The details of the Jared Kushner plan for peace in the Middle East are largely still secret. From what’s leaked, it appears the president’s son-in-law and close adviser developed something heavily dependent on future economic development initiatives instead of another “land for peace” deal.
If that’s true, it’s a welcomed change. The deal may be, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently suggested, “dead on arrival” but it’s still a good start. We’ve been down the “land for peace” path before and, with the arguable exception of the Egyptian-Israeli accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter, it leads nowhere.
The pursuit of peace is an effort at hope – something a mere change in borders or territorial alignments rarely provides. What’s really needed, and what the Kushner plan apparently promises, is the pathway for a better life, if not for the adult residents of the region than for their children and grandchildren. In a way, it’s the exporting of the American Dream to a place where far too many people have no dreams.
For that to work, the various regimes in the region will have to adapt and adopt western traditions, particularly those concerning the protection of property and the idea of equal justice under law. Tribal justice intended to benefit the king or the emir or the leading families at the expense of those trying to climb into or above the middle class must be set aside in favor of a revised system in which each man or woman has a fair chance.
Consider the case of Tameer, likely the largest real estate fraud case in the region’s history. Omar Jamal Ayesh, a Canadian citizen now living in the United States and formerly an owner of the company, says he was defrauded out of at least
$1.8 billion dollars by members of the Al Rajhi Saudi business dynasty closely tied to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known in the West as MBS.
The Dubai Supreme Court has ruled a series of transactions in which Tameer assets were transferred or sold to shell companies owned by the Al Rajhi family at reduced prices – when fair market value bids for the properties were also under consideration – creating a loss for him and the hundreds of deposits paid by customers, including Americans and Europeans.
For Ayesh the struggle for justice has been ten years in the making. MBS’s promotion of a member of the Al Rajhi family, Ahmed Al Rajhi, into his cabinet as Minister of Labor and Social Development has not helped matters. He has for years been a defendant in suits in the UAE for fraud and corruption brought by Ayesh as well as hundreds of cases brought by smaller customers. Joseph Carroll, an American who once lived in Abu Dhabi, has spent a decade trying to get the $270,000 he invested in two apartments in the Tameer Towers back. “In the past 10 years there has been no communication,” he told Arab News. “The towers have been stalled since 2011 and I have not received any compensation.”
The “aristocracy of pull,” Ayesh believes, is now working against him. He claims Ahmed Al Rajhi has used his political position to influence and obstruct court proceedings, threaten experts and witnesses, submit false reports to the courts by a major accounting firm and false testimonies by a major bank part-owned by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf International Bank, while refusing to respond to subpoenas or submit documents requested by the courts.
The case has broader implications beyond the individuals involved. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are trying to establish themselves as international commercial centers where sound legal frameworks and economic and political stability exist. None of that can happen moving forward if the royals and their lackeys end up being enriched while those who struggle to improve their living standards remain, from an economic standpoint, just where they are.
Aside from being wrong, at least from a western perspective, this kind of cronyism creates a breeding ground for the kind of dissent that gives life and lift to the kind of radicalism based religious pretexts that would love to bring down existing governments. If Ayesh is correct, and there are plenty of people who think he is, his personal plea for justice is really about something much more.
Ayesh has established The Global Justice Foundation to promote justice and raise standards of business ethics around the world. Its primary focus will be to shed international light on cases where people in positions of power and influence undermine justice, through corruption, racketeering and white-collar fraud.
Cases like Tameer send a message to foreign investors and reduce confidence in the region. If faith in the UAE and other countries as safe places for foreign investment is to be ensured, assurance is needed at the highest levels that even complex financial crimes involving prominent persons with political influence will be pursued vigorously. Outside actors like Ayesh’s group are an important part of that process as well as the peace process Kushner and President Donald Trump wish to promote.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom and a former U.S. News and World Report contributing editor who appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network.
He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.