US will push economic side of peace plan at late June ‘workshop’ in Bahrain
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US will push economic side of peace plan at late June ‘workshop’ in Bahrain

Gathering to focus on directing investment to Gaza, West Bank; invites being sent to individuals in US, Europe, Gulf, Arab world, Palestinian businessfolk; no mention of Israelis

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump (R) and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Sunday announced the first stages of its peace plan rollout, confirming that it will host a “workshop” in Bahrain in late June to focus on directing more economic investment to the West Bank and Gaza.

The gathering — formally dubbed the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop — will take place on June 25-26 in Manama, when the Trump team indicated it will release the first portion of its ambitious and highly anticipated proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“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,” the White House said in a joint statement with the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The summit, the statement added, 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.”

White House adviser Jared Kushner waves, as he arrives at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, for talks on trade with Canada, in Washington, DC, on August 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin/File)

The White House did not indicate whether Israel and the Palestinians would attend the summit in Bahrain, and nor did it specify other participants. According to CNN, finance ministers, rather than foreign ministers, will be invited to take part.

A senior administration official told reporters that invitations to the workshop are being sent to individuals in the United States, Europe, the Gulf, the wider Arab world and “some” Palestinian business leaders. The Trump administration decided to roll out the economic and political parts of the plan separately, the official said, adding that there will be no discussion about the political aspects of the plan at the upcoming workshop.

There was no immediate comment on the announcement from Israel or the Palestinians.

The Trump administration suggested the economic framework of the peace proposal would be debated before the resolution of core political issues, such as the question of Palestinian statehood.

White House Special Advisor Jared Kushner has already said that the team he is leading has refrained from even using the term “two-state solution.” The reason, he said, is that the term has different meanings to different people.

“Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved,” Kushner said in a statement on Sunday. “We look forward to presenting our vision on ways to bridge the core political issues very soon.”

Kushner has said previously that the full contents of the plan will address all final-status issues, i.e., the major disputes to be resolved in negotiations, including borders, the status of Jerusalem, and what to do about Palestinian refugees.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, sits next to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during the US-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, on July 19, 2017, at the Treasury Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin/File)

An unnamed US official told CNN that the political aspects of the plan would be released at a later date.

“We recognize that this needs to go hand in hand with the political plan, but this will be the first chance to roll out details of the economic plan,” the official said.

“We think this will showcase the potential of the entire region,” the official added. “If there’s peace, it will touch on not only the West Bank and Gaza but also Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The economies will become integrated.”

“Think about how much money is spent on bullets right now,” said the official. “If it could be spent on infrastructure and human capital, think about how much better the region could be.”

Addressing all the outstanding issues on the political side, along with the White House’s economic vision for the Palestinians would make it “tough to digest,” said the official.

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Government Press Office)

“It’s tough to digest both the economic and political proposals at once, since they’re both very detailed proposals,” the official said.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will attend the June confab, which the Trump administration said will include multiple business and political leaders throughout the region.

“This workshop will engage leaders from across the entire Middle East to promote economic growth and opportunity for the people in this important region,” Mnuchin said.

His Bahraini counterpart said the summit shows that the Trump administration was working with Arab countries in the Middle East to improve economic conditions.

“The ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop underscores the close strategic partnership between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States as well as the strong and shared interest in creating thriving economic opportunities that benefit the region,” said Bahrain’s Minister of Finance and National Economy Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.

Recent reports have said that the administration is preparing to offer a peace deal that will not include the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would be a non-starter for not only the Palestinian Authority but the rest of the Arab world and international community.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was looking into effectively annexing West Bank settlements, but wanted to coordinate the move with Washington.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks during the weekly PA cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 29, 2019. (Majdi Mohammed / POOL / AFP)

US President Donald Trump has been criticized by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as favoring Israel over the Palestinians. Over the last three years, the president has moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, cut aid to the Palestinians and United Nations Agencies that support the West Bank and Gaza, and recalled the Palestinian envoy to Washington.

In response, the Palestinians have refused to engage with Washington on diplomatic issues, and have preemptively dismissed the administration’s plan.

The rollout of the plan has been repeatedly delayed. Kushner said in March that the proposal would not be made public until after Israel forms a new government and the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which would put it at early June or later.

AP contributed to this report.

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