Palestine refuses to attend 'Deal of the Century' summit in Bahrain

Palestine refuses to attend 'Deal of the Century' summit in Bahrain
The Trump administrations long-awaited blueprint for Middle East peace - known as "The Deal of the Century" will be unveiled at a conference in Bahrain next month.

5 min read
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Palestinian leadership was not consulted about the conference [Anadolu/Getty]

Palestinian officials will not attend a US-led economic conference in Bahrain next month, a Palestinian cabinet minister said on Monday.

"There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop," Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani, who is also a member of the executive committee of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters.

"Any Palestinian who would take part would be be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel."

The Trump administrations long-awaited blueprint for Middle East peace - known as "The Deal of the Century" - will be unveiled at the conference.

The plan, which has been two years in the making, envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work in the Palestinian territories but the central political elements remain mostly unknown.

The economic workshop, set for June 25-26 in Bahrain, will not address the most contentious parts of the conflict: borders, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Israel's security.

The Palestinian leadership has also said they were not consulted about the conference in Bahrain.

"The cabinet wasn't consulted about the reported workshop, neither over the content, nor the outcome nor timing," Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told Palestinian ministers.

Any American peace plan that ignores the Palestinian people's political aspirations for an independent state is doomed to fail, according to Palestinian officials - boding poorly for the Middle East peace conference planned next month.

"Any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political ... and based on ending the occupation," Shtayyeh said at a Palestinian Cabinet meeting. "The current financial crisis is a result of a financial war waged against us and we will not succumb to blackmailing and extortion and will not trade our national rights for money."

In another setback, Bashar Masri, a major Palestinian industrialist with vast business holdings throughout the West Bank, said he had turned down an invitation to the conference.

"I will not participate in this conference, and none of the representatives of our companies will participate," he wrote on Facebook. "We reaffirm our clear position: We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus."

The Trump administration has said the deal and the conference will focus on economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.

The Palestinians, who severed ties with the US over a year ago, have repeatedly expressed fears that the White House will try to buy them off with large sums of investment in exchange for freezing their demands for an independent state. They believe the US is trying to rally support from other Arab countries to bully them into accepting a plan they see as unacceptable.

'Economic progress'

In a joint statement with Bahrain on Sunday, the White House said the gathering will give government, civil and business leaders a chance to rally support for economic initiatives that could be possible with a peace agreement.

"The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives," President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said in a statement Sunday.

"Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved."

Kushner and Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, have been leading efforts to draft the plan, but after more than two years of work, they have not released any details.

A senior administration official in Washington told reporters Sunday that invitations to the conference are being sent to individuals in the United States, Europe, the Gulf, the wider Arab world and "some" Palestinian business leaders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

In the absence of direct talks with Palestinian leaders, US officials often talk of engaging private Palestinians and "civil society" groups. It remains unclear who these contacts are or whom they represent.

'Dead in the water'

Without a formal address on the Palestinian side, it is also unclear how any large-scale projects would be carried out in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza - territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war - for an independent state. Breaking from the policies of its predecessors, the Trump administration has refused to endorse a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians severed ties with the White House after Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017 and subsequently moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The US has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for the Palestinians and closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

The Palestinians have already said they would reject any peace plan offered by the US, saying Trump is unfairly biased toward Israel.

Kushner said it has been disheartening that the Palestinian leadership has attacked the plan before it's unveiled.

Earlier this month, Kushner insisted that the plan he's helped craft is a very detailed, fresh approach that he hopes will stimulate discussion and lead to a breakthrough in solving the decades-old conflict. At a think tank in Washington, Kushner described it as an "in-depth operational document" not anchored to previous, failed negotiations, high-level political concepts or stale arguments.

But analysts have said that without the affirmation of Palestinian sovereignty, the deal "will be dead on arrival".

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