Editor's Notes: Post-Bahrain moves

Without a clear and open outline to the “Deal of the Century,” it is hard to determine how the future plan will fare.

July 28, 2019 00:22
3 minute read.
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Jpost editorial logo . (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)

The Jerusalem Post’s Omri Nahmias reported from Washington last week that US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team of Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, Brian Hook and Avi Berkowitz will visit the region in the first week of August to follow up on the Bahrain Peace and Prosperity workshop that was held in Manama in June. The team is expected to travel to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, as well as Israel.

“We are trying to keep the momentum of the Bahrain workshop,” an official told Nahmias.

The visit is intended to finalize the economic component of the peace plan, the official said, and to discuss possible means of funding the administration’s vision. Some $50 billion in investments, loans and mega-financial projects to help the Palestinians and some struggling Arab states were discussed as part of the Peace and Prosperity initiative.

The four US envoys will reportedly discuss where such a fund should be based. The Trump team apparently supports locating it in Bahrain in an effort to show that different countries in the region stand behind the plan, according to the official.

Without a clear and open outline to the “Deal of the Century,” it is hard to determine how the future plan will fare. Add to this the unstable nature of the region, the Palestinian boycott of the US initiative, the upcoming elections in Israel and Trump’s erratic style of foreign policy, and making predictions becomes harder.

Doomsayers are already announcing the yet-to-be presented deal dead on arrival. They stress that the Palestinians are not willing to accept a financial deal, however attractive, instead of statehood. They also note that the US administration’s moves such as relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, cutting funding for UNRWA, and acknowledging Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – all welcomed by Israel – have resulted in the Palestinians seeing the Trump administration as biased in Israel’s favor.

It is, however, important that the Trump team doesn’t give up after the Bahrain workshop. Its success might have been modest – certainly less than what the Americans had hoped for – but the workshop did signal a new approach and a new rapprochement. Israeli business delegates freely mixed with attendees from the Arab world at the meetings in Manama, and Israeli journalists, including the Post’s Herb Keinon, were able to carry out interviews and report on the events.

In one such interview, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa went as far as telling Channel 13’s Barak Ravid, “Israel is a country in the Middle East. Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region historically. So the Jewish people have a place among us.”

Since then, Foreign Minister Israel Katz has been openly photographed in Washington with his Bahraini counterpart and has traveled recently to Abu Dhabi.

It is also no longer a secret that Saudi Arabia, a strong American ally that feels threatened by Iran, is also increasing ties – at least from a security and defense point of view – with Israel. The Trump team seems eager to encourage further acceptance of Israel within the Middle East. While all the Arab countries continue to pay lip service to the importance of Palestinian statehood, faced with the external threat of Shi’ite Iranian belligerency and the dangers from Sunni jihadists within, it is understandable why there is increasing sympathy for Israel and less for the Palestinians, who continue to play the poor refugee card seven decades after Israel was established.

A peace treaty does not seem likely any time in the near future, but in separating the economic component from the political, Kushner and Greenblatt, the initiative’s main architects, might be able to achieve something previous administrations have not: a form of economic stability that could reduce tensions instead of fanning them.

As Israelis are only too well aware, since the Oslo Accords 25 years ago, every diplomatic peace initiative has resulted in a wave of Palestinian terrorism. While concentrating on the economic aspects will not solve the political conflict, it is more likely to be beneficial to all. There are no instant diplomatic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there is good reason to encourage the prosperity aspects of the Trump administration’s plan in the knowledge that there can be no peace without economic wellbeing. The Trump peace team’s visit might be only a small step, but it is a step in the right direction.

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