As Winds of War Blow in Gulf, Trump Will Try to Workshop Mideast Peace

Bahraini government representatives treat Washington's guests very courteously, but beyond the calm of Manama, the atmosphere is tense

Workers place a banner at the pavilion where the event takes place outside Four Seasons Hotel in Manama, Bahrain June 24, 2019.
\ MATT SPETALNICK/ REUTERS

MANAMA — Landing at the airport in the Bahraini capital, you can’t miss the American Peace to Prosperity conference taking place in the tiny kingdom.

Large signs have been set up to direct the hundreds of participants to special reception counters set up for the occasion, so as not to miss a single visitor – especially not the small group of Israeli businesspeople and journalists, some of whom have entered Bahrain in an unusual manner, with Israeli passports, even at the absence of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

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Those from Jerusalem are listed as Palestinian-born in their visa papers (who says Trump isn’t advancing a two-state solution?) and no origins at all are listed on the forms for those born in cities a little less holy to Islam. But the conference badges prepared by the Americans do have “Israel” written out clearly, without any camouflage.

The Four Season Hotel in Manama where the economic workshop will take place, Bahrain, June 24, 2019.
Noa Landau

Bahraini government representatives, dressed in traditional white clothes, treated the rare guests hosted by Washington very courteously, though there were still some tension felt. You could call it a cold peace, although the temperatures were over 40 degrees. For instance, one of the organizers politely and with a smile asked that Israelis would not call him on his cell phone because the number is from another Arab country that’s a little less comfortable with the notion.

The economic conference, or workshop, as it’s been officially touted, aims to give the Palestinians an optimistic vision for a better world – on the condition that they accept a peace proposal the Americans say they plan to release after Israel’s next election.

The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, have been working on this peace deal for more than two years. They propose raising $50 billion for a decade-long development plan for the Palestinian economy and society.

The plan also includes building a corridor between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through Israel – despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “divide and rule” policy. In fact, the plan looks exactly like one that sets out to establish and rehabilitate a country, but without any mention that there will be such a new country.

Workers hang a banner at the hotel where the event is taking place, Manama, June 24, 2019.
\ MATT SPETALNICK/ REUTERS

No official representatives of the sides that are supposed to reach this peace agreement will be present at the conference, which lasts from Tuesday night until Wednesday evening at the Four Seasons Hotel.

As anticipated, the Palestinians are boycotting the event, even after the publication of the plan’s economic chapter. Given this, the U.S. has decided that Israel shouldn’t be officially represented either – certainly not after the call for a new election, which renders it difficult for Netanyahu, supported mainly by right-wing parties, to express any support for a diplomatic initiative.

So who are the relevant participants? Mainly private businesspeople such as the head of Nokia Israel, Arik Tal, and Sheba Hospital director Yitshak Kreiss. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who was until recently the government coordinator for the Palestinian territories, will be there as a businessperson as well, though it’s not clear which business he’s representing.

On the Palestinian side it seems that there’s only one person listed in the program for that category: Ashraf Jabari, a businessman from Hebron, regarded as a controversial figure by the Palestinians and their leadership.

A Palestinian man burns a photo of Trump and King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain during a protest near Hebron, West Bank, June 24, 2019.
Majdi Mohammed,AP

In addition, there will be official representatives from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and top Arab businesspeople with deep enough pockets to revitalize three countries if they wanted to.

Beyond the calm of Manama, the atmosphere is less pleasant. Large protests against the conference are planned in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the U.S. Embassy in Israel has warned its employees not to go there. Above all, there are continuing tensions between the United States and Iran. On one side of the Gulf, the Trump administration oversees a peaceful vision while on the other, the winds of war are blowing.