Come to Bahrain

There should be little surprise in the Palestinian rejection. Arafat turned down a generous offer in 2000 and Abbas never responded to an offer in 2008.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding, in Ramallah on December 31 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding, in Ramallah on December 31
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinians, once again, seem like they are on the verge of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Last week, the US and Bahrain jointly issued a communique announcing an “economic workshop” in Manama in June, calling it the first phase in the Trump administration’s rollout of its long-awaited peace plan and as expected, the Palestinians rejected it.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the Palestinians and their leaders were not seeking an improvement of living conditions “under the occupation.” The Palestinian government, he said, was not consulted about the planned workshop – “not concerning its inputs or outputs, its timing or even its form and content.”
This is unfortunate. While we, too, are skeptical that the Trump administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century” will in fact succeed in bringing peace to the Middle East, the Palestinian Authority should not simply reject it outright. Doing so is a disappointment to the Palestinian people and a failure in the test of real leadership.
Any peace plan – no matter who puts it forth – needs to include a serious and comprehensive economic chapter. The administration has gone to lengths to explain that the workshop in Bahrain is not supposed to come in place of a diplomatic or political resolution to the conflict, but is rather meant to accompany it.
Nevertheless, there should be little surprise in the Palestinian rejection. Yasser Arafat turned down a generous offer Ehud Barak made to him in Camp David in 2000 and Mahmoud Abbas never responded to an offer he received from Ehud Olmert in 2008. In 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze settlement construction and in 2014 he approved a series of prisoner releases all in a bid to get the Palestinians to come to the table. Unfortunately, it did not work.
Palestinian intransigence is a recurring theme. They receive offer after offer and always find an excuse to turn them down. The excuse being used now is that the Americans are one-sided, are biased toward Israel and are trying to bribe the Palestinians with money to relinquish their rights to the land and to an independent state.
How about a different approach? Why not attend the Bahraini economic workshop, participate in the forum and challenge the Americans and the Israelis to make the concessions needed to achieve a sustainable and lasting peace? Throw the ball back into the Israeli side of the court and see if Netanyahu and the new government he is trying to form, are able to reciprocate.
The answer might be that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah doesn’t really want peace. Abbas and his colleagues at the helm of the PLO and Fatah, seem to prefer for the conflict to continue so they can ensure the survival of their regime and power. If there was peace, what narrative would they tell their people? They would have to make economic reforms that would come at a price and would need to create institutions with full transparency that would reveal the corruption said to be entrenched in the Palestinian Authority.
If there was peace, Abbas would have to hold real, free and open elections, something he has not agreed to since 2005. If there were elections, Abbas would face challengers and might lose. Going to Bahrain therefore jeopardizes it all.
The reason to still go though is because both peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – deserve better. They deserve a reality – or at the very least – a genuine attempt to end this conflict. Young Palestinians in their twenties don’t know Israelis beyond the soldiers they see throughout the West Bank and young Israelis don’t know Palestinians except for the few who are allowed into Israel to work.
There could be a different reality. It might not look like the one the world has imagined since the Oslo Accords were signed by Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin at the White House in 1993, but with real leadership there is a chance.
This is the ultimate test of leadership – do they try to improve the reality of their peoples or do they work for their own fortune and survival. Leaders, on both sides, need to be prepared to take personal risks and pay personal political prices. Let Bahrain be the first step.