Palestinian officials are doubling down on their plans to boycott a US-led conference in Bahrain next month aimed at garnering regional support for President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
The White House announced Sunday that it will be co-hosting what it described as an “economic workshop” with the Gulf country, aimed at encouraging Arab economic investments in the Palestinian Territories, as part of the US strategy in the region.
The US administration will use the conference, which is set to take place June 25-26, to unveil the first part of Trump’s long-awaited “deal of the century,” which emphasizes “economic opportunities” for Palestinians over core political issues like the status of Jerusalem, control of borders, and the fate of refugees.
In a joint statement with Bahraini officials, US officials said the conference will bring together regional and international leaders across government, business and civil sectors “to gather support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be possible with a peace agreement.”
In the wake of the announcement, Palestinian officials voiced their condemnation of the conference, which they say was organized without consulting the Palestinian Authority government of the West Bank.
Voicing concerns that the conference will ignore political issues central to the conflict, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday during a cabinet meeting that “any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political … and based on ending the occupation.”
“The cabinet wasn’t consulted about the reported workshop, neither over the content, nor the outcome nor timing,” Shtayyeh said.
Palestinian officials, businessmen announce boycott
Following Shtayyeh’s statements, PLO official and PA Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani told Reuters that Palestinian officials would not be attending the June conference.
“There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop,” Majdalani, said, adding that “any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, another high ranking official in the Mahmoud Abbas government and outspoken critic of the Trump administration, told Al Jazeera that the Bahrain conference was nothing more than an economic workshop, resembling nothing close to a peace plan.
“It shows a lack of understanding of the issues of the region,” she said, adding that the meeting is “another way of rewarding Israel again and maintaining Israel’s control of our land and resources.”
Notably, prominent Palestinian businessman and millionaire Bashar Masri said in a statement on social media that he he had turned down an invitation to speak at the conference.
“We will not engage in any event outside the Palestinian national consensus,” he wrote, adding “the idea of an economic peace is an old one now being asked in a different way, and just as our people have rejected it in the past, we reject it now.”
Echoing Masri’s sentiments, Palestinian tech entrepreneur Ibrahim Barham said that while he was surprised to receive an invitation, he would not be attending.
“They’re destroying the appetite for any investor to come to Palestine because there’s no clue to any solution,” The New York Times quoted Barham as saying.
“Thank you very much for inviting us, but we will not go,” he added.
Palestinian-American businessman Zahi W. Khouri, who owns the Coca-Cola franchise in the West Bank and Gaza, slammed US officials for its attempts at “bribing and buying off” Palestinians.
In recent weeks, several high-ranking officials including Shtayyeh and Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour have said Trump’s peace plan is “dead on arrival.”
Last week, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called US officials “delusional” during a talk at a London-based think-tank, saying “the US ‘deal of the century’ is the consecration of our century-old ordeal: no independence, no sovereignty, no freedom, no justice.”
UAE, Saudi Arabia confirm participation
Despite Palestinian rejections of the conference, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two major regional players, announced Tuesday evening that they would be sending delegations to Manama to participate in the June convention.
Haaretz reported that the Saudis will send their Economy Minister to the event, quoting an official statement from the Kingdom.
Following the announcement, the UAE government said in a statement that it “supports all international efforts aimed at supporting economic progress and increasing opportunities in the region, and alleviating the suffering of people in the region, particularly our brothers in Palestine,” Haaretz reported.
Echoing a similar statement made earlier by Bahraini officials, the UAE reiterated its support “for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Saudis and the Emiratis, who in recent years have significantly warmed relations with Israel, are the first two Arab powers to announce participation in the event.
US officials maintain position
The planned participation of Saudi Arabia and the UAE is a major win for US officials, who have centered the success of their peace proposal around financial coordination from regional Arab leaders.
Despite repeated criticism of the US approach to peace negotiations, Trump officials have stood by their plan to emphasize economic prosperity for Palestinians and “security” for Israelis.
“Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved,” senior advisor and co-author of the plan, Jared Kushner said in a statement on Sunday.
“We look forward to presenting our vision on ways to bridge the core political issues very soon,” adding “the Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives.”
Kushner’s co-author and Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt slammed the PA for rejecting the Bahrain conference, saying it was “difficult to understand why,” according to the Associated Press.
“History will judge the Palestinian Authority harshly for passing up any opportunity that could give the Palestinians something so very different, and something so very positive, compared to what they have today,” he said.
Doubling down, Greenblatt tweeted later in the day that claims the US vision was “just economic peace” were untrue. “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 rumors the plan is only economic. It’s not.”