Arab Backlash from Bahrain Conference Makes Impact
Protests, derision follow ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop in Manama
Public reaction against the White House’s recent economic workshop in Manama, Bahrain, which was meant to advance an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement dubbed the “deal of the century,” is rippling across the Arab world.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority had official representation at the Peace to Prosperity “workshop,” which wrapped up on June 26 after focusing on promoting peace by improving the Palestinian economy. Israel had planned to send low level officials, but after the Palestinians announced they would not attend, the Israeli government’s participation was nixed by the US organizers.
Heavy hitters in the Arab world that agreed to show up included Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The initiative put forward at the gathering aims to allocate more than $50 billion for investment in infrastructure, tourism and education for the Palestinian territories, as well as in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.
A threatening video surfaced on Twitter days after the conference, posted by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and featuring what appeared to be members who spoke with covered faces and held rifles. Their message was in support of the Palestine Liberation Organization and suggested that any group that interacts or cooperates with “leaders of the Zionist entity [in efforts] that are made to normalize relationships with Israel” would be “struck with an iron fist.”
The lead speaker said that whoever had attended the conference had “opened the gates of hell” on themselves.
The video was reposted and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute’s MEMRI TV.
A less violent yet still stern message came from a press release issued by PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the West Bank on June 24, ahead of the Bahrain summit.
“Whoever wants to achieve peace and prosperity for the Palestinian people should call on Israel to stop the theft of our land and the piracy of our money and the taking over of our natural resources and our capabilities, and should impose an end to its occupation and stop settlement activity and get rid of its consequences by lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and abide by the dictates of international law and international resolutions,” the statement quoted Shtayyeh as saying.
The prime minister said that although the financial situation was difficult for Palestinians, he would hold firm to this position and not “surrender” by accepting foreign money.
Omer Moav, a professor of economics at both the University of Warwick in England and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) in Israel, said that while many were focused on attaining peace before shifting to financial issues, it was difficult to make a distinction between progressive political processes and economic ones.
“Advancing one would definitely help the other. In that sense, let’s say there’s more trade between Israel and Arab countries − that might have positive effects as far as advancing the peace process and accelerating economic growth. For Israel, it’s not as big of an issue, but obviously, if we advance the Palestinian [economic] issue, that could help,” Moav said.
Experts on the political side said countries that boycotted the event had specific motivations to do so.
Michael Arnold, a writer and researcher for TRT World Research, an Istanbul-based think tank, said Turkey refrained from attending in part for geopolitical reasons, and additionally because the country did not consider itself a player in the Israeli-Arab peace plan.
Above all, the “deal of the century” does not align with Turkey’s views, he added.
“In my personal assessment, the conference was nothing more than an investor networking event, tolerated by the Arab states for larger geopolitical considerations and organized by a man [Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser] who is largely detached from the realities of the region,” Arnold said.
In Bagdad, protesters raided the Bahraini embassy compound following the end of the conference. Rioters pulled down the Bahraini flag and inserted a Palestinian flag in its place. Security forces broke up the protest by firing shots into the air.
In the West Bank, photos of angry Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers surfaced on Twitter along with photos of people setting pictures of President Trump on fire. Additionally, the mayor of Yatta, a municipality south of Hebron in the West Bank, renamed Bahrain Street.
In Greece, protestors waved Palestinian flags in front of the American embassy.
In Israel, Arab citizens held a protest in front of the Tel Aviv branch office of the US embassy, waving flags and chanting slogans. The protest of about 60 persons, who included Jewish Israelis, was sponsored by the mostly Arab Hadash party, an offshoot of Israel’s Communist Party.
Hadash Knesset Member Aida Touma-Suleiman spoke with The Media Line at the rally, saying the Bahrain conference was a major obstacle in the road to Palestinian statehood.
“We think that [there will be] no prosperity, that there is no good economic situation under occupation,” Touma-Suleiman said. “Without getting rid of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, the true people of this country will continue to suffer.”