Thursday, June 13, 2019

Bahrain Conference: May Succeed But Not At Bringing Israeli-Palestinian Peace


Bahrain conference may succeed, but not at bringing Israeli-Palestinian peace




This month’s US-sponsored economic “workshop” in Bahrain now seems set to be a smashing success, so long as success is defined as getting Israelis and moderate Arab states talking openly.
As for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the conference may end up pushing that dream even further away.
The long list of countries planning to attend the conference — the first, economic,  stage of the White House’s wider plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal — marks an achievement for the US.

With Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar now signed up, Washington has managed to gather the Arab world’s most important countries in one place to discuss, under the auspices of the administration of Donald Trump, ways to improve the Palestinian economy — despite the implacable opposition of the intended beneficiaries, the Palestinians.
While Israel has yet to receive an official invite, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is widely expected to attend the June 25-26 meeting in Manama. Channel 13 reported earlier this week that the US organizers were waiting for more Arab countries to RSVP before they extend a formal invitation to the Jewish state. That was before Egypt and Jordan defied Ramallah’s boycott pleas and got on board. Given the strong ties between the administration and the Israeli government, there is little doubt that Israel will now be a welcome guest at the summit.
As this writer noted on these pages three weeks ago, the mere fact that Bahrain agreed to host a meeting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, held under the auspices of a White House widely seen as hostile to the Palestinians, and opposed by the Palestinians, was already extraordinary.
Since then, six Arab states, four of which do not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel, have indicated that they, too, are ready to sit in one room with representatives of the Zionist regime and the Trump administration — which has done nothing but anger Ramallah, including by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and cutting most financial aid to Palestinian causes.
Since Washington and Manama announced the “Peace for Prosperity” workshop with a joint statement on May 19, the Palestinian Authority has done everything it can to sabotage the event, repeatedly urging Arab governments to stay away — to little avail. Lebanon has unsurprisingly publicly repudiated the summit, citing the Palestinians’ refusal to attend, though it’s far from clear that Beirut was invited in the first place. Iraq is more politely staying away. (Iran, inevitably, has castigated the gathering from the get-go.)





But the Arab world’s most important players, including the Palestinians’ closest neighbors, are all going, leaving the PA with little to do beside express “deep regret” and keep calling on “all brotherly and friendly countries to withdraw from participating in the workshop,” as PA government spokesman Ibrahim Melhim said this week.
“How can the workshop take place in a brotherly Arab country,” senior Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad asked plaintively, “in the absence of the main stakeholder?” Acknowledging that this is precisely what is about to happen, he then added churlishly: “Whatever the results of the workshop, there is no legal value to it as long as the stakeholders oppose it.”
Some may argue that al-Ahmad’s complaint was both disingenuous and dryly amusing: How can the Palestinians protest about the main stakeholder being absent when it is they who decided to absent themselves?
Either way, the growing list of attendees shows that the cynicism with which many pundits initially dismissed the conference was premature. It may be a wedding without a bride, as some analysts sneered, but at least the groom gets to hang out, in public, with many members of the regional family he rarely gets to see.

The question is whether, when (or if) the US administration releases the political part of its peace plan, Cairo, Amman and Riyadh will defy the US and brusquely reject it, or whether the Trump White House will have the success it seeks in shifting those long-held positions, with Bahrain as a gentle starting point.
There is a real likelihood that even these Arab leaders who are going to Bahrain will, when the real core issues are being discussed, respond to the administration by saying, “We were open-minded enough to participate in your economic workshop, which did not make us popular among supporters of the Palestinian cause, but you cannot expect us to also support the second, core part of your proposal.”
If so, the success of Bahrain will be rendered irrelevant by the failure portended by the Palestinians’ boycott.


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