Palestinians cold-shouldered from major US-Bahraini economic ‘peace’ workshop

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A Palestinian boy carries national flags at a demonstration near the border with Israel in Malaka, east of Gaza City. (AFP/File photo)
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US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017. (AFP/File)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Palestinians cold-shouldered from major US-Bahraini economic ‘peace’ workshop

  • Palestinians boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
  • Washington said the conference will unveil part of Trump’s peace deal

AMMAN: Palestinian political and business leaders claim they have been cold-shouldered from taking part in a major US-Bahraini-led economic “peace” workshop planned for later this month.

Finance ministers along with world and regional business chiefs are expected to attend the “Peace for Prosperity” conference to be held in the Bahraini capital Manama on June 25 and 26.

But Palestinian officials insisted they had not been consulted about the event and had received no invitations to attend.

Leading Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds ran a four-column headline in red stating that US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, had said the American peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians had been postponed indefinitely.

A senior US official told CNN that the political part of the plan would be released at a later stage. “This is not economic peace only. The economic plan is not instead of the political plan. They both go hand-in-hand, but we decided to release it in two phases so people will have an easier time digesting it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has regularly called for an economic peace initiative for the region.

Speaking to CNN, Kushner said: “People are letting their grandfathers’ conflict destroy their children’s futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtayeh opened his Cabinet meeting on Monday by reiterating that Palestinians were not consulted about the event, its timing, location or content. “Palestinians are not looking to improve the conditions of life under occupation, and the financial difficulties that are felt today are a result of a financial war waged on Palestinians with the aim of political blackmail.”

In a statement, PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also denounced the US plans and said the PLO was not “consulted by any party on the announced meeting to take place in Manana, Bahrain.”

He added: “The Trump administration’s vision is being implemented on the ground with their decisions and positions on Jerusalem, settlements and refugees, among others.”

Hanan Ashrawi, an elected member of the PLO executive committee and the Palestinian legislature, said that the Kushner workshop was an attempt to sidestep the legal and political imperatives of a just peace.

“We are perfectly capable of building a vibrant economy once we control our land, resources, borders and lives. Integrating Israel in the Arab world while maintaining its brutal occupation of Palestine is delusional.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Arab foreign and finance ministers have reportedly been invited to the workshop as have some Palestinian businessmen.

• But Palestinian officials insisted they had not been consulted about the event and had received no invitations to attend.

The US official who spoke to CNN said the workshop would have four key components namely infrastructure, industry, empowering and investing in people, and governance reforms.

Arab foreign and finance ministers have reportedly been invited to the workshop as have some Palestinian businessmen.

But Samir Hazboun, head of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he was not aware of anyone who had been asked to attend. “We just read about it from the newspaper. No one in any of the chambers of commerce were invited as far as I know.”

Hazboun told Arab News that he and his team had been working with the Palestinian government on a 100-day plan that would include “practical ways to speed up separation from Israel and to become more economically dependent on our own.”

Nablus businessman, Saleem Sweidan, told Arab News that he also was not aware of any business associates going to Bahrain.

Bahrain Finance Minister Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa said the conference underscored close ties with the US and the two countries’ “strong and shared interest in creating thriving economic opportunities that benefit the region.”

In a statement about the workshop, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I look forward to these important discussions about a vision that will offer Palestinians exciting new opportunities to realize their full potential.”

US officials said that the Trump administration had decided to invite finance ministers, not foreign ministers, because it would deal with the economic and not political part of the plan.

Former Jordanian Acting Finance Minister Jawad Anani told Arab News that he was opposed to the idea of an economic peace. “The key issue is statehood not economy. Everyone including the Israelis and the Americans know that Palestinians will not leave, and since there is no plan to allow Palestinians to have their own state, they are trying to find a way to make the occupation benevolent.”

Anani added that some countries were smart enough not to get involved publicly with the workshop event. “Bahrain, which is slowly becoming a kind of off-shore haven, was chosen as an alternative,” he added.

“Palestinian officials have a right to be upset. The US is trying to bypass Palestinians because they realize that Palestinian nationalism has become a liability, and they prefer to have Arab leaders to replace Palestinians.”


Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 27 June 2019
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Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”