Arab press divided on US economic peace plan

Coverage across Arabic-language news outlets has been noticeably thin and lacking in consensus.
Friday 28/06/2019
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. (Reuters)
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. (Reuters)

LONDON - The United States-sponsored “Peace and Prosperity” workshop in the Bahraini capital, Manama, drew mixed reactions in Arabic-language media outlets.

White House adviser Jerald Kushner defended the Trump administration’s peace plan as “the opportunity of the century” but the conference, which the United States and Bahrain hope will serve as a springboard to “peace and prosperity” has divided public opinion and Arab leaders.

The explosion of English-language press coverage of the event has not been matched by Arab media reactions. Coverage across Arabic-language news outlets has been noticeably thin and lacking in consensus.

Among the first nations to voice opposition to the conference was Kuwait. The decision to boycott Kushner’s "Peace to Prosperity" plan, which Kuwaiti Parliamentary Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim attributed to the leader of Kuwait, received quiet applause across the Arab press.

Visiting London, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Saeb Erekat praised what he described as Kuwait’s “principled position” and commended its leadership as the “most prominent supporter of Palestine’s cause,” Kuwait newspaper Al Watan reported.

Palestinians in the West Bank responded by raising the Kuwait flag on a street named after al-Ghanim.

Al Quds newspaper emphasised the low turnout of Arab leaders and delegations in Manama for the Kushner-led workshop. Coverage also centred on the reluctance of some Arab countries to state their position.

Turkey's state owned TRT news laid emphasis on the absence of a concrete roadmap to fast-track peace in a region plagued by political imbalances.

London-based BBC Arabic catalogued a series of tweets displaying various opinion strands focused on Israeli tweets and Arab reactions to them.

Bahraini media placed their finger on a sensitive chord: blooming economic opportunities between Israel and the Arab region: it chose to eject the growing wave of resistance back home and in the wider region.

The Bahraini Society Against Normalisation with the Zionist Enemy struck back against a selfie posted by an Israeli journalist brandishing his passport outside of the society’s headquarters during his visit to Bahrain.

Other photographs posted by Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid of Israeli journalists kicking back with beer in Bahrain unbuttoned a flurry of anger from activists who took to the streets of Manama to express in graffiti their rejection of the economic conference.

Bahrain granted access to a total of six Israeli journalists from different news broadcasters as part of the landmark visit, described as the first of its kind.

The opposition voiced by the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars founded by theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi was covered in Turkey-sponsored press. Despite the controversy surrounding Qaradawi’s political ideas, which include endorsement of violence, his union rejected the hosting of countries they described as “enemies.”

In an interview with the Arabic-language service of Russia Today, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa underscored the justification Western leaders have offered to validate “peace to prosperity.” Al-Khalifa praised the endeavour between his country and the Trump administration and stated that “economic opportunities can improve the climate of relations towards peace,” adding that the workshop “welcomes and is here to listen to new ideas.”

Various opinion pieces published in the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper debate the plan’s political chance of success and the motives that lurk beneath.

Others, including Abdel Bari Atwan's Rai Al Youm, described America’s latest posturing as “extortion” of the Gulf states while criticising the apathy of Arab leaders and accusing them of “accepting a cheap price in exchange of purging Arab lands.”

Hashtags that express solidarity with Palestinians -- from “Palestine is not for sale” to “Bahrain rejects normalisation” -- either received fleeting mention or were confined to the margins of mainstream press coverage. However, Reuters spelled out what Arabic-language outlets shied away from saying. One headline read, “Kushner’s economic plan for Mideast faces broad Arab rejection.”

Endorsements of the $50 million package flaunted in Kushner’s economic peace plan are few and far between across the mainstream Arabic-language media landscape, as many Arab leaders fall silent on the controversy over Arab-Israeli normalisation.