Palestinians expect little from Bahrain summit

Many analysts are skeptical about the economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that the US administration has prepared for this week's workshop in Bahrain.

al-monitor General view of Bahrain's financial district in Manama, Bahrain, June 20, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed.

Jun 24, 2019

The much-hyped US vision for Middle East peace has finally been partially unveiled a few days before the opening of the “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop due to take place in the Bahraini capital, Manama, June 25 and 26. A look at the conference agenda and program details exposes an unprofessional, naive and hypocritical Trump administration that is attempting to resell Israel’s failed economic peace.

The workshop program sent to invitees reinforces the very problem that Palestinians talk about. The agenda of the program is titled “Unlocking economic development and investment in the West Bank, Gaza and the region,” while the larger proposal continuously uses the term “unleashing.” Both unlocking and unleashing point out to the fact that what is holding up Palestinian prosperity is the fact that Israel has a lock on life under occupation and has kept Palestinians on a short leash.

In fact, an analysis of repeated terms in the 40-page US proposal shows the term "investment" was repeated 63 times, "financing" 20 times, "peace" 18 times, "unleashing" and "empowering" 14 times each, while West Bank, Gaza and Egypt each appeared 13 times, Jordan 12 times, Lebanon nine times, Israel six times and the word "billions" six times; not mentioned a single time were "freedom," "independence," Palestine or "occupation." 

Dan Kurtzer, the former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and now the S. Daniel Abraham professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, didn’t mince his words when criticizing the plan. “I would give this so-called plan a ‘C’ from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing,” Kurtzer tweeted June 23.

The conference was likely doomed to failure once Palestinian officials announced they would not attend a workshop about the Palestinian economy in which they were not even consulted. With Palestinian and Israeli officials absent, this looks like a wedding without the groom or the bride.

After looking at the economic details of the US plan, Palestinians felt vindicated. Samir Huleileh, former CEO of PADICO Holding, Palestine’s leading investment company, argued that the US plan is not much different than many plans that were derailed by Israel. “The real challenge is how to implement these ideas in light of Palestinians' and donors' long experience with the continuous Israeli delays and rejections,” he wrote on his Facebook page June 23 in analyzing the US economic plan for Palestine.

Aaron David Miller, a US peace envoy who served with both Republican and Democratic administrations, said he had seen many similar plans before. “If I had a nickel for every Middle East/Palestinian Marshall Plan that crossed my desk between 1988 and 2003,” he tweeted from his personal account.

The event looks rushed and not well-thought out and is clearly culturally incorrect. The first event listed in the program reveals the absence of any cultural sensitivity. While the gathering is taking place in an Islamic country where public consumption of alcohol is frowned upon, the very first event is a 6 p.m. “cocktail reception”: The organizers gave their opponents an easy target to hit.

Further details that have emerged about the workshop reflect an amateur attempt at economic peace making. A 20-minute session titled Fostering a Culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” will be moderated by Thomas Barack Jr., CEO of the real estate investment firm Colony Capital. The organizers repeat the words "entrepreneurship" and "innovation" five times in a single paragraph, highlighted by the claim that in the West Bank and Gaza, “innovation and entrepreneurship can significantly help address major developmental challenges such as poverty, inclusion and sustainability.” The reality is that Israel has stunted Palestinian innovation by delaying and refusing to allow local telecoms to install 3G or 4G technology.

Perhaps the most outlandish entry in the program of the Bahrain economic workshop is Panel 2, listed under the title “Empowering People.” The 12:05 conversation subsection titled “Health Systems for the Future” says, “A healthy economy requires a healthy population. Improving the quality of the existing infrastructure, expanding access to cover underserved populations." The Trump administration, which is pushing for improved Palestinian health care, is the very same that has cut off $6 million the US Congress had already earmarked for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. It is also the very same administration that cut off tens of millions in aid to the UN agency providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The mandate for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) covers health, education and social services. UNRWA’s health department runs 143 primary health facilities providing health services to a million refugees, with 8 million refugees patient visits annually.

The Trump administration seems set on moving ahead with its vision for the future of the Palestinian areas without the presence of Palestinian or Israeli officials. After a close look at what has been prepared for during the past two years, it appears that holding this ill-prepared workshop is nothing more than an attempt to save face than a serious effort at peacemaking.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings