The Bahrain “Workshop” and Chances for Peace

I am no supporter of Donald Trump. But as a Jew and a Zionist, I cannot walk away unmoved by the video images of a group of Jewish men (yes, I’m afraid men only) dancing around the prayer stand in a synagogue in Manama, Bahrain, singing am yisrael hai, “the people of Israel lives,” as shown in The Times of Israel. Nor is it insignificant that the Bahraini foreign minister unequivocally announced his recognition of the state of Israel, that it is here to stay and that he is anxious to make peace with it. These are monumental events, and President Trump must be given credit for orchestrating this historic moment.

But the other piece of the puzzle was also stated by numerous attendees to the Bahrain “workshop” as reported by The Times of Israel, and that is the political piece. It is clear to everyone that none of this will bear fruit until there is a political settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, and it is also quite clear that this involves the two-state solution, i.e., a Palestinian State. This is clear not only in the foreign minister’s reference to the Arab Peace Initiative confirmed by the League of Arab States in March of 2002, which calls for a Palestinian state, but also from numerous other attendees, including Christine Lagarde, the CEO of the International Monetary Fund.

The Arab Peace Initiative, originally rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has received a more positive response from Netanyahu, who, according to The Times of Israel, “endorsed the general idea behind the initiative.” There are glaring issues offered by the initiative, including its demand that Israel relinquish the Golan Heights, which is not going to happen, certainly not any time soon. Yet, the Bahrain Foreign Minister, while offering the initiative as a starting point, challenged Israel to “[c]ome and talk to us. Talk to us about it.”

The reason that the workshop’s economic plan will go nowhere without a political settlement is clear. Only yesterday (June 25), I participated in a Zoom conference sponsored by JStreet with Sam Bahour, whose blog describes him as a “Palestinian-American from Youngstown, Ohio living and working at ground zero in Palestine.” Bahour notes that the economy of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank is completely dominated by Israel. Israel controls all of the resources in the territory: land, water, and other natural resources. Even the air space and the broad-band space are controlled by Israel. Moreover, the plethora of rules and restrictions that the Israeli government places on Palestinian activity in the territories makes economic endeavors so totally unstable and unpredictable that few are willing to invest in economic projects. So pouring financial resources into the territory under Israeli occupation would be throwing money down a rat hole.

The box that Trump has opened is probably not the one that he expected. Nonetheless, he has created an extraordinary opportunity. The best way—indeed, the only way—for the government of the United States to take advantage of this opportunity is to begin to explore the conditions under which the government of the United States would recognize a Palestinian State.

About the Author
Richard Lederman holds a BA in Religion from Miami University (Ohio) and a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature from the Annenberg Research Institute, now the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. After nearly 30 years as a Jewish communal professional, Lederman now serves as adjunct professor in the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University. He blogs at www.thereligioushumanist.com.
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