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

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.”


Lebanon’s Aoun vows to tend to economic, financial reforms

Updated 45 min ago

Lebanon’s Aoun vows to tend to economic, financial reforms

  • Aoun said this aimed “to guarantee political stability in cabinet and outside it and to secure the greatest amount of productivity”
  • He expected “the implementation path” to begin “with the start of October"

BEIRUT: Lebanon is expected to begin implementing in October a set of economic and financial measures agreed by its top leadership that will boost economic growth, President Michel Aoun said on Sunday, vowing that he would to tend to this himself.
He was referring to decisions taken at a top-level meeting earlier this month with the aim of reviving an economy that has been growing slowly for years and is struggling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
After the Aug. 9 meeting, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said agreed steps included finishing the 2020 budget on time, drawing up a plan to start $3.3 billion of projects approved by parliament, full implementation of a power sector reform plan, and laws to fight tax evasion and regulate public tenders.
“I will personally tend to the implementation path of the decisions of the financial and economic meeting” in cooperation with Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and other parties in government, Aoun said.
In written comments to Reuters, Aoun said this aimed “to guarantee political stability in cabinet and outside it and to secure the greatest amount of productivity,” including in the implementation of the 2019 budget and its reforms.
Aoun said he expected “the implementation path” to begin “with the start of October after the conclusion of the current preparations ... which will lead to lifting of the growth rates, reflecting positively on the economic and financial situations.”
After years of backsliding on economic reform, the impetus to act has grown due to economic stagnation and a slowdown in the flow of dollars into Lebanon’s banks from abroad. Lebanon has depended on such flows from its diaspora to finance the current account and the state budget deficits.
Foreign governments and donor institutions last year pledged $11 billion in financing to Lebanon for major infrastructure at the so-called Cedre conference in Paris, on condition that it carries out reforms.
Measures to reduce the budget deficit and reform the power sector, which bleeds public funds while inflicting daily power cuts on Lebanese, are seen as two vital tests of the government’s ability to reform.
The International Monetary Fund said in July this year’s deficit is likely to be well above a targeted 7.6% of national output.
It said the power reform plan and a budget to reduce the deficit were “very welcome first steps” and “further substantial fiscal adjustment and structural reforms” were needed.
Aoun said work was underway to approve the 2020 budget in the constitutional timeframe.
It would include “new, resolute reforms” agreed at the Aug. 9 meeting to reduce the power sector deficit, improve tax collection and fight customs and tax evasion.
Aoun also said frameworks must be put in place for implementing a plan drawn up by management consulting firm McKinsey for revamping the economy and this should coincide with the start of projects outlined at the Cedre conference.