For the moment, the Peace to Prosperity conference that the Trump administration will host in Bahrain at the end of next month is looking like a festive wedding lacking a small but important detail: The presence of the intended partner in marriage.
Representatives of the Palestinian Authority are expected to continue to boycott the United States as an intermediary, so Palestinian businesspeople were invited in advance to represent the nation which the administration proposes to help.
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Anyone who has kept track of the murky relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration to date are not surprised by the declarations of Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh that the PA will not cooperate with the event that is mean to symbolize the launching of the United States’ plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“Any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political ... and based on ending the occupation,” Shtayyeh said at a meeting of the Palestinian cabinet. “The current financial crisis is a result of a financial war waged against us and we will not succumb to blackmailing and extortion and will not trade our national rights for money.”
“The Palestinian leadership will not agree under any circumstances to a formula of improving the lives of Palestinian citizens under the Israeli occupation,” he said on Monday.
His deputy Nabil Abu Rudeineh added: “Any plan without a political horizon will not lead to peace. The Palestinians won’t agree to any proposal or plan that doesn’t guarantee the existence of a Palestinian state and East Jerusalem as its capital.”
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The decision to launch President Donald Trump’s peace deal with its economic phase is well suited to his business-oriented world view – which has been characteristic in the history of U.S. foreign relations: A lot of money can solve a lot of problems.
The U.S. didn’t invent this concept in connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its roots in the region are very old. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself – who meanwhile is not participating in the workshop and is making do with sending Moshe Kahlon, Israel’s candidate for the Finance Ministry – has often said that he supports it. Among other things, in 2008 he declared that “We must weave an economic peace alongside a political process,” adding that “Economic development does not solve problems, it mitigates them and makes them more accessible for solutions.”
Today Netanyahu probably wouldn’t repeat the second sentence, just as he will no longer promote his old slogan: “Making a secure peace.” Today the entire objective of “economic peace” as far as Israel is concerned is to serve the policy of splitting, dissolving and causing despair to the Palestinians’ national aspirations.
In recent years, many studies have examined the liberal belief that economic prosperity reduces wars. The prevailing conclusion is that economic growth is likely to help reduce violence, but it will not eliminate it and won’t necessarily lead to peace. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, studies have found, for example, that economic growth in the PA before the second intifada was at a relatively high rate of about 9 percent.
But even without this theoretical infrastructure, it’s enough to observe the tension in today’s changing international arena to realize that even economic abundance doesn’t necessary stop the national aspirations of groups and communities.
At this point, it seems that Trump and Netanyahu’s aggressive promotion of the “economic peace” theory, along with the intra-Palestinian rift, the reduction in U.S. financial assistance and Israel’s reluctance to transfer tax money is pushing the Palestinians into an entirely opposite process: greater reliance on Qatari money and more frequent declarations of economic severance from Israel. For instance, Shtayyeh said that as a first step, his government has frozen referrals for medical care in Israel and is trying to encourage local industrial and agricultural production.
The White House, on the other hand, is promising that it will not stop with the economic phase and the conference but will present a detailed political solution as well, probably even before Bahrain. Even in this case, it is hard to believe that the Palestinian leadership will abandon the cycle of boycotts. It would have to be an unprecedented and very enticing political proposal, which speaks not only to people’s pockets but also to their human aspiration for national self-determination.