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  • A Palestinian woman holds a banner showing a caricature of Arab leaders and reading:

    A Palestinian woman holds a banner showing a caricature of Arab leaders and reading: "Manama conference for treason and normalization" in Gaza Strip. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 June 2019

“This money must not come at the expense of our enduring rights… or at the expense of sovereignty and resistance,” Hamas leader said.

Palestinians rejected the “economy first” approach of the United States to bring a solution to the decades' old Israeli-Palestine conflict which was highlighted during the two days Bahrain conference in Manama as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” an effort led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

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The U.S.-led Bahrain conference on US$50 billion economic formula launched by the Trump administration to bring peace in the Middle East has been boycotted by the Palestinian leadership and many countries in the Arab world for not focusing on the political crisis first. 

“The Manama workshop is quite disingenuous. It is totally divorced from reality. The elephant in the room is the (Israeli) occupation itself,” senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday.

Ismail Haniyeh, the chief of Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, criticized the plan as “attempted ruses and word-play at the expense of the historical and extant rights of the Palestinian people”.

“This money must not come at the expense on our enduring rights, or at the expense of Jerusalem or the right of return or at the expense of sovereignty and resistance.”

Even International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde told the gathering that the Fund’s experience in conflict-riven countries around the world showed it can be a struggle to generate economic growth in such an environment.

The IMF says unemployment stands at 30 percent in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered over a decade of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A Dubai-based businesswoman said the plan was too ambitious to be put into effect anytime soon.

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“There were efforts like Oslo that didn’t work out - and that was because of the Israelis,” she said. “You can’t assume the economics will work if the politics don’t move.”

U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates discreetly support the plan, but several Arab states stayed away while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab nations that have reached peace with Israel, sent deputy ministers.

The presence of Arab Gulf states in Manama showed they want to encourage closer ties with Israelis - with whom they share a common foe in Iran - that has largely been under the table, said David Makovsky, a U.S.-based Middle East expert attending the event.

“(But) it’s clear they won’t bypass the Palestinians and do anything they don’t want,” Makovsky told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia said any peace deal should be based on a Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the 1967 Middle East war, as well as a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return - points rejected by Israel.

Trump’s son-in-law and author of the peace deal Jared Kushner has said the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative.

But the “economy first” approach could be a hard sell as the political details of the plan, almost two years in the making, remain secret.

It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the two-state solution, which involves the creation of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel and is backed by the United Nations and most countries.

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