The planned Bahrain conference on Palestinian welfare

Jun 7, 2019 | AIJAC staff

Trump and Netanyahu with Jared Kushner, the architect of Trump’s peace plan
Trump and Netanyahu with Jared Kushner, the architect of Trump’s peace plan

Update from AIJAC

Update 06/19 #03

This Update is devoted to analysis of the prospects of the upcoming “peace to prosperity” workshop to promote Palestinian economic welfare, to be held in Manama, Bahrain on June 25-26. The workshop, announced by the Trump Administration two weeks ago, is designed to be the first stage in the Administration’s “Deal of the Century” Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, further details of which are expected to be released later this year.

The Palestinian Authority, as well as other Palestinian groups, have announced they will be boycotting the Bahrain meeting.

We lead with some expert Israeli commentary collected by Israel Kasnett of the JNS news agency. Kasnett notes that many see the Bahrain meeting as dead on arrival because of Palestinian rejection, not to mention Israel’s current political uncertainty, but two experts he consults – David Weinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies and Eytan Gilboa of Bar Ilan University – argue that the summit suggests a potential to at least change the paradigm of Middle East peacemaking. Gilboa, in particular, argues that the economic-oriented approach has the potential to create pressure on the Palestinian leadership – currently uninterested in peace agreements – from their own people. For more of Gilboa and Weinberg’s analysis,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is American Middle East and security analyst Shoshana Bryen. She argues that Bahrain could allow the Arab states, increasingly seeing that they share interests with Israel, to sit down together with Israel and do what the Arabs should have done decades ago – fulfil the terms of UN Security Council resolution 242 passed in 1967. She argues that the key to peace is for the Arabs and Israelis to agree that they have much to cooperate on, and to convince the Palestinians the only way they can move forward with them is to also accept the provisions of 242. For her argument in full,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, another American analyst, Matthew Brodsky, looks at why the Palestinian Authority is rejecting a conference designed to offer them money even as they are in the midst of a major financial crisis. He argues that the current rejection is part of a long pattern of the Palestinian leadership cutting off its nose to spite it face, and reviews some of that history. He also argues that true friends of the Palestinians should be telling them that their belief that “continued obstruction will somehow, one day pay future dividends” needs to change. For all that Brodsky has to say,  CLICK HERE.

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JNS.org, June 5, 2019

The general feeling in the United States and Israel at this point is that this plan is “dead on arrival,” especially since the Palestinian leadership has already rejected it out of hand and refused to attend the summit in Bahrain. Nevertheless, “Phase 1” is in motion.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s return to the election drawing board, it sent political shockwaves throughout the country. It also proved shocking for the Trump administration since the government coalition failure comes just as it launches robust efforts to implement the first part of its long-touted Mideast peace plan.

The Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” summit, which will see Americans, Israelis and the Arab League come together, is meant to act as the launching pad for a proposal arranged by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.

The stumbling block by the Israeli government temporarily threw the summit into question, but with so much at stake in the Middle East, the Trump administration is moving forward with its efforts to launch “Phase 1.” Come hell or high water (or yet another Israeli election), the White House is focused on its goal of resolving the age-old conflict. But can progress be made?

The general feeling in the United States and Israel at this point is that this plan is “dead on arrival,” especially since the Palestinian leadership has already rejected it out of hand and refused to attend the summit in Bahrain.

Others, however, are more hopeful, and have clarified that, if nothing else, what has been touted as a new approach to the conflict may at least change the paradigm of thinking for the future. According to David Weinberg, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, the Trump administration “is reversing a long-deleterious global dynamic regarding Israel and the Palestinians, thus transforming the Mideast diplomatic playing field.”

David Weinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies: Trump Administration approach “reversing a long-deleterious global dynamic regarding Israel and the Palestinians.”

Recent events, such as Netanyahu’s visit to Oman and now this conference, demonstrate a clear departure from the decades-long commitment by Muslim nations to normalize relations with Israel only after its resolution with the Palestinians. Now, the winds are blowing in a new direction. The Persian Gulf states are trying to push the Palestinians since they believe the Palestinians are an obstacle to the regional alliance against Iran.

The conference, which will focus on the main economic issues facing the Palestinians, include infrastructure, industry, empowering citizens and governance reforms. This stage is expected to be followed with the Trump administration’s “Phase 2” diplomatic aspect of the peace plan. And if “Phase 1” is tricky to achieve, “Phase 2” will likely be even trickier.

‘A battle for the hearts and minds of Palestinians’
Eytan Gilboa, professor of international relations and international communication, and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told JNS that the Trump administration is dealing with a new momentum, which, starting with the summit in Bahrain, must be kept in motion.

“This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Palestinians,” Gilboa said about the summit.

