Bahrain summit has united Palestinians, but not how U.S. intended

The Palestinian public, including business leaders and Palestinian political factions, is united in its rejection of the Bahrain conference.

By
June 21, 2019 00:17
Palestinian protesters burn a poster depicting US President Donald Trump and a US flag

Palestinian protesters burn a poster depicting US President Donald Trump and a representation of a US flag during a protest against Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City . (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)

On the eve of the US-sponsored “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain, PA officials appear to be in good spirits.

The Palestinian public, including business leaders and Palestinian political factions, is united in its rejection of the Bahrain conference. Even the Palestinian Authority’s rivals in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups have come out in support of its strong rejection of the conference.

Remarkably, the Bahrain workshop and the upcoming “Deal of the Century” have managed to achieve what the Egyptians and other Arabs have utterly failed to do: Palestinian national unity.

With the exception of five Arab states, most Arabs have heeded the Palestinian call for boycotting the conference, where the US administration is expected to unveil the economic portion of its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”

For the first time in two years, the Palestinians feel that they have dealt a blow to US President Donald Trump’s administration, which they consider to be one of the most anti-Palestinian governments in US history.

Buoyed by the unanimous Palestinian opposition to the conference, Palestinian officials this week declared victory and boasted that their efforts have thwarted the workshop even before it began.

According to the officials, the firm positions of PA President Mahmoud Abbas toward the Trump administration, as well as Palestinian diplomatic efforts, are hindering Washington’s “schemes” in the region.

“The Americans are holding a wedding without a groom or bride,” said a senior adviser to Abbas. “If I were in their place, I would cancel the wedding to avoid embarrassment.”

The Bahrain workshop was “born dead from the beginning,” said top Fatah official Jibril Rajoub.

“The Palestinians have thwarted the Bahrain conference,” boasted Nabil Abu Rudaineh, the longtime spokesman of the Palestinian Mukata presidential compound.

In the past few weeks, the Palestinians have been moving on two tracks to foil the Bahrain workshop.

The first is the Palestinian track, where the Palestinian leadership did not face difficulty in persuading Palestinians to boycott the conference. However, the second track – the Arab states – has not been smooth for the Palestinian leadership.

According to sources in Ramallah, at least 100 Palestinian businessmen have received invitations from the US administration to attend the Bahrain workshop. Some of the business leaders did not even wait for the official Palestinian rejection of the conference and rushed to announce that they would not participate.

The first businessman who announced that he had turned down the invitation was Bashar Masri, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur and founder of the hi-tech city Rawabi.

In a Facebook post he published shortly after the US announced the launching of the workshop in Bahrain on June 25, Masri said: “I have been invited to speak at the so-called ‘Peace to Prosperity” conference in Manama, but I will not attend. Nor will any representative of our companies participate. We reaffirm our clear position: We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus. We Palestinians are capable of advancing our economy away from external interference. The idea of economic peace is an old one that is now being presented differently. As our people previously rejected it, we reject it now.”

Following Masri’s announcement, dozens of Palestinian businessmen jumped on the bandwagon, making it known that they, too, have turned down the invitation to attend the Bahrain conference.

For a while, it appeared as if the businessmen were competing over who was the first to turn down the US invitation.

In their statements, the business leaders parroted talking points that seemed to be taken directly from the official communiques of the Palestinian leadership: “Palestine is not for sale,” “Jerusalem is not for sale,” “Our people can’t be bribed” and “No to economic prosperity at the expense of Palestinian rights.”

Osama Amro, chairman of the Palestinian Businessmen Association, said that Palestinian businessmen and companies rejected the invitation “because they are committed to the position of the Palestinian leadership.”

Echoing Masri’s statement, Amro warned that any Palestinian who agrees to participate in the conference would be “acting against the Palestinian national consensus.”

Amro said that his group has also been in contact with businessmen and companies in Arab countries to urge them to boycott the conference.

Explaining his decision to boycott the Bahrain conference, Zahi Khouri, chairman of the Palestinian National Beverage Company, said that the workshop was tantamount to a manicure treatment for a woman while strangling her.

“The White House is humiliating the Palestinians by talking about improving their living conditions before fulfilling their national aspirations,” he said.

Another prominent Palestinian businessman, Mazen Sinokrot, a former minister of national economy, said that the Palestinians are seeking an “end to occupation, not prosperity under occupation.”

