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  • Palestinian businesses gave call for freedom instead of cash in context of the U.S. led Bahrain conference.

    Palestinian businesses gave call for freedom instead of cash in context of the U.S. led Bahrain conference. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 June 2019

“If anybody wants to solve the Palestinian problem, they have to solve it through ending occupation, (and) the establishment of a Palestinian state,” said Palestinian Prime Minister.

Palestinian businessmen boycotting the Trump administration’s Bahrain workshop designed to encourage investment in the territories say only a diplomatic path to statehood can end decades of conflict with Israel.

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The United States has dubbed the June 25-26 gathering to be held in Manama as an economic overture to its long-postponed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, widely referred to as President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century."

But Israeli government officials have not been invited to the conference. Palestinian leaders—and the vast majority of its business community—are boycotting the conference spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law and close advisor, Jared Kushner.

“Our case is political, 100 percent. It’s not economic,” Palestinian tech company executive Murad Tahboub told Reuters.

Tahboub, managing director of ASAL Technologies, echoes arguments made by other members of the Palestinian business community in the West Bank and Gaza.

“How (can you) build an economy if you don’t have sovereignty? If you don’t have access to natural resources, like water, like electricity, like borders?”

Tahboub says his company’s growth has lagged due to Israeli restrictions. “I have 350 engineers because I don’t have a state. ... If I was in Romania or Ukraine, it’d be 3,500.”

Hamas also rejects the two-day summit. During a Thursday morning press conference, Hamas leader Ismael Haniyah told reporters: "We reject for the Bahrain conference (because it is) a normalisation between the Israeli occupation and the Arab and Islamic countries." He went on to say that what has been revealed of the deal indicates that's it "is destructive to the Palestinian national project." 

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According to the World Bank, close to a quarter of Palestinians live in poverty and that the Palestinian economy grew by just 1 percent in 2018, and shrank by 7 percent in Gaza.

Unemployment in the Palestinian territories reached 31 percent last year, with the jobless rate standing at 52 percent in Gaza, the World Bank informed.

Palestinians blame huge cuts in U.S. aid under the Trump administration and Israel’s decision to withhold tax remittances because of a political dispute for bringing the Palestinian Authority’s finances to the brink of collapse.

At least one Palestinian, Ashraf Jabari, a businessman from the West Bank city of Hebron who has close ties to Israeli settler groups, is expected to attend the conference.

Jabari told Reuters he seeks “complete participation between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen in Judea and Samaria,” using the biblical term for the West Bank used by Israelis.

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However, the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian business community are backing their leadership’s refusal to attend Bahrain, saying the Trump plan repeats past mistakes by claiming peace can be made solely through economic plans controlled by underlying political issues.

Ammar Aker, a telecom executive, said only political negotiations can sort out high-level issues such as cellular frequency distribution, which Israel controls.

He said Israel has 4G mobile services but Palestinian mobile operators in the West Bank can only offer 3G. Meanwhile, Gaza is restricted to a slow 2G network.

“We cannot launch any service unless we get the approval of Israeli authorities, when it comes to frequency, to equipment imports,” said Aker, CEO of Paltel, the Palestinian private sector’s largest employer.

In Gaza, Dalia Shurrab, social media coordinator at the Gaza Sky Geeks tech incubator, says the slow internet causes many start-ups to fail.

“They want Wi-Fi, they want 3G to provide customers with their services but unfortunately we don’t have it in Gaza,” Shurrab said.

Trump’s advisers have slammed Palestinian leaders for boycotting the conference.

Washington has said Egypt and Jordan, which have been key players in Middle East peace efforts, have agreed to attend though Palestinians have urged them to reconsider.

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Qatar, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also expected to take part in the workshop.

“If anybody wants to solve the Palestinian problem, they have to solve it through ending occupation, (and) the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told Reuters.

“If there are people who want to support the Palestinian people, they should lift the financial siege that has been imposed on the Palestinian people,” he said.

Nabil Shaath, a veteran advisor to Abbas and the 1990 Oslo negotiator, said,  “I occupy other people’s land, I take their resources, I kill them, I put them in my jails because they deserve it ... Typical racist, supremacist language.”

Oslo succeeded in nurturing a nascent Palestinian economy, but it was never allowed to come to fruition because of Israel that have always been backed by U.S. administrations, Shaath says.

Those painful experiences have left Palestinians with little faith in continual promises of infrastructure and development, the diplomat added.

“You don’t expect much from Mr. Trump as the liberator of the Palestinian economy.”

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