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.”
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.”