Israeli academic Eytan Gilboa: Bahrain is part of “a battle for the hearts and minds of the Palestinians.”

“The central point,” he said, “is how to create pressure from the Palestinian people on their own leadership. This will not be easy since they have been brainwashed by their leadership.”

Gilboa pointed out that the Palestinian leadership has shown many times that it doesn’t want a resolution. “They are not interested in peace agreements. They are not interested in economic benefits,” he added.

The question, according to Gilboa, is how to use economic benefits to change the main course of action that has dominated the Palestinian approach to negotiations. “The whole idea of the Trump administration is to break the hedge in two ways. One is between the Palestinian leadership and the people. The other is between the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world.”

For Gilboa, the basic assumption is that it will be “very difficult” for the Trump administration to go beyond the conference itself. To fully succeed, the second phase will need the momentum created by a successful first phase in Bahrain. The administration cannot afford too much time between the two phases.

The question is what comes next? If too much time passes, whatever successes emerge from Bahrain will lose momentum if the second phase of peacemaking cannot get off the ground. One of the conditions for the second phase to succeed is having a stable Israeli government in place.

So for Gilboa, the link between the first and second phases is weak since a lot could go wrong in between.

To ensure that the process keeps churning, the Trump administration appears to have taken steps to demonstrate to the Palestinians that if they dawdle, they will only stand to lose and will weaken their own negotiating stance.

Weinberg made this point when he said, “by asserting the law of diminishing returns (i.e., that Arabs who refuse to make peace with Israel lose rights and assets as time goes forward; see American recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan), the administration is telling the Palestinians: The aspects of sovereignty in some parts of Judea and Samaria that might be available now to the Palestinian Authority in a deal with Israel won’t necessarily be obtainable in several years’ time. Nor will the potential economic benefits.”

“Skip Bahrain if you want,” Weinberg warned the Palestinians, “but suffer the consequences.”

How Bahrain Conference can lead to peace

By Shoshana Bryen

San Diego Jewish World., June 5, 2019

The return of Israel to election mode is no reason to change the Trump administration’s plans for the U.S.-led economic conference set for Bahrain in late June. The Palestinian decision to boycott the meeting certainly is no reason to change — or cancel — it. It needs only a few tweaks to emerge as a potentially dramatic event in the history of Middle East “peacemaking.”

The modern phase of the Arab-Israel conflict began in the 19th century and solidified in 1948. It morphed by design or neglect into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. The Arab states escaped responsibility for wars they initiated in 1948, ’56, ’67, ’73, and ’82, leaving Yasser Arafat to figure out how to do what they never could — either make peace with, or win a war against, the State of Israel.

The UN Security Council debates Resolution 242 in 1967: Peace ultimately depends on the Arab states accepting the full implications of that resolution and convincing the Palestinians to do the same. 

Bahrain allows the Arab states to reach back, meet their obligations under UN Resolution 242 and restart the process the way the United Nations intended — when its intentions were honorable.

The UN understood the 1967 Six Day War as a war of Arab aggression against Israel. The Security Council recognized that the root of the “Arab-Israel conflict” was not where Jews lived, but that they had sovereign rights to a Jewish homeland — which the Arabs did not accept. The Arab position, in the view of the UN, was wrong — Israel had an absolute, undeniable and irrevocable right to a sovereign presence in the historic Jewish homeland.

The Security Council decided that Israel should not be forced to give back territory as it had in Sinai in 1956 without a resolution of the underlying problem. In that frame of mind, it passed Resolution 242.

The preamble states, “Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.” Two things jump out:

First, use of the word “war,” not “force” as it is generally translated. Israel’s use of force in 1967 was defensive; “war” was initiated by the Arabs. The inadmissibility of territorial acquisition applies to “by war,” which makes sense — otherwise an offender, in this case, the Arab states, could simply say, “Okay, status quo ante,” and wait for the next opportunity. Israel’s acquisition of territory by defensive force was not unacceptable. While the acquisition might (or might not) be permanent, the final disposition would be left for the time that the Arabs met their obligation to Israel.

Second, use of the word “security” is key as well — the UN did not offer Israel a nebulous “peace” but a concrete set of conditions to create “security.”

To ensure that, Resolution 242 has two indivisible clauses – (i) and (ii):

(i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

Not all the territories — American and British diplomats insisted then and do now — and accompanied by:

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

Concerned that Resolution 242 did not go far enough in providing security for Israel, the UNSC added the necessity for:
“Guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area,” the proximate cause of the 1967 war;
“Achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.”

“Guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area.”

