Bahrain hosted the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop led by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and White House Senior Advisor. Kushner’s team had a tough time securing Arab participation in the workshop.
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Qatar sent delegates below the ministerial level. Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent delegations headed by finance ministers. Kuwait and Iraq boycotted the meeting altogether.
Most importantly, the Palestinian National Authority boycotted the workshop, and 79 percent of Palestinians surveyed by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey approved their leadership’s rejection of the Manama workshop.
Brilliant or Brainless Decision
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi explained the rejection:
“Kushner’s so-called peace plan is flawed; it is very illusive and the Trump administration has been taking concrete steps on the ground that are illegal and preventing any kind of viable, acceptable peace plan, whether on the issue of Jerusalem, refugees, the annexation of the Golan Heights, the total defunding of the Palestinians, refusing the two-state solution and legalizing Israeli settlements,” she told CNN.
Dr. Daud Abdullah, Director of Middle East Monitor, says he wasn’t surprised by the workshop’s outcome.
“It failed because Palestinians boycotted this charade and they were absolutely correct because the U.S. has unilaterally declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, cut all aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency that educates and feeds millions of displaced Palestinians. It also closed an office that represented Palestinian interest in Washington,” he told Inside Arabia.
Abdullah compared the economic promise of the Manama workshop to the old promise of prosperity given to the late Yasser Arafat in 1994 to make Gaza the Singapore of the Middle East.
“Look at Gaza today; blockaded with two million people under siege, living in severe poverty.”
For Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of Arab Center in Washington DC, the Palestinian Authority had no choice but to boycott the Manama workshop.
“It was an inevitable decision because after all, the workshop was meant to launch a peace plan to solve the conflict, but the agenda did not even name it as a Palestinian-Israeli conflict and assumed economic aid is the solution.”
He said Palestinians perceived it as an offer contingent on the surrender of more of their legitimate rights.
Concrete Results or Blowing Hot Air
Jahshan says the Manama workshop can’t be deemed a success.
“Using Shakespeare’s language, it ‘was much ado about nothing’; none of the declared objectives of 50 billion dollars in grants, guaranteed loans and private sector investments to help the Palestinian economy were realized. No commitments to fund this plan were proposed by the participants.”
However, Jahshan argues that while Kushner appears quiet and subdued, his ideas are much more dangerous than just blowing hot air.
“He is challenging the conventional wisdom that has existed for decades on how to solve the conflict, by adopting the policies of right-wing Israelis; escaping any discussion of the Palestinians’ political aspirations and legitimate right to self-determination or ending Israel’s 52-year-old military occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
Jahshan notes that what makes Kushner’s agenda more harmful is that President Trump gave him the green light to proceed with his ideas; saying that “if anybody at all in this universe can solve the conflict, it will be Kushner.”
Activating Normalization Mode
Many analysts conclude that the workshop was less about Palestinian prosperity and more about fostering a growing alignment of interests between Israel and key Gulf Arab states on the basis of their common antagonism toward Iran.
In an interview on Israeli television, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa stated clearly that Israel is part of the region’s heritage. He did not utter a single word about Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories or the blockade of Gaza; instead, he blamed Iran for exacerbating the conflict by providing militias with money and weapons. The host of the Manama workshop then lifted the ban to travel to Israel.
In the week that followed the workshop, the UAE welcomed Israel’s Foreign Minister to a UN climate conference in Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman acknowledged in an interview with The Atlantic that the Israelis have the right to have their own homeland.
Daud Abdullah explains the use of Manama as a springboard to normalization.
“Saudi Arabia and UAE were heavily criticized by the international community for their meaningless war of attrition and destruction in Yemen. And both countries perceived a rapid movement toward normalization with Israel as the means to enhance their image before the family of nations,” he told Inside Arabia.
Abdullah believes that the Saudi Crown Prince is behind that move to restore legitimacy following the execution of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
What’s Next for the “Deal of the Century”
The U.S. plan touted by President Trump as the “deal of the century” is in trouble, according to a number of officials and peace process experts.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told CNN “Palestinians don’t want to live in five-star hotels while under occupation.”
On the Atlantic Council website, former American Ambassador Richard Lebaron writes: “The Manama workshop is not part of a serious peace process. It is one minor element in a concerted effort by the Trump administration to wholeheartedly support the policies of right-wing Israelis.”
This analysis appears accurate after U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenplatt shed some light on the upcoming political component of the U.S. peace plan in an interview with Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper.
“The plan would not deal with the notion of a two-state solution; it would reject the U.S.’s previous solutions for issues like settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. The plan would call settlements ‘suburbs’ or ‘cities’ because terming them as settlements is demeaning and entails bias.”
Khalil Jahshan concludes that if the political component is shaped along these lines, then there is no deal.
“The president kept describing himself as the best negotiator and dealmaker, yet he and his team surrendered some key elements to Israel and used all possible measures to punish the Palestinian side; by definition that is not deal making.”
As a result, the “deal of the century” is no longer taken seriously, which is why a bipartisan group in Congress introduced a resolution supporting the two-state solution. That was a clear signal to the Trump administration that individual members of Congress were not confident in Kushner’s plan, especially considering he has no political experience.