By Arab News
By Frank Kane*
Business leaders from the US and the Middle East reacted with guarded enthusiasm to the Peace to Prosperity plan presented by White House special adviser Jared Kushner to an audience of global decision-makers in Bahrain’s capital Manama.
Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of the big investment business Blackstone Group, said the plan “could happen in the right circumstances. We all have to have a dream, and this is a very sensible dream.”
Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of the UAE property and leisure group Emaar, said Palestine is very important for all Arabs.
“The issue is very close to our hearts. Everyone of us is Palestinian at heart, and I feel I represent them here tonight,” he said in reference to the absence of Palestinian Authority delegates at the event.
Earlier, the audience of business leaders and policymakers from around the world listened attentively as Kushner unveiled details of the $50 billion plan to revive the Palestinian and regional economy.
He is hoping to attract investment from Middle Eastern and other governments, as well as private enterprise from around the world, for the proposals, which are designed to revive the Palestinian economy, create 1 million jobs and cut the poverty rate in the occupied territories.
About $27 billion of the total is earmarked for Palestine, and only 20 percent of that will be straight equity.
“That’s only $5.5 billion, and it’s not that much money. It’s a good-sized proposal you’d expect to be financing at the World Bank,” Schwarzman said.
“This type of transformation is financially doable. It’s a question of whether there’s the political will.”
Alabbar said he had been a big investor in the region around Palestine for 12 years, and in some ways it was easier to do business in the Middle East than in North America, where getting planning permission for big developments could take as long as seven years.
He pointed to Emaar’s successful developments in Serbia as an example of “a war-torn region that has come good.”
Schwarzman gave examples from his firm’s investments in Uganda and Poland as the kind of transformational investments Palestine needs.
Both men were asked what effect Kushner’s proposals would have shown in two years’ time. “I think we’d all be overjoyed if this situation was normalized,” Schwarzman replied. Alabbar said: “I think the velocity of the change could surprise us all positively.”