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.”


For Gulf economies, Chinese outbound tourism holds passport to riches

Chinese tourists are widening their horizons with the Middle East tipped to be a leading destination by 2020. (Shutterstock)
Updated 9 min 55 sec ago
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For Gulf economies, Chinese outbound tourism holds passport to riches

  • GCC countries currently attract a mere one percent of China's annual outbound traffic
  • Gulf brands advised to engage with the world's fastest growing consumer group: Chinese tourists

DUBAI: “One learns more from traveling 10,000 miles than from reading 10,000 scrolls.” For China’s fast-growing middle class, there has never been a better time to be guided by the ancient Chinese proverb as 150 million people travel every year from the Asian country to destinations around the world.
Given the vast numbers involved and the fact that only eight out of 100 Chinese hold a passport, the mind boggles at the possibilities that could be in store for the global consumer market.
If the Gulf can capture even a fraction of the total Chinese outbound travel market, the economic bonanza for the region will be huge, according to consulting rms and experts.
Experts at the Arab Luxury World conference in Dubai last week advised regional brands on strategies to engage with the luxury market’s largest and fastest- growing consumer group.
“Because the Gulf had so much organic business, it wasn’t the rst necessity to hunt for more oppor- tunities,” said Jonathan Siboni, founder and CEO of Luxurynsight. “But now the market is reposi- tioning itself. Chinese consumers are a new thing for the region.”
A report by management consul- tants McKinsey in November 2018 said: “More than 70 percent of Chinese tourists travel with family and friends. As a result, these groups are the world’s highest spenders per single trip. We expect annual growth of 6.1 percent for the next couple of years.”
Siboni said: “There are 3.5 million millionaires in China. No matter what the preferred focus of niche brands, be it adventure, nature or shopping, Gulf companies will be well positioned if they prepare and target well.” He uses the example of France, a country of 67 million people that receives 90 million tourists every year.
Almost 2 million of the visitors are Chinese. More importantly, they account for 25 percent of France’s duty-free sales.
“If you have a very smart strategy, you can de nitely generate results,” Siboni told Arab News on the sidelines of the Arab Luxury World conference.
“Look at the results from France’s 2 million Chinese tourists. I would be tempted to say the same for Dubai. If you really target well and manage to learn how to talk to them and provide something unique, then the contribution to the image and the economy can be tremendous.”
The number of Chinese tourists traveling to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is forecast to jump 81 percent between 2018 and 2022 — from 1.6 million to 2.9 million, according to a study by Colliers International in partnership with the Arabian Travel Market. The data show that GCC countries are visited by a mere 1 percent of China’s tourists, but that share is expected to grow.
Local communication agencies can play a big role in the GCC tourism and consumer market’s transformation, Siboni said. Luxurynsight is not operating in Saudi Arabia, but he expects it to begin opera- tions at some point as the Kingdom takes steps to reinvent itself as a major tourist destination. For international travel agencies, hotels, retailers and other allied industries, the good news is not only that Chinese outbound tourism is exploding, but also that Chinese tourists are widening their horizons. As Maissa Zard, Luxurynsight’s head of marketing and sales, points out, Chinese tourists have become a lot savvier when it comes to choosing digital products and brands. “Before they shop, they know exactly where to shop and what to buy,” she told Arab News. “There is a rise in cross-border e-commerce, so if brands in the region become loyal to tourists from the start, they would be building not only brand loyalty but also local store loyalty.”
Brands should stop viewing Chinese tourists as “something extra,” she said, adding that “they need to develop a loyal relationship with the Chinese consumer. According to the latest data, Chinese consumers represent 33 percent of the global luxury industry - a figure that will rise to 50 percent in a couple of years. As much as 75 percent of their purchases are made outside China, with the Middle East one of their top shopping destinations for 2020. Zard believes the Middle East has an important edge over Europe. “The region is very strong in terms of service and quality because it has a demanding local clientele,” she said. “They need to leverage that advantage. Brands must understand that Chinese tourists could well become their best clients. The local clientele isn’t sustainable because the world is becoming more globalized.”
A big question for regional brands is how to cater to Chinese consumers and approach them in the right manner. “It’s about vision and strategy,” Siboni said. “Providing them with a unique experience will be key. In Paris, it’s about luxury and culture. Dubai, for instance, has to de ne its best strategy.”
According to a report issued by Dubai’s Department of Economic Development, the emirate currently hosts almost 19,000 Chinese investors, who hold close to 6,000 active business licenses. “It is true that you have to deal with partners you are not used to, but it’s a market that is extremely structured,” Siboni said. “You have a few players who own the game, so once you know how it works, then you’re in it.”
The McKinsey report detailed eight distinct segments of Chinese tourists, ranging from value-seeking sightseers and sophisticates to backpackers and shoppers. Whatever the segment, engaging with Chinese consumers will involve the use of popular technologies and communication tools, such as WeChat and Little Red Book for payment processes.
“It means you have to integrate a payment system that is digitalized,” Siboni said. “Alipay and WeChat Pay are tools that are non-negotiable. You need to integrate them with your business processes no matter what because, if you don’t, then even if customers come to you, they won’t be able to pay.”
Siboni urges a 360-degree vision to ensure that content o ered by brands in the Gulf region resonates with Chinese tourists. However, more work needs to be done regionally to keep pace with inter- national consumer trends.
“Elsewhere in the region, attracting Chinese consumers is still not the top priority,” Siboni said. “But Dubai has already under- stood that it has to diversify, which is why you see increasing numbers of Chinese tourists.”
If people do learn more from traveling than from just reading, as the proverb suggests, then Chinese tourists have yet another incentive to make the Gulf region one of their favored destinations.