Donald Trump’s senior advisor on the Middle East peace process, Jared Kushner has achieved something many have failed to achieve. He has managed to unite Palestinians at all levels in rejecting the first stage of the “deal of the century”, namely the “Manama workshop”.
This political novice and his partner in Palestinian rights-denial, Jason Greenblatt, tried to put the cart before the horse, outlining their vision for economic prosperity for Israel and Palestine before presenting a political vision that the Palestinians can accept.
The Israelis will reluctantly accept both visions, as the package would not have been adopted and offered by a biased Trump team if it had not first passed Netanyahu’s tests. I would go further in arguing that these inexperienced “political strategists” have pulled together a plan, which they convinced Trump was his, but which is Netanyahu’s and the Israeli right’s vision for a Palestinian submission.
The much touted deal has been nearing birth for months with the early contractions subdued first to allow the Israeli elections to take place, then until Middle Easterners observed the holy month of Ramadan and then, Eid Al-Fitr. It turns out the deal is a pair of twins. One is an economic baby that will be born in Manama, Bahrain, and then a political baby that will have to wait to see the reception her economic brother will receive, before deciding whether to emerge soon or to hang on for another day. In the worst case – or best case scenario depending on your stand point – it may never arrive into the world.
The economic baby will be forcibly delivered in Bahrain’s capital by a pro-Israel American team to an awaiting gallery of finance ministers, businessmen and women. It will be force-fed a narrative of delusion, that its miraculous arrival will herald a new dawn in the Middle East. Everyone in the room will want a piece of the action. Investors are expecting a windfall from infrastructure and other projects, while Palestinians and Israelis will be dreaming about a prosperous future funded by Gulf riyals, dirhams and dinars.
The economic baby will look round the room for the beneficiaries from all this, only to find that the elephant it expected to see in the room, the “Palestinians”, is missing. Instead, in the room are those that separated it from its political twin and those that have come to sell the elephant outside the room a life in captivity devoid of hope that it could be free one day to live like other elephants in the wild. Its crown jewels, its tusks were cruelly removed when Jerusalem and the refugees were extracted and given away to Israel free of charge and against expected norms and international understandings if not international law.
The economic baby will wonder whether its arrival was a blessing or a curse. For if the Palestinians are not there, then will it be championing investments in infrastructure projects to entrench the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza? Will the gathering be funding projects to benefit the illegal settlements and settlers, making life better for them rather than the indigenous Palestinians?The Manama baby will feel aggrieved that its arrival in an Arab country with no relations with Israel will feed its now year-old brother; normalisation. That baby had been crawling under a table but has now taken its first steps, especially at the charade that was named the Warsaw conference? This is because it is expected that the Americans will bring an Israeli team to Manama, thus advancing Netanyahu’s vision that has called for normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world before a peace deal with the Palestinians. No more under the table contacts, but now open handshakes and may be off screen hugs between Arabs and Israelis all plotting the end of the Palestinian cause.
While the Palestinian leadership has made it clear that it will not be joining the workshop, a cynical attempt by the Americans to lure Palestinian businessman has failed miserably. There is unanimous agreement to date that attendance would not be in the national interest and that the Palestinian cause cannot be bought. PLO General Secretary, Saeb Erekat said in a short statement that “Palestine will not attend the Manama meeting”. He added that “Palestine’s full economic potential can only be achieved by ending the Israeli occupation, respecting international law and UN resolutions.”
Jason Greenblatt, who has taken to trolling Palestinian leaders, was excited to reveal that one Palestinian businessman had agreed to attend. Ashraf Jabari announced that he will be “thrilled to attend”. Greenblatt tweeted “Thank you Ashraf Jabari for your open minded approach to our upcoming econ workshop”.
Thank you Ashraf Jabari for your open minded approach to our upcoming econ workshop. Couldn’t agree more w you: “What have we gained from bloodshed & separation? Nothing…We need to look at what went wrong & do something different so we can make it right” https://t.co/tlbcloMoKd
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) May 23, 2019
With the key party to ending the conflict absent from the Manama workshop, the event is heading for a spectacular failure. In a way separating the economic and political twins will back fire. The economic baby’s message to her political twin will be that although it suspected it would be dead on arrival, it fought to take a few breaths at birth to see whether it could bring hope to the Manama delivery suite but it now wishes it had not taken these few breaths to give any false hope or a bright future. Its message to its political twin is that if it goes through its own birth, it will be disfigured and sick. It is better off taking its own life than waiting to see if its birth could achieve anything.
However, he also acknowledged Abdel Kari Ashour’s refusal to attend the Manama workshop, explaining: “The Bahrain conference aims at selling Palestine for a fistful of dollars – you in invited the wrong person.” Greenblatt put this lack of “open mindedness” not down to individuals recognising how ludicrous this charade is, but that they “can’t afford to be as open/have been intimidated to avoid our workshop.”
At the UN Security Council, Greenblatt called for the dismantlement of the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, an action Netanyahu has demanded for years claiming it perpetuates the refugee issue. UNRWA rejected this claim and reminded Greenblatt that it is the lack of political solution to the refugee issue, not a desire to continue to exist as an agency that has brought the funding crisis it has faced.
UNRWA is holding a donor conference to ensure its continuation, which ironically takes place on 25 June, the day the Manama workshop is due to begin. If it could, the economic baby would not be in Manama but at that conference ensuring UNRWA is sustained until the Palestinian refugees are able to exercise their lawful right to return in peace to their homeland, Palestine.
The refugee issue is only one of a number of core issues that await a solution. What is depressing is that at its most critical juncture, the Palestinians remain divided and devoid of a strategy to regain the initiative for national liberation. Kushner and Greenblatt have for now united the Palestinians in opposing the Manama workshop. Let his be the first step in finally achieving reconciliation and the formation of a badly needed strategy involving all Palestinians. In unity, they will defeat the plots to extinguish their struggle. A united people that attain their just rights will also bring peace ad many healthy babies into the troubled holy land.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.