U.S. Markets closed

Trump’s Palestine Investment Conference Is a Cynical Farce

Hussein Ibish

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It's hard to imagine a more pointless exercise than a Palestinian investment conference without Palestinians. Talk about staging Hamlet without the prince! But that's exactly what the Trump administration is cooking up, to be held June 25-26 in Bahrain. And it's emblematic of the predetermined, intentional failure of its approach to brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The "Peace to Prosperity" workshop on investing mainly in Palestinian areas under Israeli occupation is meant to unveil the economic component of the U.S. peace plan, leaving political issues for later. U.S. officials say they hope for up to $68 billion in pledges.

The trouble is, both the Palestine Liberation Organization, universally recognized as the diplomatic representative of the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah say they weren’t invited or consulted.

Apparently, Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and chief Middle East peace official, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is the official host of the conference, had thought it would be smart to invite Palestinian businessmen, but not political leaders.

Kushner keeps trying to bypass Palestinian leaders and speak directly to the Palestinian people in the deluded belief that they will be more receptive to his minimalist peace project, which emphasizes improving living conditions without addressing political aims such as independence, statehood and citizenship.

Numerous Palestinian business figures have reported receiving invitations and are unanimous in derisively and categorically rejecting them, with one predictable exception.

The administration’s negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, said he finds these refusals "difficult to understand." That just means he doesn’t grasp basic Palestinian experiences and perceptions.

In fact, it's almost impossible to imagine any self-respecting Palestinian attending under current conditions.

Palestinians desperately need economic support, so under almost any other circumstances, they'd be enthusiastic participants.

But the Trump administration has signaled that the political portion of its plan won’t involve Palestinian statehood or provide Palestinians with freedom, independence or citizenship but rather some form of local collective autonomy within an expanded Israel.

Kushner has therefore left Palestinians no choice but to conclude that the Bahrain meeting could, if they participated, effectively amount to selling off their human and national rights.

Yet Kushner and Greenblatt appear genuinely surprised that Palestinians won't go along.

The administration is celebrating the participation of numerous Arab countries as if their presence signals approval of the Trump-Kushner approach. It doesn’t. For the Arab states, it’s an easy way to curry favor with Washington, since they know that the structures for implementing any investments they pledge will never emerge as the initiative collapses.

Why would the U.S. stage such a ridiculous kabuki show? Unfortunately, the intention is obvious.

If the administration were interested in resolving the conflict, it would put together a serious plan that addressed the existential concerns of both sides and then add economic inducements, not the other way around.

The idea, instead, is to offer a phony "economic incentive package" to the Palestinians and then express incredulity when their generosity is spurned.

Trump and Kushner want to be able to say that they went the extra mile to offer Palestinians a chance to transform their living conditions that any sensible people would embrace.

When that doesn’t happen, as it certainly won’t, it’ll be that much easier to repeal and replace the two-state solution that has been the basis for negotiations since the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Israel and the Trump administration will claim that Palestinian intransigence gives them no choice but to create new realities without Palestinian involvement, featuring more Israeli annexations. That’s one way to cut off all that irritating talk about occupation.

To contact the author of this story: Hussein Ibish at hussein.ibish@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.