US-led Palestinian economic workshop opens to rejection, indifference

PHOTO: Israeli security forces surround Palestinian demonstrators, during a protest against the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference that opens today in Bahrain, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on June 25, 2019.PlayMusa Al Shaer/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH News headlines today: July 19, 2019

A U.S.-backed Palestinian economic workshop began in Bahrain Tuesday evening with no Palestinian or Israeli participation, facing rejection or indifference across much of the Middle East.

Palestinian leadership had decided against participating in the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Bahrain's capital, Manama, where Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is scheduled to present an economic proposal to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Trump administration is proposing a $50 billion investment fund to be spent in the next decade in Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries as part of its Middle East peace plan.

The proposal has been spearheaded by Kushner, and the White House calls the plan the "most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date," although it has not made clear where the money would come from.

Although the workshop in Manama deals with one possible solution to a conflict, neither the Palestinians nor Israeli leaders are attending.

PHOTO: Israeli security forces surround Palestinian demonstrators, during a protest against the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference that opens today in Bahrain, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on June 25, 2019. Musa Al Shaer/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli security forces surround Palestinian demonstrators, during a protest against the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference that opens today in Bahrain, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on June 25, 2019.

Palestinian leadership has decided against participating in the conference because it does not accept the principle that solutions to economic hardship should precede goals that Palestinians consider to me more pressing: the end of the 52-year-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the creation of a Palestinian state and help for Palestinian refugees.

"The potential of our people lies in their ability to live in a sovereign and free Palestine," Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said in a statement Tuesday. "Our right to self-determination, freedom, and independence should be honored through the implementation of UN resolutions and international law. This is the only way to peace and prosperity."

Another leading Palestinian figure, Hanan Ashrawi, echoed the same view, convinced that a free Palestinian people in its own sovereign country will be able to build a vibrant and prosperous economy.

PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at Manamas Four Seasons hotel, the venue for the U.S.-hosted Peace to Prosperity conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Matt Spetalnick/Reuters
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at Manama's Four Seasons hotel, the venue for the U.S.-hosted "Peace to Prosperity" conference, in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019.

"First lift the siege of Gaza, stop the Israeli theft of our land, resources &funds, give us our freedom of movement & control over our borders, airspace, territorial waters etc." Ashrawi tweeted. "Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free & sovereign people."

Palestinians in the West Bank rallied Tuesday to protest both the Trump administration’s Peace for Prosperity plan and the meeting in Bahrain. Demonstrations reportedly took place in Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah. In Gaza, a general strike was observed. Other protests reportedly took place in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

PHOTO: Women walk past banners showing pictures of Bahrains King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and U.S. President Donald Trump, reading down with the Bahrain conference, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, June 25, 2019. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
Women walk past banners showing pictures of Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and U.S. President Donald Trump, reading "down with the Bahrain conference," in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, June 25, 2019.

In Israel, the Peace to Prosperity initiative -- pitched by a U.S. administration friendly to Israel's leadership -- has been tacitly accepted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the initiative will be examined fairly and openly.

Israel's minister of regional cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, criticized Palestinians' refusal to participate, tweeting that their lack of participation was "astonishing."