‘Peace to Prosperity’ in Bahrain – Absent Israelis and Palestinians
Analysts question the merits of a U.S.-Sponsored ‘workshop’ devoid of political leaders from Jerusalem and Ramallah
The Trump Administration will not invite a political delegation from Jerusalem to the June 25-26 economic “workshop” in Bahrain, at which the White House will present the first component of its long-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Accordingly, neither Israeli nor Palestinian government officials will be present at the “Peace to Prosperity” summit, which is ostensibly painted as a springboard toward ultimately ending the decades-long conflict.
When contacted by The Media Line, a senior official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the decision to exclude Israeli officials had been “jointly made by Israel and the United States.”
Nevertheless, various Israeli – and a few defiant Palestinian – business leaders will partake in the conference. This, despite Ramallah’s blanket boycott imposed on American officials and its publicly stated commitment to torpedoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.”
Some analysts view the latest development as an effort by the Trump Administration to save face, arguing that the optics of Israeli decision-makers attending the event without Palestinian counterparts would have detracted from the immediate aim of generating investment for development projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Such a situation, they note, would have left President Trump exposed to additional criticism from those who already deem his approach to peacemaking as biased in favor of Israel and thus liable to fail.
“The workshop was meant to demonstrate that, thanks to the U.S. administration, Israel is on a path to sort of normalize relations with the Arab world irrespective of whether progress is made on the Palestinian issue. This would have [been manifested] in Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon being dispatched to Bahrain to shake hands with the Saudis, Emirates, etc.,” Alon Pinkas, a former diplomat and one-time policy adviser to prime ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, told The Media Line.
“But once it became clear that Arab countries were reluctant about this – that they would not be props in an American show – this became a problem,” Pinkas explained. “Also, it is important to realize that [Gulf] nations, in particular, have their own reasons [for accepting President Trump’s invitation]. They are mostly concerned about Iran and want Washington to continue taking a tough line [against the Islamic Republic].”
Even so, Pinkas intimates that the lack of Israeli and Palestinian political representation in Manama is a consequence of what has become obvious to many: No viable American peace plan will be presented for the foreseeable future, if ever.
“There may be good intentions [on the part of White House], but this was never going to happen anyway,” he said. “Still, it is somewhat unfair to say the U.S. has failed. The [Trump Administration] was attempting to change the modality of the peace process by tackling the economic elements first. But at the end of the day, this conflict is between Israelis and Palestinians, and the one place they have always found common ground is in blaming the Americans.”
Others were similarly unsurprised about the prospective absence of Israeli officials in Manama given the broader complexities associated with the involvement of Arab nations.
“It took a huge effort by the U.S. to get the Egyptians and Jordanians to Bahrain, and this might have been impossible if Israeli [political] leaders were attending,” Brig.-Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog, former head of the Israeli military’s Strategic Planning Division and a member of Jerusalem’s peace negotiating team for over two decades, told The Media Line. “It is easier [for regional capitals] to justify their presence to their publics if Israeli [government officials] are not there,” he said.
Herzog emphasized that such intricacies – of which there are many of far greater sensitivity – account for the White House’s repeated decision to shelve the “core” dimensions of its peace proposal.
“Israel is in the midst of a political crisis and will hold elections for the second time this year, so no new government will be formed before November. On the other side, the [Palestinian Authority] is very weak [and has made its maximalist demands clear],” Herzog elaborated. “The chances of success were low to begin with, especially when considering that the sides long ago checked out of the [negotiating] process.”
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former PA deputy foreign minister and currently second-in-command of the International Relations Commission of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, reiterated that the Palestinian leadership’s positions were immutable.
“The Americans should take a moment to think not only about their plan, but also about the team they appointed [to implement it],” Abdullah told The Media Line.
“Its members are committed to the Israeli ideology and maintain [a perceived openness to Israeli] annexation of areas in the West Bank,” he went on. “These people are not working for peace, but rather to impose the extreme Israeli point of view on the entire Middle East – a recipe for more instability and bloodshed.”
Instead, Abdullah proffers that the “practical way for the U.S. to advance a peace process is to be more fair-handed and base its actions on international norms. The Palestinians deserve a state of their own, side-by-side with Israel, and if the Americans follow this [historical paradigm], it is possible to prevail.”
Indeed, most everyone agrees that any Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative must be a two-way street, with the sides engaged and, most importantly, their leaders willing and able to make the tough compromises necessary to get over the hump.
Absent this determination, however, there is a pervasive doubt that Team Trump will be able to reach its endgame – whether this entails forging a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace or, at minimum, resetting the parameters of a seemingly intractable conflict while doing its best to improve the lives of those affected.