190524 al aqsa mosque
Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Image Credit: AFP

The White House is keeping the world guessing when it comes to the much touted regional peace plan, which has been two years in the making. It now looks like there will not be a major unveiling of the plan right after the end of Ramadan, as was originally announced last month. Instead, the US team, led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and regional envoy Jason Greenblatt, announced last week that an economic “workshop” will be held in Bahrain in the last week of June that would encourage investment in the occupied Palestinian territories “that could be made possible by a peace agreement,” according to a White House statement.

The joint US-Bahrain statement said the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop “will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth.” US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, who will lead the event, said the workshop will engage leaders from across the entire Middle East to promote economic growth and opportunity for the people in this important region.

News sources described this move as releasing the economic part of Trump’s peace plan; something that worries both regional and world governments. The fear is that the plan will be missing genuine political components and will be resting on a blueprint first suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his 1993 book A Place Among the Nations. Under a chapter titled A Durable Peace his plan suggests that “Israel would retain some 60 per cent of the territory with all the West Bank’s Jewish population; the Palestinian Authority would have some 40 per cent of the area with virtually the entire Palestinian population.”

While Israel will keep control of the Jordan Valley, “the Palestinian entity can enjoy all the attributes of self-government, which include its own legislature, executive, judiciary, passports, flag, education, commerce, tourism, health, police, and every other power and institution controlling the collective and individual life of Palestinians within the Palestinian entity.”

Netanyahu’s plan rewards the Palestinians with “economic peace” in the form of investments pouring in from all over the world. End of story.

While Kushner and Greenblatt have kept their cards close to their chests, there is little evidence that what would be proposed to the Palestinians in the political section if the plan would differ from what Netanyahu had suggested almost a quarter of century before. In a bid to assure sceptics that there is a political part to the plan, Greenblatt tweeted that “those falsely claiming our vision is just economic peace: we’ve been clear that the economic vision we present can’t exist without the political component, and the political component can’t succeed without the economic. Don’t believe rumours the plan is only economic. It’s not.”

Political settlement first

What is the logic behind convening the Bahrain workshop? The fact that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) will not be there, notwithstanding, no economic road map will succeed if a just political settlement to the conflict is not reached first. For Palestinians to enjoy the economic benefits of peace, there would have to be a peaceful solution that is satisfactory to the victims of decades of occupation and repression.

As member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, Hanan Ashrawi, put it in a tweet: “Kushner’s Bahrain ‘workshop’ attempts to sidestep the legal & political imperatives of a just peace. We define Palestinian ‘well being’ as the enactment of our rights including the right to live in freedom & sovereignty on our land, not as a handout to make our captivity palatable.”

The Trump administration has already fulfilled many aspects of the political part of the plan unilaterally and without consultation. By recognising [Occupied] Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, attempting to defund UNRWA, shutting the PLO’s office in Washington and terminating development projects in Palestinian areas, it has punished the Palestinians and rewarded Israel without asking for concessions. Its role as an impartial mediator has already been compromised.

So far prominent Palestinian businessmen have turned down the US invitation to attend the Bahrain workshop. It is not clear who will attend and at what level and what the outcome of the meeting will be.

On the other hand, there are reports that the delay in releasing the full plan is due to absence of Arab support and adherence to a common stand based on the Arab Peace Initiative (API), Arab League resolutions and the two-state solution. The team is said to be reviewing the plan and that review could take months.

The Bahrain workshop is unlikely to mobilise regional and international partners to commit to anything at this stage when there is ambiguity surrounding the much more crucial political part of the plan. By boycotting the event, the Palestinians are sending a message to the world that they are not a charity case!

—Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.