Palestinians Set to Boycott U.S. Conference on Mideast Peace in Bahrain

Abbas spokesman issues cool response, Palestinian PM says no one consulted with him after U.S. said it will unveil economic aspects of blueprint at late June confab

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, chairs a session of the weekly cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 29, 2019.
Majdi Mohammed,AP

Palestinian officials will not attend a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain next month designed to draw investment to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a Palestinian cabinet minister said on Monday. 

"There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop," Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani, who is also a member of the executive committee of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters. 

>> Read more: Trump peace plan economic component to be revealed in June in Bahrain ■ The deadly consequences of a dead-on-arrival Trump Mideast peace plan | Opinion

"Any Palestinian who would take part would be be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel." 

Also Monday, a senior Palestinian official said that any American peace plan that ignores the Palestinian people's political aspirations for an independent state is doomed to fail — boding poorly for the Mideast peace conference planned next month.

The comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman immediately cast a cloud over the conference, which is expected to take place in late June in the tiny Gulf Arab state of Bahrain.

"Any plan without a political horizon will not lead to peace," Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

Abu Rudeineh told CNN in an interview that the decision whether or not to boycott the conference is ultimately up to Abbas, referencing a prior decision by the PA to shun a similar conference that took place last March in Washington and centered on attempts to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday that no one consulted with him or with the rest of the leadership in Ramallah over the financial summit. 

The Palestinian prime minister also noted that a financial solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought to come as a result of a political solution. He said that the financial crisis in the Strip is a result of a campaign to blackmail the Palestinian leadership and pressure it ahead of the publication of Trump's plan. 

Shtayyeh also said that the Palestinian leadership will not agree for any formula that would improve civilian life in Gaza but maintain the Israeli occupation.  

He said that the Palestinian government has already started to implement a plan to financially separate from Israel. As a first step, the Palestinian government has frozen the transfer of patients into Israel for medical care. It is also encouraging a plan to boost local produce and agriculture to render the Strip more self-sustained.

'Solid economic vision'

The White House announced Sunday it will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan at the conference, saying it will focus on economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.

The plan envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work, much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries, in the Palestinian territories.

But officials said the June 25-26 conference will not include the core political issues at the center of the conflict: final borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees or Israeli security demands.

The Palestinians, who severed ties with the U.S. over a year ago, have repeatedly expressed fears that the White House will try to buy them off with large sums of investment in exchange for freezing their demands for an independent state. They believe the U.S. is trying to rally support from other Arab countries to bully them into accepting a plan they see as unacceptable.

In a joint statement with Bahrain, the White House said the gathering will give government, civil and business leaders a chance to rally support for economic initiatives that could be possible with a peace agreement.

"The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives," President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said in a statement Sunday. "Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved."

Kushner and Trump's Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, have been leading efforts to draft the plan, but after more than two years of work, they have not released any details.

A senior administration official in Washington told reporters Sunday that invitations to the conference are being sent to individuals in the United States, Europe, the Gulf, the wider Arab world and "some" Palestinian business leaders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

PLO Secretary General Dr. Saeb Erekat responded to the announcement in a statement, saying that the PLO Executive Committee was not consulted "by any party" on the meeting in Bahrain.

"The Trump Administration’s vision is being implemented on the ground with their decisions and positions on Jerusalem, settlements and refugees, among others," he said. 

"All efforts to make the oppressor and the oppressed coexist are doomed to fail," read the statement. "Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected. This is not about improving living conditions under occupation but about reaching Palestine’s full potential by ending the Israeli occupation."

There also was no immediate comment from Israel.

In the absence of direct talks with Palestinian leaders, U.S. officials often talk of engaging private Palestinians and "civil society" groups. It remains unclear who these contacts are or whom they represent.

Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has embraced a group led by West Bank settlers that is seeking to promote business ties with Palestinian partners. Avi Zimmerman, the head of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, said he had not received an invitation to Bahrain, but believes the group's programs will be presented.

Without a formal address on the Palestinian side, it is also unclear how any large-scale projects would be carried out. It also was not known how any projects would be carried out in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. and Israel consider Gaza's Hamas rulers to be a terrorist group and have no direct contacts with them.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state. Breaking from the policies of its predecessors, the Trump administration has refused to endorse a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians severed ties with the White House after Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017 and subsequently moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The U.S. has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for the Palestinians and closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

The Palestinians have already said they would reject any peace plan offered by the U.S., saying Trump is unfairly biased toward Israel.

Kushner said it has been disheartening that the Palestinian leadership has attacked the plan before it's unveiled.

Earlier this month, Kushner insisted that the plan he's helped craft is a very detailed, fresh approach that he hopes will stimulate discussion and lead to a breakthrough in solving the decades-old conflict. At a think tank in Washington, Kushner described it as an "in-depth operational document" not anchored to previous, failed negotiations, high-level political concepts or stale arguments.

Kushner hinted last month at the possibility that it includes limited autonomy for Palestinians. Speaking at a Time magazine event, Kushner said past negotiations over a two-state solution have "failed. New and different ways to reach peace must be tried."