Bahrain on Tuesday defended its decision to host a White House-engineered conference to address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, saying its only objective is to support the “brotherly Palestinian people.”
While the Palestinian Authority rejected a White House-sponsored economic conference planned for next month in Bahrain, which is part of the rollout of President Trump’s long-awaited Israel-Palestinian plan, Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, tweeted that his country respects the Palestinian leadership’s steadfast position safeguarding Palestinian rights, but also defended his country’s decision to host a conference to address the Middle East crisis.
In a statement issued on Sunday by the White House announcing the upcoming economic workshop to be held in Manama in Bahrain on June 25th and 26th, the conference billed as “Peace to Prosperity” will serve as a “pivotal opportunity to convene government, civil society, and business leaders to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”
According to the White House, the “Peace to Prosperity” forum will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth. If implemented, this vision has the potential to radically transform lives and put the region on a path toward a brighter future.
“I look forward to these important discussions about a vision that will offer Palestinians exciting new opportunities to realize their full potential. This workshop will engage leaders from across the entire Middle East to promote economic growth and opportunity for the people in this important region,” said United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin.
“The ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop underscores the close strategic partnership between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States as well as the strong and shared interest in creating thriving economic opportunities that benefit the region,” stated Bahrain Minister of Finance and National Economy Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.
According to an AP report, Bahrain’s foreign minister said that both the official and popular position of Bahrain “has been and continues to be championing the brotherly Palestinian people in the restoration of their legitimate rights in their land and an independent state with its capital as east Jerusalem, additionally economically supporting the Palestinian people.”
The conference “serves no other purpose” than to help the Palestinian people “through developing their abilities and enhancing their resources,” said Bahrain’s foreign minister.
The eventual peace plan is expected to feature proposals for regional economic development that would include Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working to rally key Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar and others, to help bankroll economic incentives that could get Palestinians to buy into its Mideast plan, according to an AP report.
Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are widely believed to be seeking closer ties to Israel, viewing it as a potential ally against Iran, a shared enemy.
The report also indicated that Rabbi Marc Schneier, (the presiding spiritual leader of the Hamptons Synagogue in Long Island), who was appointed special adviser by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, said he knows of no other Gulf leader that has been more preoccupied with establishing relations with Israel and bringing other Gulf states onboard.
The AP reported that Schneier said King Hamad told him in a 2016 meeting in the palace that “our only hope for a strong, moderate Arab voice in the Gulf is a strong Israel.” He noted that the king also sent an interfaith delegation from Bahrain to Jerusalem not long after the Trump administration moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in recognition of it as Israel’s capital.
“It’s not a question of Bahrain being a participant. They have led this effort, at least since I’ve known the king for eight years,” Schneier said, adding that it’s no wonder that the king “would embrace” the opportunity to host the Mideast meeting.
According to an Al Jazeera report, Palestinian officials said the conference would not address the core political issues of the conflict: final borders, the status of Jerusalem, or the fate of Palestinian refugees.
“The cabinet wasn’t consulted about the reported workshop, neither over the content, nor the outcome nor timing,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.
“Any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political … and based on ending the occupation,” he added.
This statement was reiterated by Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “We were not consulted by any party on the announced meeting to take place in Manama, Bahrain,” he said. “We have not mandated any party to negotiate on our behalf.”
He added that, “Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected.”
The Palestinians, who severed ties with the United States more than a year ago, have repeatedly expressed fears that the White House would try to buy them off with large sums of investment in exchange for freezing their demands for an independent state. They have also expressed concerns that Washington is trying to rally support from other Arab countries to pressure them into accepting a plan they see as unacceptable.
Al Jazeera reported that Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani, meanwhile, said Palestinian officials would not attend the June meeting.
“There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop,” Majdalani, who is also a member of the executive committee of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Reuters news agency.
“Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel.”
On that note, the Times of Israel has reported that Bashar Masri, a Palestinian industrialist with vast business holdings throughout Judea and Samaria, has said he had turned down an invitation to the conference.
“I will not participate in this conference, and none of the representatives of our companies will participate,” he wrote on Facebook. “We reaffirm our clear position: We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that former PA minister of information Nabil Amr, welcomed the US administration’s decision to delay the announcement of the political part of the deal and described it as an “important step in the right direction.”
In an interview with Maan news agency, Amr also welcomed the workshop “on condition that it does not come as an alternative to a political solution, which is the basis for tackling the conflict on the Palestinian-Israeli track.” Amr called on the Palestinian leadership to be more open to the political developments in the region and the world and to positively engage with influential forces in the international arena, including the US.
Having recently been denied a visa to the visit the United States, Hanan Ashwari, a longtime PLO representative and aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, slammed the planned Bahrain meeting, saying it was not “a peace plan, “ according to an Al Jazeera report.
“This is just an economic workshop and another way of rewarding Israel again and maintaining Israel’s control of our land and resources,” Ashrawi told Al Jazeera.
“It is the Americans who have rejected everything so far; from the law to the agreements, to the basic requirements of peace to the components of any viable peace process … It shows a lack of understanding of the issues of the region,” she added.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, also affiliated with the PLO – condemned the conference as a “stab in the back of the Palestinians and their martyrs and prisoners. The workshop, the group said, “marks a departure from the resolutions of the Arab summits and is a suspicious embroilment in the American-Israeli project to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Ahmed al-Mudalal said the Palestinians reject economic initiatives that are part of a deal to “erase” the Palestinian cause.
Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, said it was “difficult to understand why the Palestinian Authority would reject a workshop designed to discuss a vision with the potential to radically transform lives and put people on a path toward a brighter future.”
“History will judge the Palestinian Authority harshly for passing up any opportunity that could give the Palestinians something so very different, and something so very positive, compared to what they have today,” Greenblatt said.
“Our economic plan is an ambitious but achievable vision; it presents an alternative path with the potential to unlock a prosperous future for the Palestinian people if they choose to follow it,” Greenblatt said.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor who is also the chief architect of the “Deal of the Century” said that it had been disheartening that the Palestinian leadership had attacked the Middle East peace plan before it is unveiled.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Kushner said, “The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives. Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved.”
According to the TOI report, David Friedman, the United States Ambassador to Israel has embraced the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce,” a group led by Jewish settlers that seeks business alliances with Palestinian partners. The group’s Palestinian co-founder, businessman Ashraf Jabari, said he had been invited and planned on attending.
It is unclear how any large-scale projects would be carried out in the Gaza Strip. The US and Israel consider Gaza’s Hamas rulers to be a terrorist group and have no direct contacts with them.
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