According to reports from actual participants in the Bahrain conference on economic development in the Palestinian territories, as part of President Trump's "deal of the century," to broker an agreement between the territories and Israel (as opposed to the usual cadre of "experts" and "commentators"), the economic plan presented by the US was comprehensive and well-designed and feasible, at least from the economic and financial standpoints, if not the political. Of course, the political is crucial, since the "deal" has been rejected sight-unseen in its entirety by both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza.
Two highly important aspects of the conference have been largely overlooked:
The meeting was an unprecedented opportunity for business leaders from Israel, the West Bank and several Arab countries to network. The contribution that Israeli know-how can make to the Arab world technologically, industrially, agriculturally and commercially is unbounded. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are desperate to replace dependence on oil and gas exports with more balanced economies.
Secondly, almost totally overlooked is the fact that Mohammed Dahlan, former security chief on the Palestinian Authority, deposed on phony charges of corruption by President Abbas (in a monumental act of hypocrisy), who has been living in the United Arab Emirates ever since and who has a large following in both the West Bank and Gaza, endorsed both the conference and the economic project itself. Dahlan may well replace Abbas in the Palestinian leadership, either because of Abbas' death or as the result of a coup d'etat with the active support of the UAE, the Saudis and Egypt.
If and when that happens, the "deal of the century" would instantaneously become politically feasible, at least in the West Bank, if not Gaza, not least because Dahlan is Israel's preferred candidate as well. When he was security chief of the Palestinian Authority he was noted for his strong and effective collaboration with the Israelis, which was the real reason for his dismissal by Abbas.
In short, the commentariat's almost unanimous conclusion that the Bahrain conference was meaningless and a failure, it may well mark an enormously significant turning point in Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian relations. It would be helpful, of course, if the Israeli political establishment could overcome its current preoccupation with serial elections and turn its attention to the welfare of the state and its citizens.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics and National Security, The National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft, The Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. He was formerly with the US National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 3, 2019
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