US to pitch peace plan at Bahrain workshop

Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Photo: Reuters

The US is hoping to talk about economics, and postpone politics and security until later - a formula that has failed in the past.

The website of the White House and the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday announced the convening of a "workshop" entitled "Peace to Prosperity" on June 25-26 in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. This declaration is meant to set in motion the Deal of the Century, the White House's economic peace plan for the Middle East.

The event is being called a workshop, not a summit or peace conference, and with good reason. It is aimed at recruiting businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and people from civil society for large investments in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with cooperation and a flow of investments also to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, with the participation of the Persian Gulf states. "The New York Times" today published a report that the target at this stage is $68 billion. A US source told "Globes" that this amount was "not far from the objective," and that in any case the plan was in the tens of billions of dollars.

The announcement in Bahrain said that the workshop would deal with economics and development according to the needs of the Palestinians, would support progress in the entire region, and would provide a platform for exchanging ideas and a strategic dialogue in order to encourage investments and economic initiatives likely to lead to achievement of a regional peace. The next stage of the plan will require cooperation from all of the parties in order to create an economic future for all of the peoples. Israel is not mentioned in the announcement.

It has been over two years since President Donald Trump and his administration began preparing their plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, commonly referred to as the Deal of the Century. The US president waited to present his plan until after the elections in Israel and almost until a new government was formed. He did not want to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from winning the elections, or to arouse concern in Israeli rightwing circles about the formation of a Palestinian state. In contrast to previous US administrations and the position of the European Union, the Trump administration did not adhere to the two-state principle. It hinted over the past two years that a Palestinian state was not a necessity. Netanyahu has also spoken in recent years about something less than a state - an entity that would not receive fully sovereignty.

The term "Palestinian state" accordingly does not appear in the statements made yesterday, although the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized its support for Palestinian motives and the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Only after the investors, entrepreneurs, and tycoons for providing economic incentives for regional cooperation have been assembled does the US plan to publish the political section of the plan. The White House is refusing to state the timetable for publishing this part of the plan and what it will contain. The Palestinian Authority has expressed opposition to the plan, and today announced that it did not intend to participate in the conference in Bahrain.

A US administration source said yesterday that in the framework of the workshop in Bahrain, an attempt would be made to bypass the weighty questions at the core of the conflict: the political status of the Palestinians, the security arrangements, the refugee question, and the future of Jerusalem. For this reason, finance ministers will be summoned to the conference, not ministers of foreign affairs, and they will be accompanied by delegations of businesspeople. "We recognize that the economic plan must go hand-in-hand with a diplomatic plan, but this (the workshop) will be an initial opportunity to outline economic steps. This will be a chance to show the Palestinians, Jordanians, Israeli, and Lebanese that the CEOs of large companies are showing interest and want to invest in the region," the source said.

The idea of recruiting businesspeople before diplomats and political leaders differs from the Obama administration's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is not new - it has failed in the past. Up until now, private businesspeople have been in no hurry to put their money into ventures in the Middle East when the core political problems are not nearing a solution and are likely to set off a war in the region at any given time. Former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro yesterday criticized the new plan, saying that regional economic conferences in the Middle East generated many declarations, but many of them are never carried out. He asked what exactly people were being asked to invest in if there were no political process or goal being striven for, adding that investors would surely ask this question.

No comments made in either Israel or the US

The announcement of the economic event in Bahrain was greeted in Israel by silence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is completely out of the picture. At a weekly meeting of its management convened yesterday in Jerusalem, those present said that they were studying developments in the plan from the information published in the media. The announcement by Bahrain and the White House emphasized that the minister of finance of the countries would lead the workshop, not the ministers of foreign affairs, but gave no details whatsoever, including about possible involvement by the Israel Ministry of Finance. "Globes" asked Netanyahu's office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and government ministries likely to take part in the plan, such as the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources in an attempt to understand whether the event in Bahrain would include any Israeli representatives at all. As of now, all of them are keeping mum.

The US side is also keeping mum. The first report of the plan yesterday on the CNN network was accompanied only by the official announcements by the US and Bahrain. The Twitter accounts of US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, who will lead the delegation to Bahrain, and US representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt did not comment on the plan, and the same is true of President Trump and the US Department of State. A "Globes" query on the matter went unanswered.

The obvious question is what effect publication of the plan will have on the negotiations for forming a government coalition. The United Right, the most hawkish party slated for inclusion in the future coalition, began the negotiations five weeks ago with big ambitions. Its goal was to include in the coalition guidelines agreement on annexation of Area C, a change in the status of land in Judea and Samaria, and the repeal of the Disengagement Law with respect to the four communities removed from northern Samaria in 2005. The Likud, however, has no intention of allowing these statements to enter the basic guidelines of the 35th government, and certainly not in a manner that will jeopardize the close relations between Netanyahu and Trump.

The United Right today confirmed to "Globes" that at Netanyahu's order, Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin had rejected all of its requests concerning Judea and Samaria. The party is nevertheless aiming to join the government. MK Bezalel Smotrich felt ill in the past 24 hours and was unable to conduct any political contacts, but his party has no intention of remaining outside of the next government. In closed conversations, senior figures in the party said that Trump's full plan would lead to annexation when it is published. They believe that the Palestinians will oppose every proposal, and that there will be no progress with them.

The Kulanu Party hopes that Moshe Kahlon will remain Minister of Finance. Kahlon was the only minister who conducted regular work with the Palestinian ministers in recent years, and his party would be delighted to play a key role in discussions at the workshop in Bahrain. Minister of Defense-designate Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beitenu) did not respond to the reports, and the same was true of Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 20, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Photo: Reuters
Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Photo: Reuters
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