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The Palestinian refusal to attend the Bahrain economic workshop is irresponsible and self-defeating

By Amb. Alan Baker
web posted June 24, 2019

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:

This workshop is a pivotal opportunity to convene government, civil society, and business leaders to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.

“Peace to Prosperity” will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth. If implemented, this vision has the potential to radically transform lives and put the region on a path toward a brighter future.

The Workshop, as summarized by Globes on May 20, 2019:

…is aimed at recruiting businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and people from civil society for large investments in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the cooperation and a flow of investments also to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, with the participation of the Persian Gulf states.

[It] would deal with economics and development according to the needs of the Palestinians, would support progress in the entire region, and would provide a platform for exchanging ideas and a strategic dialogue in order to encourage investments and economic initiatives likely to lead to the achievement of a regional peace.

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.
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:

We did not mandate anyone to negotiate on our behalf. Those concerned and want to serve the interest of the Palestinian people should respect this collective position. Palestine’s full economic potential can only be achieved by ending the Israeli occupation, respecting international law and UN resolutions.

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:

…the Palestinian government deeply regrets the declaration of Cairo and Amman about participating in the workshop and call on them and all brotherly and friendly countries to withdraw from participating in the workshop.

Under the cover of this participation, the United States is trying to create solutions outside the realm of international legitimacy that detract from the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people…

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:

For the Trump team, the Manama meeting represents a strategic stage in their efforts to undermine both international law and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. But they are also dedicated to dismembering the Arab Peace Initiative, and to pivot away from Palestinians achieving their rights of freedom and self-determination to discussing Palestinians’ “economic prosperity” – under Israeli rule.

The Manama meeting is one phase in a larger effort to undermine Palestinian rights and normalize Israeli violations, while promoting Arab-Israeli normalization. These have been at the core of the U.S. administration’s efforts.

It is precisely because we believe in a just and lasting peace for our region that we say no to the Manama meeting. Only a political solution that ends the Israeli occupation and fulfills the rights of the Palestinian people, in accordance with international law, can promote sustainable economic prosperity. There can be no ‘prosperity’ without freedom.

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:

  • The September 1993 Exchange of Letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat, which set the stage for the Oslo peace process:

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

  • Similarly, in his letter to Johan Jorgen Holst, Foreign Minister of Norway and host of the Oslo meetings, Arafat confirmed:

… upon the signing of the Declaration of Principles, the PLO encourages and calls upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to take part in the steps leading to the normalization of life, rejecting violence and terrorism, contributing to peace and stability and participating actively in shaping reconstruction, economic development and cooperation.

  • In the September 13, 1993, Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, commonly termed “Oslo I”:

The two sides, in recognizing their mutual legitimate and political rights, are committed to strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process.

  • In the article on cooperation in economic fields, the parties acknowledged:

The mutual benefit of cooperation in promoting the development of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel,

  • In the article on “Israeli-Palestinian cooperation concerning regional programs:”

Both parties view the multilateral working groups as an appropriate instrument for promoting a ‘Marshall Plan,’ the regional programs and other programs, including special programs for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

  • Such regional development programs include commitments to:

… co-operate in the context of the multilateral peace efforts in promoting a Development Program for the region, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to be initiated by the G-7. The parties will request the G-7 to seek the participation in this program of other interested states, such as members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, regional Arab states and institutions, as well as members of the private sector.

  • This Development Program was to consist of a Social Rehabilitation Program, a Housing and Construction Program, a small and medium business development plan, an Infrastructure Development Program (water, electricity, transportation, and communications, etc.), and a Human Resources Plan.
  • Other programs were to include establishment of a Middle East Development Fund, a Middle East Development Bank, a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian Plan for coordinated exploitation of the Dead Sea area, a Mediterranean Sea (Gaza) – Dead Sea Canal, Regional Desalinization and other water development projects, a regional plan for agricultural development and prevention of desertification, interconnection of electricity grids, transfer, distribution and industrial exploitation of gas, oil, and other energy resources, and a Regional Tourism, Transportation, and Telecommunications Development Plan.
  • In the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip signed at Washington, D.C., September 28, 1995 ( “Oslo II”), the parties recognized:

… that the peace process and the new era that it has created, as well as the new relationship established between the two Parties as described above, are irreversible, and the determination of the two Parties to maintain, sustain, and continue the peace process.

  • To this end, they agreed to establish a mechanism to develop programs of cooperation between them. Such a mechanism was agreed to in the sixth annex to the Interim Agreement, entitled “Protocol concerning Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation Programs,” in which they committed

to establish dialogue and cooperation on the bases of equality, fairness, and reciprocity within the context of the interim period, and to act together in order to ensure that peace, stability, and cooperation between them are reinforced and sustained.

  • They also agreed to establish and maintain between them an extensive program of cooperation in fields of human activity including in economic, scientific, social and cultural fields, involving officials, institutions, and the private sector, and to strengthening regional cooperation.
  • In Article IV of the Interim Agreement, on the subject of economic cooperation, the two sides recognized the importance of economic growth, especially on the Palestinian side, and cooperation based on the principles of equity, fairness, and reciprocity as a key factor in the context of building peace and reconciliation.

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.

Conclusion

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. ESR

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.

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