Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Bahrain and then what?

The White House economic peace proposal (Screencapture from https://www.whitehouse.gov/peacetoprosperity/)

Following an overview on the White House’s dedicated Peace to Prosperity website, the site offers the administration’s vision for a three pronged economic approach, including (1) Unleashing economic potential, (2) Empowering the Palestinian people, and (3) Enhancing Palestinian governance. The site also links to a 40-page well-designed and detailed narrative (the PDF, I noticed after I downloaded it, was unprotected).

It is obvious that those who created, designed and signed off on the content did not research the stories behind the photos they used. They most certainly didn’t use captions or give credits. Of particular note was that the administration used images from projects it had defunded. This could be interpreted as sending a mixed message, i.e., is the White House’s vision of the future one that brings us backwards or not?

One of the photos (used without his permission) depicts Bassam Aramin, whose 10-year old daughter was shot and killed by an IDF rubber bullet. While the courts eventually found that the State of Israel was negligent and had to compensate the family, the soldier was never personally found responsible. Despite this, and as Ittay Flescher so eloquently explains, Aramin and his son are now members of Parents Circle-Families Forum, and have arrived at a place where they understand the importance of working towards peace, while also understanding that peace (and I might add, prosperity) are still not the same as justice. It is unlikely the brochure’s designers were aware of this story, just as they were unlikely unaware that so many photos were of programs that are no longer funded. From the Palestinian side, this has got to hurt.

There has been much in the news about both the “Deal of the Century” and of the Bahrain workshop, both of which focus on economic issues. The Palestinian Authority has rejected having anything to do with the proposal or the workshop. In their eyes, there can be nothing to talk about economically until the political issues of statehood are established. PA President Abbas is quoted as saying, “For America to turn the whole cause from a political issue into an economic one, we cannot accept this.”

The administration, though, has indicated that only after Israel’s elections in November will they unveil the political part of their proposal. Says CNN, “One of the sources explains that Kushner and Greenblatt see the two as going ‘in conjunction’ with each other and they know after the political plan comes out, that is where the focus will be.” In fact, it quoted Greenblatt, “We fully recognize that our economic plan cannot be successful without a political agreement, just as a political agreement would have little chance without an effective economic plan. The elements of the conflict must be dealt with to unlock the incredible potential of the Palestinian and regional economy.”

The sloppiness with the images and actual document’s security is evident, albeit on a far bigger scale, in the sloppiness in communication. The Peace-to-Prosperity proposal and workshop are not the entirety of the proposal but only part. There will be a political proposal once a coalition government is formed after the Israeli elections. It is not an either/or situation; no one is asking the Palestinians to take money in place of a future. Entertaining economic possibilities does not preclude political aspirations.

Adding to the poorly communicated fact that this conference is not the end-all, is the “do over” in Israeli elections because it lengthens the time between the economic and political parts of the “Deal of the Century” being revealed. Had a coalition been put into place, our newsfeeds might now be filled with both plans. Perhaps the administration got antsy and couldn’t wait. Perhaps CNN is right when it reported that some Palestinian leaders think that revealing the economic plan first is a way to buy the Palestinians.

That Trump and Kushner think in economic terms makes sense; their background is business, not diplomacy. And while this continued situation of not having a home of their own is reason enough for feeling desolate, the fact is that the economic situation fuels the discontent of those living in both the West Bank and Gaza. People want to work and live normal lives and cannot do that. The unemployment rate, especially in Gaza, is unsustainable.

It also makes sense that the PA doesn’t trust The United States as an honest broker.

But none of any of this is a reason to stay away from anything that could ultimately benefit the Palestinian people.

Palestinian Sage, on Twitter, contends that most Palestinians would agree to give the package a chance, but are afraid to say anything. It is not clear on what he bases his claim that the majority feels this way. I can only hope it is true. I shared with him the bottom line of what I laid out in a blog I wrote last month: ideally, both sides ought to bypass leadership and put the proposal to a referendum. What do the people truly want? Peace. Security. Prosperity. A future. The question is how to get there. Have the waters been muddied too much already by those whose focus is on the players and  meta-messaging and not on possibilities?

Tweet exchange on June 24, 2019 between the author and @PalestinianSage

The conference’s focus is on building and boosting the Palestinian economy, and this includes investments in infrastructure, services to help people and business itself. To call it a workshop, to me, seems incorrect. What has been revealed of the program indicates speakers will participate in moderated panels and one-on-one conversations but other than networking breakfasts, it does not appear to include sessions for all attendees to participate in roundtable discussions of any kind. While Al-Arabiya published only the first two pages of the two-day Bahrain Peace to Prosperity Workshop’s program, somehow the Facebook page Palestinian Voice for Peace was able to obtain a full draft, showing four pages of sessions, with some names still to be decided.

It is not clear to me if the amounts of funding that the proposal envisions coming from the Arab world have already been pledged or if this conference is the catalyst for “selling” that vision and getting buy-in. If so, when the Gulf and other countries announce their investments towards this $50 billion dollar future, how will Palestinians see it then? Will their leader’s outright rejection of all of this still resonate with them then?

A group of about ten Palestinian businessmen will be attending the workshop. Among them is Ashraf Jabari, Chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, who is scheduled to speak on “Developing a thriving local business environment.” Times of Israel notes that Jabari is considered outside the mainstream. In fact, Mohammed Massad, another Palestinian businessman, was scheduled to speak, but announced today that he will not be attending after all, placing the blame on Jabari’s presence. For anything to proceed, I imagine it will be vital for Jabari to come away not only with a message of hope he can take to Palestinians regarding their economic future, but that it clearly speak of the economic future of a Palestinian state. Or, given the split between economic and political focus, will that be the elephant in the room through all the panels and discussions?

The Palestinian leadership does not seem to recognize that this workshop and this economic plan are not in place of a political proposal, but the only part that can be discussed before it is clear who will be in Israel’s government. In fact, they’ve gone so far as to schedule an uprising to take place during the workshop. How does this get them any closer to creating a state or improving the lives of Palestinians?

I also wonder how much Israel resistance to the proposal we will see. Times of Israel reports on resistance on the economic front. And Tzachi Hanegbi, cabinet minister for regional cooperation, is already rejecting linking the West Bank and Gaza, as long as Hamas controls Gaza; this infrastructure is mentioned in the economic plan. As well, Prime Minister Netanyahu has voiced that any plan must include an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. Last month, when elements of the proposal were leaked, they included some political pieces. An English summary in Middle East Eye touched on the status of Jerusalem but not the Jordan Valley, but the original leak (in Hebrew) in Israel HaYom specified that the Jordan Valley would remain in Israeli’s hands; at the same time, two passages from the “New Palestine” to Jordan would be built and be put under Palestinian control.

I believe the full political proposal will ask the Israelis to make sacrifices. And they, like the Palestinians, have to weigh the fact that the absence of agreement leads everyone back to an unsustainable and dangerous status quo. As the Gatestone Institute’s Fred Maroun emphasized in his recent Times of Israel piece, Supporting Israel means supporting a Palestinian state, and to which I wholeheartedly agree, “Neither side’s excuses for not trying are valid. Both sides have a duty to their people to keep trying.”

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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