With Manama, the Americans have put the cart before the horse

It won’t do the Palestinians any good to unanimously reject the Manama workshop as long as they remain divided.
Saturday 29/06/2019
A Palestinian rides a cart carrying sacks of food aid provided by UNRWA in the town of Rafah, during a general strike against the US-led conference in Bahrain. (AFP)
Sorting out priorities. A Palestinian rides a cart carrying sacks of food aid provided by UNRWA in the town of Rafah, during a general strike against the US-led conference in Bahrain. (AFP)

The Bahrain workshop or the “Prosperity for Peace” conference is over. Because the event had been initiated upside down, no one knows or will know how it ended.

Some of the attendees, especially the businessmen and those who took part in the event in that capacity, might have thought they were taking an anticipatory step motivated by their desire to make profitable investments once some kind of peace is achieved. They based their thinking on an idea that is still debatable — that the United States is the only power capable of bringing about a settlement in the Middle East. After all, America is the main backer of Israel and the positions of the current US administration are consistent with those of the current Israeli government. This idea can be considered as one of the many assumptions that would weaken the credibility of such a workshop and undermine its practicality, by being an argument against it rather than for it.

It is known that investment and prosperity are based on a balanced political settlement and not vice versa. I have said repeatedly that the first thing needed to secure investment and prosperity is the appropriate environment. If this fact is uncontested at the level of disputes in any given place, it becomes a basic and essential requirement in the case of the conflict in the Palestinian territories. The reverse logic of starting with investments and prosperity is linked throughout history with the experiences of military invasions.

It was remarkable how often the expression “investing in the Palestinian territories and in their Arab environments to bring about prosperity” was repeated, but not a single economic expert at the conference has spelled out the type and size of this implicit investment. It shouldn’t have been difficult to do, because there exist many types of investments. You have national investment, foreign investment, direct investment, financial investment, investment in human resources, short-term, long-term, slow-moving, quick-return, social, strategic and development investments and many more than that. The motives for investments are also multiple. You can invest, for example, in order to create social capital, to build an economy and boost it, to provide a skilled and specialised labour force and, more closely to our topic here, to ensure political and economic stability.

So, in light of all these determinants, what political situation was targeted to be stabilised through boosting its economy, such that it required holding a workshop or a conference to examine the mechanisms, modalities and sizes of investments required to achieve the desired objectives?

What preceded the American-sponsored Bahrain workshop was not encouraging at all. There is no disagreement here that when a mediator unilaterally decides to throw out essential files and issues that are vital to one side and then uses the logic of coercion, it is doing nothing but disqualifying itself as mediator.

And yet, this is exactly what US President Donald Trump did. He removed the Jerusalem file from the negotiation table, then the Palestinian refugee issue, then part of the illegal Israeli settlements file and then the whole issue of illegal settlements. The Trump administration continued this same trend and withdrew the whole issue of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights from the table and offered it to Israel just like that.

Palestine’s reaction to the workshop was a rare occasion for its people to agree on a position. The attending audience at the workshop was embarrassed and even the low-level official representations were embarrassing. Bahrain, its king, its government and people have found themselves to be the targets of bitter criticism, threatening to undo the country’s long-standing support for the Palestinian cause. No expression of good intentions from Bahrain or from the other attending Arab delegations was enough to wipe away the embarrassment.

The Arab delegations at the workshop may have remained steadfast in their supportive positions for the usual terms of reference framing the peace process, and they know that such a workshop will not be able to build up new elements for a solution by sneaking behind the back of politics. But their mere attendance has placed them in the wrong position, even though White House adviser Jared Kushner has attempted to alleviate their embarrassment by referring to “the Arab peace initiative” as still a valid element of the peace process. It would be useful to remind everyone concerned that Kushner’s words are meaningless in light of the positions the United States and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s constants have taken.

Perhaps the simplest way to describe what the United States has done is to use the common expression “to put the cart before the horse.” Neither the cart nor the horse will be able to move forward. But above everything else, it won’t do the Palestinians any good to unanimously reject the Manama workshop as long as they remain divided.

That the Palestinians agreed to boycott the event is a good thing, but what is even more important is to end their division and agree on a strategy of national action, one that is realistic and serious and not narcissistic and embellished with unrealistic promises that do not match the reality on the ground. In politics, a meagre policy brings shame to itself.