All of that was to be given to Israel not by the Palestinians, who did not and do not meet the requirements of a state, but the belligerents of 1948 and 1967. Egypt and Jordan have done so. Israel is still awaiting acknowledgement of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the countries that supported the war — Algeria, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia. Today, Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority (PA) — successor to the PLO in the West Bank — accept those terms as well. The PA has refused.

It should have been simple. In 1967, the Arab states should have acknowledged that their obstructionism in 1948 was illegitimate and the establishment of Israel was legal and just. Some of the countries that have to make their peace with Israel will be in Bahrain, and UN Resolution 242 should be on the table. Fifty-two years late is not too late.

If this conference is part of a pathway toward Arab states not only working with Israel as a counterweight to Iran, but as a political and economic partner in the region… If this conference establishes Arab-Israel relations as the norm in the region… if this conference establishes that both Arabs and Israelis have places to go together and the only way for Palestinians to go there with them is to accept the requirements of UN Resolution 242…

Then progress can be made.

Shoshana Bryen is the Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington and a leading specialist in US defence policy and Middle East affairs.

Palestinians prepare to spite themselves… again

By Matthew RJ Brodsky

New York Post, June 5, 2019

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat: Announced “a collective” boycott on behalf of “all Palestinian political movements and factions, national figures, private sector and civil society.”

With the Palestinian Authority facing a financial crisis and economic challenges, one might think its leaders would be eager to attend the upcoming “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain this month. After all, the conference is about providing a transformative economic roadmap for the Palestinian people in the context of a conflict-ending, signed political agreement with Israel.

Instead, Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary-General and chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, announced “a collective” boycott on behalf of “all Palestinian political movements and factions, national figures, private sector and civil society.” Ahmed Majdalani, the PLO’s social development minister, took it further, threatening to brand any Palestinian who attends a “collaborator for the Americans and Israel” and “a traitor.”

That Erekat and the PA are so invested in torpedoing a conference that aims to improve their own people’s lives is yet another remarkable example of Palestinians cutting off their nose to spite their face. Recall that Israel’s onetime foreign minister, Abba Eban, quipped about Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity” way back in 1973.

Then-Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan also recognized this pattern in 2001, hours before PA President Yasser Arafat met with President Bill Clinton to deliver his response to the now-famous Clinton Peace Parameters.

“Since 1948, every time we’ve had something on the table we say no. Then we say yes,” Prince Bandar told Arafat. “Isn’t it about time we said yes?” Recounting the exchange in a 2003 interview in The New Yorker, Prince Bandar described Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton Parameters hours later as not only a crime against the Palestinians but against the entire region.

Yet the PA’s comfort with the status quo today, coupled with its calcified talking points, which remain unchanged since that winter morning in Washington, do not bode well for the future prospects of Palestinian-Israeli peace.

Erekat did propose his own “remedy” in The New York Times, after he repeated a well-worn litany of grievances and half-truths while throwing cold water on the idea of the economic conference: The international community needs to hold Israel “accountable for its violations of international law” and “immediately recognize the state of Palestine.”

That represents a continuation of the Palestinian strategy: Bypass direct negotiations and seek from the international community what can’t be extracted from Israel. In the meantime, delegitimize Israel.

Such an approach accords with the Palestinian belief that Israel’s birth was a sin. It also imposes an increasing cost on Israel over time.

And the PA’s leaders have seen some success in this effort with the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, their joining the International Criminal Court, receiving some member-state-like perks in the UN General Assembly and working through the unconscionably biased UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to declare Jewish heritage sites as Palestinian.

Add it all up and it leaves the PA wedded to the status quo. Its leaders will likely remain impervious even to the kind of “outside-in” pressure from Arab leaders in the region that Team Trump may be hoping for to push its peace plan. Recall that Clinton relied on such pressure, too, when he had Bandar nudge Arafat in 2001.

It doesn’t even seem to matter if the Palestinian people themselves would now accept the 2000-01 peace deal. Jared Kushner’s recent attempt to tell Palestinians directly that they shouldn’t allow their grandfather’s conflict to determine their children’s future may have fallen on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, PA leaders appear convinced that time is on their side, and that belief prevents them from rising to the occasion to secure a better future for their people. Fact is, the economic workshop in Bahrain is yet another opportunity for Palestinians to seize the moment and make progress, but as Abba Eban would say, it will likely be another opportunity missed.

Those who profess to be pro-Palestinian, should do all they can to ensure the success of the gathering and, most important, push PA leaders to get on board, rather than bolstering their contention that continued obstruction will somehow, one day pay future dividends. Getting Palestinians to reject the idea of an endless standoff is a first step toward an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Matthew RJ Brodsky is a senior fellow at the Security Studies Group in Washington and has advised the Trump administration’s peace team.


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AIJAC deplores ICJ Advisory Opinion

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