The Palestinian refusal to attend the Bahrain economic workshop is irresponsible and self-defeating
By Amb. Alan Baker
The Manama Economic Workshop
As part of the first stages of the long-anticipated U.S. peace plan, the U.S. administration and Bahrain announced that they would host an economic workshop entitled “Peace to Prosperity” in the Bahraini capital of Manama on June 25 and 26, 2019.
As stated in a Joint Statement by the United States and Bahrain on May 19, 2019:
The Workshop, as summarized by Globes on May 20, 2019:
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa stressed that the meeting “serves no other purpose than to help the Palestinian people “through developing their abilities and enhancing their resources.”
The Need for such an Initiative Is Logical and Clear
The initiative comes against the background of the extremely sad economic plight of the two respective Palestinian populations in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria governed by the Palestinian Authority and in the Gaza Strip governed by the Hamas terror organization.
Misgovernment, mismanagement of resources, poverty, and waste, and rampant corruption among the Palestinian leadership and governing elements cannot help a population in dire need of economic and social stability and prosperity. These elements do not encourage support for any peace process with neighboring Israel.
Channeling monies into building and maintaining terrorist infrastructures and conducting negative and destructive political campaigning are an integral part of the Palestinian mismanagement of their economy. Extensive incitement and political campaigning throughout the world directed against Israel, rather than investing in essential public services, all undermine the welfare and prosperity of the Palestinian public.
The illogical and misguided Palestinian insistence on paying significant portions of their budget as salaries to incarcerated terrorists and their families, as a sign of their institutional support, glorification, and encouragement of terror, is the antithesis of any concept of prudent economic governance. But more notably, it is also a serious violation of accepted international norms encapsulated in counter-terror conventions prohibiting the transfer of finances to terrorists and for use by terror organizations, as well as UN resolutions and declarations calling upon states to refrain from financing terror activities.
Families of imprisoned terrorists demonstrating their solidarity with their relatives
The stubborn refusal of the Palestinian Authority to accept monies to which they are entitled under the Oslo Accords earmarked for paying salaries to officials of the Palestinian administration and for the maintenance of everyday public life and basic services (but minus the terrorist subsidies), only enhances the territories’ financial plight and deprives the Palestinian public of essential resources.
Palestinian Rejection and Boycott
Given the deficient economic situation of the Palestinians, logic would dictate a positive and co-operative attitude to any plan aimed at improving their economic stability and prosperity.
Logic would similarly expect that any responsible Palestinian leadership and concerned public would welcome with open arms a serious initiative aimed at developing their abilities, enhancing their resources, and encouraging investments and economic initiatives. This, especially since the Peace to Prosperity workshop is launched without prejudice to any ensuing political negotiation process with Israel.
However, the Palestinian leadership has nevertheless chosen to boycott the Manama workshop officially and to attempt to undermine it actively.
Saeb Erekat, the senior PLO official ostensibly heading the Palestinian “Negotiation Affairs Department,” has, in clear contrast to the title and aims of his department, become the chief demagogue and inciter amongst the Palestinian leadership in rejecting the Manama meeting.
In his official statement coming two days after the U.S.-Bahrain announcement, he called, in the name of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO Executive Committee, to: “all Palestinian political movements and factions, national figures, private sector, and civil society” not to attend the Manama meeting.
In an attempt to politicize what is intended to be a non-political and purely economic event, he went on to claim:
In a similar vein, and as part of a propaganda effort to politicize the purpose of the meeting and to dissuade Arab governments from participating, another official Palestinian spokesman stated:
In an article published in Haaretz, “We Palestinians say to Trump: No to Bahrain, bribes, and never-ending occupation,” former senior Palestinian official and negotiator Nabil Sha’ath continued the attempt to politicize the meeting and to curiously and irrelevantly bring international law into the issue:
Palestinian-American historian and Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, in an article entitled “The Neocolonial Arrogance of the Kushner Plan,”8 curiously attempted to dramatize the Manama workshop and present it as an exercise intended to “pave the way to a normalization of never-ending occupation and creeping annexation under conditions of extreme legal discrimination between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs: a situation resembling nothing so much as apartheid South Africa.”
Similarly, Palestinian private sector associations and federations, including the Palestinian Federation of Business Associations, Palestinian Federation of Industries, Business Women Forum-Palestine, Palestine Trade Center – PALTRADE, Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, and the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce, have expressed their rejection of the invitation to attend the U.S.-brokered economic workshop.
This situation raises several questions regarding capacity, capability, and willingness of the Palestinian leadership to live up to its responsibilities to its own public, to act for their welfare and economic prosperity, as well as to its responsibilities under its international obligations.
Palestinian International Responsibilities and Commitments
There is no doubt as to the political responsibilities of the Palestinians to negotiate peace. Thus, one may well ask whether their negative and obstructive position regarding the Manama workshop and their concerted attempt to politicize what is intended to be a non-political meeting is not, in effect, a serious violation of their international responsibilities and obligations.
The Palestinian leadership took upon themselves such obligations when accepting the reins of governance and the representation of the Palestinian people under the Oslo Accords.
Such responsibilities and legal obligations are set out in a series of peace-process documents to which the Palestinian leadership is committed, including:
They committed to promoting economic cooperation, including the promotion of joint ventures in such fields as industrial cooperation, agricultural cooperation, and cooperation in the fields of environment, energy, transport, and tourism, scientific and technological, cultural and educational cooperation.
The wide range of Palestinian commitments throughout the peace process documentation points to a clear obligation on the part of the Palestinian leadership to advance, encourage, support, and participate in all projects and initiatives aimed at furthering economic cooperation, for the sake of the stability and prosperity of the Palestinian public.
By boycotting the Manama Peace to Prosperity meeting and by conducting a concerted political campaign to misrepresent and undermine it, the Palestinian leadership is irresponsibly undermining its basic responsibilities to seek to improve the welfare and prosperity of its people through good governance.
The Palestinian leadership is violating its solemn commitments in the context of the peace process, both vis-a-vis Israel as well as vis-a-vis those countries and regional organs that supported, endorsed, and witnessed the Oslo Accords, including Egypt, Jordan, the United States, the European Union, Russia, Norway, and the United Nations.
It is a sad reflection on a misguided and irresponsible leadership that prefers conflict, incitement, and hostility, rather than the hope for peace and economic improvement for the Palestinian people.
Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.