude exporter, made an aggressive push to diversify its traditionally oil-dependent economy after the drop in global prices since 2014 slashed its revenues.

It has since planned to expand its sovereign wealth fund as part of its attempts to diversify away from oil after prices slumped.

Riyadh this week reported a mix of austerity measures and rising oil prices had helped cut its projected $53bn deficit by two-thirds.

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