Arab hosts of Trump's 'peace summit' are throwing Palestinians under the bus

Arab hosts of Trump's 'peace summit' are throwing Palestinians under the bus
Comment: The Bahrain summit is nothing more than a chance for Arab representatives to push their agenda of normalisation with Israel, writes Muhammad Shehada.
5 min read
24 May, 2019
Bahrain's foreign minister expressed his commitment to hosting the summit this June [Getty]
The upcoming US-brokered "Peace Summit" in Bahrain makes it crystal clear that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are indulging in the Trump-Kushner plan, not to show solidarity with Palestinians, but to advance their relations with Israel. For them, the event is convenient justification for such a broad daylight sell-out of Palestinian solidarity.

Last Sunday, the White House announced it would commence the first phase of its hotly anticipated blueprint for Middle East peace next month in an economic workshop entitled "Peace to prosperity," in Bahrain's capital, Manama.

According to a senior White House official, the workshop - to be attended by US, Israeli and regional finance, instead of foreign ministers - will focus on four major components, namely infrastructure, industry, "empowering and investing in people", and governance reforms. But will studiously avoid the many political issues which will be postponed until further notice.

As soon as the summit was announced, Palestinian political factions, religious leaders and leading businessmen unanimously and rightfully rejected the US-Bahrain 'Deal of the Century' summit.

The persistent Palestinian rejection understandably stems from two crucial factors. First, Palestinians have well-founded and profound concerns that the workshop - and peace "deal" it prefaces - will necessarily compromise the most basic Palestinian political and legal demands for statehood and sovereignty. Under the guise of contriving an economic solution to the conflict, the summit distracts the world from the core issue of the Israeli occupation, which risks being legitimised as a security necessity.

Second, the very economic promises of the summit are crucially undeliverable under occupation, where no economy can ever thrive or become independent while held tight in the grip of Israel's military, and caged in a security barrel.

No economy can ever thrive or become independent while held tight in the grip of Israel's military

In fact, Israeli experts concur that even if Palestinians were showered with billions in aid, Israel wouldn't allow them to realise a sustainable, sovereign or independent economy that endangers its competitive advantage in industrial sectors.

As a result, the only likely outcome of the Bahrain summit, is provocative photo-ops of Arab representatives lovingly rubbing shoulders with their Israeli counterparts, under the false premise of deliberating ways to improve Palestinian wellbeing.

Palestinians have therefore called on Bahrain to decline hosting the summit, and take the side of traditional Arab consensus that normalisation with Israel should be the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and not the other way around.

But some Arab states are deliberately ignoring Palestinian concerns over Trump's "peace proposal" and their involvement in the plan is being packaged as an altruistic pursuit of Palestinians' best interests.

Bahrain's foreign minister issued a paradoxical statement about hosting the workshop; where on one hand he paid lip service to Palestinian rights and expressed respect for the PA's decision to boycott the summit, while on the other, he emphasised Bahrain's commitment to hosting what amounts to an auction of Palestinian rights.

UAE's foreign ministry issued a similar statement, in which it welcomed the Bahrain summit and announced its desire to "improve the harsh living conditions… of the Palestinian people".

Their stance essentially ignores the fact that this impoverishment and immiseration are the outcome of the same occupation that the summit aims to put lipstick on, and not an inherent, or unlucky feature of the Palestinian existence.

Normalisation with Israel should be the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and not the other way around

Saudi Arabia also bragged about its participation in the upcoming summit, and justified its decision by paying lip service to the cause, arguing that such participation stems from genuine support of and pursuit to provide stability and welfare to Palestinians.

Clearly, though, the Bahrain summit is a convenient cover for these regimes to advance their project of normalisation with Israel, with the excuse that to best help Palestinians, we need to co-ordinate our efforts closely with the Israeli government, which will be warmly welcomed in Bahrain next June.

The Bahrain summit is not the beginning of these regimes' attempts to cosy up to Israel, while the plight of Palestinians remains unresolved, but rather the final phase in such long pursuit.

The same theatrical performance has been repeated time and again, with regimes paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, then using it as a pretext to advance normalisation with Israel, justified by the excuse that developing open relations with Israel is the only way to help Palestinians.

This tendency of paying little or no attention to the underlying cause of Palestinian suffering, while trying to build a platform for normalising relations with Israel, illustrates how these regimes aspire to perpetuate their dictatorships and manipulation of the entire Middle East, with Israel's help.

There is a tendency to pay little or no attention to the underlying cause of Palestinian suffering

Until today, the main gains from backdoor Israeli-Arab normalisation have been the exchange of intelligence between Israel and oppressive regimes, mostly used to crack down on dissent, criticism and opposition. Israel for example sells spyware to the UAE and Saudi Arabia to hunt down local and foreign political opponents, and hack the work of human rights groups.

Despite all the effort going into pressuring Palestinians into becoming the scapegoat for Israel-Arab normalisation, the Trump peace deal will most certainly be dead on arrival.

No Palestinian leader under any circumstances would accept to compromise decades of martyrdom and struggle for freedom and dignity, in return for marginally improved living conditions, in imprisonment under occupation.

Any state representatives or individuals who indulge into the Bahrain sellout will not only be betraying the Palestinians and their just cause, but will be knowingly paving the way towards a darker Middle East of strengthened authoritarian regimes, with Israel's help.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.