After years of anticipation and preparation, the first part of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan – the economic part – will be rolled out Tuesday evening and Wednesday at a luxury hotel in Manama, Bahrain.
While dozens of government officials and representatives from around the world will take part – including from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco – there will be no government representation from Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
This has led some critics of the workshop – and there are many – to quip that it is like a wedding without the participation of the bride and groom.
The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the “Peace to Prosperity Workshop,” saying it is an effort to “bribe” the Palestinians, and Bahrain decided not to invite any Israeli government officials when it became apparent that no PA officials would be on hand.
Israeli officials said that when the PA understood they would be unable – despite their best efforts – to prevent Arab countries from participating, they pressed Bahrain not to invite Israeli government officials so that the conference did not appear as a vehicle to “normalize” relations with Israel.
The long-standing Palestinian position is that normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab world can only take place after there is a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, not before.
The Trump administration released the plan on Saturday. It proposes that some $50 billion be invested in 179 infrastructure, education, trade and tourism projects in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. Some $28 billion is proposed for the West Bank and Gaza – including a transportation link between the two areas.
Among those attending the meeting will be US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, and finance ministry representatives from around the world, including the Gulf states.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in an interview with the Russian network RT that his country is participating in the conference, because it is important to “listen to this proposition and evaluate it.” “We have the right to evaluate it, view it and develop a vision about it, but the final decision about it goes back to the main stakeholder – the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
Expectations for the conference are low, and over the last few weeks – and with increasing intensity after the White House released the plan Saturday night – pundits and a number of officials who have been involved in the peace process in the past have sharply criticized it.
Yossi Beilin – chairman of the Geneva Initiative, who was one of the key architects of the Oslo Accords and led an economic conference in Jordan in 1995 – told The Jerusalem Post that by releasing the economic chapter of the peace plan before the diplomatic one, the administration was “putting the second act before the first.”
He said that the plan is viewed among Palestinians as a “bribe,” and that “anyone who knows a little about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Palestinian life and culture, knows that honor is much more important than money.”
Beilin said that while he does not think the US is trying to “bribe” the Palestinians, the economic plan needed to come after the diplomatic plan, not before. “If there is no diplomatic plan,” he said, “and you don’t know what the diplomatic solution is, you can’t talk about economic projects.”
For instance, he asked, how is it possible to discuss about a link from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, without knowing where it goes, and who has sovereignty over it?
Beilin said that what is being rolled out in Bahrain is not a plan, but a “nice list of projects that you can do during peace.” This type of exercise, he said was done in the past. He called the effort “amateurish,” and that putting the economic plan first was a “rookie error.”
US mediator Jason Greenblatt, one of the architects of the plan, retweeted an op-ed in support of it that appeared on CNN’s website which was written by Jon Lerner, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who served as deputy to UN ambassador Nikki Haley in 2017-2018.
Lerner took to task the critics of the plan, saying they “adopt the odd view that, although all past efforts have failed, we must never deviate from them. They are offended by alterations to old formulas, when the old formulas achieved no peace.
“The Trump administration is no less committed to peace than its predecessors,” Lerner wrote. “The key difference is that Trump does not feel tied down by the unsuccessful formulas of the past, and he and his team are willing to openly challenge that conventional thinking.”
Lerner wrote that the vision presented in Bahrain will “demonstrate the enormous potential for lifting up the lives of millions of Palestinians,” and said “this is no small thing.”
“Critics will quickly point out that an economic plan alone won’t bring peace. No one disputes that,” he argued. “But while political leaders gravitate toward the hottest button issues, no one should sell short the importance economic conditions play in the lives of ordinary people.”
Lerner wrote that the Trump plan “contains specific and realistic projects that could double Palestinian GDP, create a million new jobs in Gaza and the West Bank, and cut poverty in half. Imagine what that would do to the lives of millions of Palestinian young people, who would face a far better future than they face today.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 12 decided on Monday not to send anyone to cover the Bahrain workshop after the White House invited its chief anchor Yonit Levi to cover the event, rather than its chief diplomatic correspondent Dana Weiss.
When its requests to have Weiss included in the invitation were turned down, the station decided not to send anyone – in an apparent statement that only they will decide who to send to cover events.
Some of Weiss’s reporting in the past has apparently ruffled feathers in the White House.
Neither Weiss, Channel 12, nor the White House had any comment on the matter.
In an unprecedented move, and at Washington’s urging, Bahrain invited six Israeli media outlets, including The Jerusalem Post
, to cover the workshop – the first time Israeli journalists have been allowed in the country since columnist Yossi Sarid, who was Israel’s environment minister, participated in a conference in Bahrain on environmental issues in 1994.
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