Asked why he rejected the US invitation to attend a conference whose aim is to boost the Palestinian economy and improve Palestinians’ living conditions, a businessman from Nablus said: “This conference is part of the ‘Deal of the Century,’ which is a big American-Israeli conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian cause and national rights. The Americans think they can bribe us to make concessions on our rights. They don’t understand that for the Palestinians, the conflict is not about the economy or improving living conditions.”

He and other Palestinian business leaders who spoke to The Jerusalem Post this week said that in light of the Trump administration’s “blind bias” in favor of Israel and “anti-Palestinian policies,” it was naive on the part of US officials to assume that any Palestinian would agree to attend next week’s Bahrain conference.

“Trump’s advisers are disconnected from reality,” said a businessman from Ramallah. “Do they really believe that any Palestinian would be foolish enough to accept an invitation to a US-sponsored conference, after all the anti-Palestinian measures Trump took in the past two years? Do they really believe that any credible Palestinian would publicly defy the Palestinian leadership and go to a conference that is seen by most Palestinians as part of a dangerous conspiracy against our people?”

Some of the business leaders who turned down the US invitation said they were also worried about the economic price they would pay for defying the Palestinian call for boycotting the workshop.

“How can any businessman operating under the Palestinian Authority and subject to its laws and regulations go against the political decisions of the leadership?” asked a Ramallah-based company owner. “We have more to lose by challenging the Palestinian government and public. It’s like asking us to commit suicide.”

In private, however, a few owners of small businesses said this week that if it were up to them, they would have accepted the invitation and traveled to Bahrain to discuss various economic projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PA’s fierce opposition to the Bahrain conference and Trump’s “anti-Palestinian” policies and decisions are the two main obstacles, they said.

The Palestinian leadership’s fiery anti-Trump rhetoric over the past two years – including strong condemnations and personal slurs against US presidential advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador David Friedman – has made it impossible, if not dangerous, for any Palestinian to be seen doing any kind of business with the current administration.

Palestinians have good reason to be afraid.

Several Palestinian officials and factions have warned that anyone who attends the US-led conference will be considered a traitor. No Palestinian wants to be identified on social media for “collaboration” with Israel and the Trump administration. In recent weeks, social media users have stepped up their campaign against the Bahrain conference, dubbing it a “dangerous American-Zionist conspiracy” against the Palestinian people.

They have also taken the battle to the streets.

Palestinian leaders and representatives of various political factions, including Abbas’s Fatah group, have called for a series of mass protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next week to voice their opposition to the Bahrain conference and the “Deal of the Century.”

Some have even gone as far as calling on Palestinians to clash with IDF soldiers near their communities.

Although the Palestinian campaign against the Bahrain conference has been less successful on the Arab front, Palestinian officials believe that the participation of a small number of Arab states is meaningless.

“Even those Arabs who are going to Bahrain are saying that they will have a symbolic presence,” said Palestinian political analyst Abdel Karim Saleh. “The Arabs also know that they are not mandated to represent the Palestinians at this conference or any other international forum.”

Celebrating their “victory,” Abbas and his Fatah faction are now trying to score points with the Palestinian and Arab street by taking credit for foiling the US administration’s plans in the region. As far as they are concerned, thanks to the Palestinian boycott, the Trump administration has failed in its effort to portray the Bahrain conference as a landmark development in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

To demonstrate how fruitful their efforts have been, Fatah leaders on Wednesday quoted a statement made by Greenblatt, who said on Twitter: “Fatah spoils another opportunity for co-existence & and what could/should be the norm.”

Although Greenblatt was commenting on Fatah’s decision to expel from its ranks a West Bank mayor for allegedly inviting settlers to his son’s wedding, PA and Fatah media outlets published an article titled “Greenblatt accuses Fatah of sabotaging the Deal of the Century.”

It should be noted that the US envoy made no reference whatsoever to the “Deal of the Century.” His comment specifically referred to a story in the Post about Fatah’s decision to expel the mayor of Deir Qaddis, after a video showed four settlers dancing and being held on shoulders at the wedding.

Nonetheless, for the Fatah leaders, the Greenblatt accusation is a badge of honor, which they present to their people as proof of how the Palestinian leadership has humiliated the Trump administration.

Palestinian officials say that now that they have “foiled” the Bahrain workshop, they still have to roll up their sleeves and work hard to ensure that the political aspect of the “Deal of the Century” will meet the same fate.

“It’s not over till it’s over,” said an official with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We know that we still have a lot of work ahead of us, if we want to stop Trump’s evil plan.”


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