Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The Bahrain conference aftermath: “No matter the amount of the investment proposed, nothing will change.”

By F.T Hupsel - July 01, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [US foreign policy] [Peace Process]

Much was said but little was achieved at the US-led economic workshop in Bahrain that ended on Wednesday 26 June. The refusal to address the political struggles on the ground while emphasising solely on economic investment undermined the effectiveness of the initiative.


Led by White House Senior Adviser, Jared Kushner, the two-day workshop was part of the Trump administration's long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which was supposed to be the first step of the proposal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians were represented by official delegations and many Arab nations that attended the workshop in Bahrain sent lower-level officials in a sign of their doubtfulness of the plan.

Palestinian leaders had already denounced and boycotted the summit prior to its beginning and urged other Arab states not to attend the workshop. 

Throughout the week, thousands of people expressed their continuous refusal of the conference in protests all over the West Bank and in Gaza, accusing it to be a pretext to normalise the occupation and adopt Israel’s position in future negotiations.

Palestinian officials said the workshop framework for trade and investment ignored their political aspirations for freedom and statehood, the fundamental issues that have been stressed for decades as crucial points for any peace negotiation.

General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr Mustafa Barghouti told Palestine Monitor at the rally that took place in Ramallah city on 24 June, Israeli control of Palestinian resources, economy and movement of people mean that no matter the amount of the investment proposed, nothing will change.

“We will not buy all these false promises, about economic development when we know we are not allowed to be in charge of our water, our land, our natural resources and our market,” Barghouti said.

Following the end of the workshop Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinian rights are not for sale, adding that a plausible political solution must precede any economic project.

“Despite all that has happened, we are holding on to the aspirations for peace on the basis of international law, signed agreements and the Arab peace plan,” Abbas stated.

The Arab Peace Initiative is a 2002 proposal led by Saudi Arabia for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It calls for Israel to withdraw from all territory annexed in the 1967 war and give way to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, in exchange for peace with Arab countries in the region.

Unreachable promises

During the Bahrain workshop, Kushner laid down the goal to provide one million new Palestinian jobs through $50bn of investment in tourism, infrastructure and education in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab countries, which the US is hoping the wealthy Gulf states will bankroll.

Saudi Arabia, a close ally to the Trump administration, reaffirmed its position the Arab Peace Initiative was the only way to solve the conflict. 

According to the Guardian, the plan was also less than enthusiastically received by Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

The plan also proposed a $5bn transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza Strip together.

“Imagine a bustling tourist centre in Gaza and the West Bank,” Kushner said. “Imagine people and goods flowing securely throughout the region as people become more prosperous. This is not a stretch,” he added.

But Kushner’s proposal to link the West Bank to Gaza by a 25-mile transit corridor is a concept that has been rejected repeatedly by Israel senior officials.

In an interview with CNN following the end of the workshop, Kushner also refused to say if the US still supports a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, referring to it as “old-school vernacular”.

Regarding the crucial political issues, Kushner said, “We’ll get to them at the right time,” which is expected to come at least after November, once Israel holds new elections and forms a new government.

Two days before the workshop started, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, travelled around the Jordan Valley, which accounts for 28 per cent of the West Bank, with the US National Security Adviser, John Bolton. 

Netanyahu said that in any possibility of a future peace deal, “Israel must maintain their presence there.”

A protester in the city of Hebron, where demonstrations and clashes were seen throughout the week of the summit, told Palestine Monitor under anonymity that Bahrain is meaningless and that the US and Israel never intended to make any compromises regarding the Palestinian struggle.

“It's a joke, they want us dead or out of here. Even when they talk about a state, they say the settlements will have to stay. What kind of state do they want to give us? If you talk about peace, they have to end the occupation,” he said.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said on Tuesday that the US as a mediator and the workshop in itself are highly controversial. In August last year, Washington announced an end to all US funding for the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees. 

"The same team that cut 350 million dollars of aid to refugee camps goes to Manama to say we have a brilliant plan to bring Palestinians a new chance, a new opportunity." 

The US cuts were widely seen as a way of putting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to re-engage with the White House, the same way the workshop is being seen as a way to normalise the relationship between Israel and Arab countries while asserting Israel’s leverage in future negotiations.

Blamed once again

As Jared Kushner talked of bad Palestinian governance, the Palestinian people being let down, and his hope of violence ending in the region, no mention of the occupation or blame was attributed to Israel.

International relations lecturer at Tel-Aviv University and a senior analyst for I24News, Dr Emmanuel Navon, told Palestine Monitor that all the deals presented have been unreachable for the past decades because every time, Palestinians refused to sign the agreements and recognise Israel’s legitimacy.

“Again, as of today, there seems to be no chance of any Palestinian leader adopting this stance, Arafat refused to do it, Abbas refused to do it and I am not even talking about Hamas, which also becomes the elephant in the room.”

In parallel with the Bahrain workshop, Hamas and other Palestinian factions, including the PLO, participated in a conference hosted in Beirut, which aimed to discuss the future of Palestine. 

Palestinian Deputy Premier, Ziad Abu, declared that Palestinians must build on the unity that Gaza and the West Bank had witnessed, to engage with the world and draw on the consent of the Bahrain aftermath.

With no concrete concessions from Washington on Israel’s everlasting occupation, the true obstacles for Palestinian prosperity might still be present for a long time.


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