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Bahrain convenes summit to sell 'Deal of the Century' without Palestinians

Washington will unveil part of the 'Deal of the Century' in a June conference [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 May, 2019

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The first phase of Washington's long-awaited Middle East peace plan will be unveiled at a June conference in Bahrain.

The Trump administration will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited blueprint for Middle East peace next month at a conference in the region designed to highlight economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, the White House said on Sunday.

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, 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 said they weren't consulted about the US-led economic conference.

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

Earlier Monday, a senior Palestinian official said any American peace plan that ignores the Palestinian people's political aspirations for an independent state is doomed to fail - boding poorly for the Middle East peace conference planned next month.

The comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman immediately cast a cloud over the conference.

"Any plan without a political horizon will not lead to peace," Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

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

The plan envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work in the Palestinian territories - much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries.

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, 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 on 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 on 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.

Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has embraced a group led by West Bank settlers that is seeking to promote business ties with Palestinian partners. Avi Zimmerman, the head of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, said he had not received an invitation to Bahrain, but believes the group's programs will be presented.

'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. It also was not known how any projects would be carried out in the Gaza Strip. The US and Israel consider Gaza's Hamas rulers to be a terrorist group and have no direct contacts with them.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza - territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast 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 recognised 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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