Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Uncertainty clouds Kushner's Bahrain conference on Middle East peace

The conference was launched to encourage investment in the Palestinian territories as the first part the long-awaited Middle East peace plan

White House Adviser Jared Kushner has tried to rally Arab support for the US peace conference next week in Bahrain. AP 
White House Adviser Jared Kushner has tried to rally Arab support for the US peace conference next week in Bahrain. AP 

With just two weeks to go until President Donald Trump’s economic conference in Bahrain, a cloud of doubt still hangs over who will be attending the event, what will be discussed and the feasibility of the Middle East peace plan.

Organised by Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the conference was launched to encourage investment in the Palestinian territories as the first part the long-awaited plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan are yet to confirm if they are to attend or abstain and only one Palestinian businessman has announced their intention to attend. Israel is reportedly yet to receive an invitation.

Mr Kushner was in the Middle East last week to meet regional leaders and try to garner more support, but it has so far seen little success.

Palestinians are boycotting the United States’ efforts, including the Bahrain Peace to Prosperity Workshop, and have dismissed it as unabashedly biased towards Israel.

Jordan is in a particularly sticky spot: the economically stressed country could use its slice of the billions in investment that the conference claims it will bring, but its population is roughly half Palestinian. Any deal could dramatically affect its domestic politics and regional standing, such as being the agreed custodian of Haram Al Sharif, or Temple Mount.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, meanwhile, have announced they will attend.

On Sunday, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told a press conference in London that the economic part of Mr Kushner’s plan is “wonderful” but that a solution cannot be imposed on the Palestinians. “No country in the Arab world can accept that,” he said.

The Palestinian leadership, which was not consulted about the conference or invited, has rejected it and urged that all involved parties boycott it; however, some Arab countries have quietly pressed them to soften their stance.

All major Palestinian businessmen have so far rejected their invitations, condemning the event as a farce for not addressing the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian economy. One small businessman has publicly accepted the invite: Ashraf al-Jabari from Hebron, who works closely with Israeli settlers and faces a dozen accusations of issuing fraudulent cheques and one of treason, according to BuzzFeed News.

The US insists that Palestinians will come to the event, but are refraining from publicising it yet.

Israeli media has reported that no Israelis have received an invitation yet. Channel 13 reported that Mr Kushner told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting on March 30, but that he is waiting for confirmation from the likes of Jordan and Egypt, who have peace treaties with Israel, before contacting the Israeli guest list. It also reported that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will be Mr Netanyahu’s pick as Israel’s representative.

In tapes leaked last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned that parts of the US peace plan could be “unexecutable.”

The already tense relationship between Palestinian and US officials was also worsened this weekend after US Ambassador David Friedman told the New York Times that Israel has the right to annex some of the West Bank, which would null the decades-long Palestinian struggle for an independent state.

On Monday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki accused Mr Friedman of trying to help hasten Israeli annexation.

"This is really something that the international community has to stand up to, has to respond," he told journalists during visit to Warsaw.

In an interview last week, Mr Kushner appeared to question the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves. “I do think they should have self-determination,” he told the Axios on HBO programme. But they will “need to have a fair judicial system, freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions” before they can attain self-determination, he said.

Updated: June 10, 2019 08:17 PM

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