As the Trump administration held the economic track of its forthcoming peace plan in Bahrain yesterday and Tuesday, thousands of Palestinians protested the summit across the West Bank and Gaza.
Outside the Israeli settlement of Beit El near the outskirts of Ramallah, Mustafa Barghouti joined demonstrators on Wednesday. Barghouti is a leading political figure and head of the Palestinian National Initiative political party. He spoke to Mondoweiss about Palestinian opposition to any Trump led peace effort, even its economic incentives, “because it is part of the ‘deal of the century,’ which is about liquidating Palestinian rights.”
Neither the Palestinians or the Israelis were asked to send official delegations to Manama workshop.
While the White House has sought to focus on its $50 billion aid and investment package, Palestinians are keenly aware that high level officials have showed approval for Israeli annexation of the West Bank. The most recent example came earlier this month when the Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the New York Times, Israel has the “right to retain” parts of the West Bank. Days earlier Kushner questioned if the Palestinians are “capable of governing” on “Axios on HBO.”
“We’re not judging it with our imagination. We are judging it by what was officially stated by the team,” Barghouti said.
“Everything they’ve done, and everything they’ve declared, shows they are trying to kill the two-state solution and the rights of Palestinians to have a state of their own. They advocate sustaining occupation and apartheid,” Barghouti said.
In conjunction with the Bahrain summit the White House posted the full 140-page economic plan on its website. Missing from the report was the terms “occupation,” “freedom,” “equality,” and “blockade,” Barghouti explained. Fine details show just under half of the money will be disbursed to neighboring countries of Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. He questioned if those funds were for resettlement for Palestinian refugees.
“I think, they are planning to take the money away from UNRWA, the money that helps refugees will then be used to kill the issue of refugees,” and dissolve “Palestinian refugees rights, by settling them in Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon,” he said using the acronym for the United Nations agency responsible for refugees.
When asked about the viability of the proposed growth projects in the plan, which includes 179 infrastructure and business projects, Barghouti dismissed the ventures as “camouflage.”
“The whole game of claiming there will be economic development is a false one…There is no economic prosperity. From these figures, we can say that what Kushner is proposing is deceit,” Barghouti said.
“It’s strange the Americans are calling for a meeting in an Arab country. And it’s a strange thing that all these people are discussing the issue of Palestinians without Palestinians,” he said.
More broadly, Barghouti castigated the summit for failing to address the main issue around Palestine’s stalling economy which is not lack of investment, but the occupation itself. A United Nations report in 2016 found the Palestinian economy could double in size if the illegal Israeli military occupation was lifted.
Hence, his opinion of this summit: it was dead-on-arrival. “This whole workshop is still-born. It was born dead,” he said.
He concluded Palestinians will agree to a deal , “Only by ending the occupation, ending the system of apartheid and allowing Palestinians to have statehood.”
Other Palestinian leaders similarly spurned the economic plan.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh publicly stated his reservations in a cabinet meeting on the eve of the summit, dismissing workshop in Bahrain as “simply nonsense”.
“It is really ironic, that the American administration who is imposing serious financial war on the Palestinian Authority is the one that is calling for the Bahrain workshop to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people,” the prime minister said.
Denunciations were made from most Palestinian factions. Hamas rejected Kushner’s proposals and the entire Bahrain economic workshop as a “new plot against the Palestinian lands and cause.”
In a press release, the militant group that runs Gaza had terse words for Arab participants in the summit, including Egypt an often mediator in disputes with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It said it considers “the participation of any side as an assault against the Palestinian people” and stressed that “the decisions made in this event are null and void.”
Indeed the resentment towards Arab officials was on display in the center of Ramallah.
At Manara Square, a focal point for protests, Palestinians carried a coffin with the words “the deal of the century” and the “decisions of the Arab League” – indicative that it’s not just the summit which Palestinians are angry with, but all of the involved parties.
Back at the protest by Beit El, 16-year-old Palestinian-American protester Zanab who asked for her last name to be excluded from publication rejected that lack of Palestinian involvement in peacemaking. Last December after the President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the PLO and the White House cut ties. Yet the process has moved forward with Israeli officials still involved, increasingly regarded by Palestinians as sharing objectives with the Trump administration.
“I think that it’s unfair. I think that it’s unjustified and it is unhumanitarian,” Zanab said. “It shouldn’t be anyone else’s decision.”