President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy on Wednesday urged Palestinians to not skip a US-led peace conference in Bahrain next month, where the administration is expected to unveil the economic aspects of its long-awaited Middle East peace plan.
The White House has announced that it will roll out the first phase of its peace proposal at a summit focusing on economic aspects that Jason Greenblatt said has the “potential to unlock a prosperous future for the Palestinians.”
But the Palestinian Authority has rejected the US invitation for excluding the core political issues from the conference agenda, and has vowed to boycott the June 25-26 confab being co-hosted by the tiny Gulf Arab state.
In remarks to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Greenblatt said “it would be a mistake for the Palestinians not to join us.”
“They have nothing to lose and much to gain if they do join us. But it is, of course, their choice,” said Greenblatt, who is drafting the proposal with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Greenblatt also called for the dismantling of the UN refugee agency that helps some five million Palestinian refugees, calling it “a band-aid” that is “running on fumes.”
He asserted the “UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people,” and reiterated a previously rejected US proposal for host countries or non-governmental agencies to take over services.
Greenblatt’s remarks were echoed by Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon, who blasted the UN Palestinian refugee agency for “failing to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip” and claimed the agency only “incites violence against Israel.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas cut ties with the Trump administration in 2017 after it recognized capital of Israel as Jerusalem, where Palestinians envision the capital of their future state.
Trump’s White House responded with a series of punitive measures, including severing assistance to the PA and defunding UNRWA.
UNRWA provides education, health and food services to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip West Bank and East Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl told the council by video-conference from Gaza that the agency had managed to plug a $446 million deficit last year through budget cuts and new donor contributions.
“At a time when Palestine refugees face a near complete absence of a political horizon, I am strongly convinced that preserving UNRWA’s services is a crucial contribution in terms of human dignity and regional stability,” said Kraehenbuehl.
UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov also addressed the council, where he urged member states not to withdraw support for Palestinian refugees.
Though he did not mention the Trump peace plan, Mladenov warned that efforts to address the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza without a framework for a political solution in place were doomed to fail.
“Humanitarian and economic support is very important for people, and it is also critical as for creating an environment conducive for viable negotiations,” he said according to a statement from his office. “However, the solution to the conflict remains fundamentally political.
“There are no shortcuts to sustainable peace,” he said.
AFP contributed to this report.