Israel calls on Palestinians to ‘surrender’ – US eyes Israel-Gulf rapprochement – Manama hosts Israeli journos

KUWAIT: The National Assembly yesterday strongly lashed out at a US-led workshop in Bahrain to push stalled Middle East peace and called on the Kuwaiti government to boycott the two-day conference starting today. In a statement passed unanimously, the Assembly said the conference, which is being attended by several Arab countries and boycotted by the Palestinians, aims at normalizing ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights.

The statement expressed total rejection of the conference’s outcome, which undermines legitimate and historical Arab and Islamic rights in occupied Palestine. The statement insisted that any normalization with Israel is a breach Kuwaiti principles and laws. Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said Kuwait will not accept anything that is unacceptable to the Palestinian people, but he did not comment on the call to boycott the meeting. Kuwait has so far not announced if it will participate in the workshop and at what level. Four of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have said they will take part, but Oman and Kuwait have not announced their decisions.

The Palestinians yesterday vowed to reject the US-led peace initiative to be presented in Bahrain that dangles the prospect of $50 billion as an Israeli envoy bluntly told them they should “surrender”. Finance chiefs from the United States, oil-rich Arab states and international development institutions were flying to the tiny kingdom, which in a rarity is openly welcoming Israelis, who have forged an indirect alliance with Gulf rulers due to mutual hostility with Iran.

Led by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the Peace to Prosperity economic workshop that begins today evening is billed as the start of a new approach that will later include political solutions to the long intractable Middle East conflict. It proposes raising more than $50 billion in fresh investment for the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors with major projects to boost infrastructure, education, tourism and cross-border trade.

The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the workshop, denouncing the plan for saying nothing about ending the Israeli occupation. “This economic workshop in Bahrain is really going to be nonsense,” Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told a cabinet meeting. “What Israel and the United States are trying to do now is simply to normalize relations with the Arabs at the expense of the Palestinians,” he added. President Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinians “will not be slaves or servants” of Kushner or other Trump aides. “For America to turn the whole cause from a political issue into an economic one, we cannot accept this,” he said.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, criticized the Palestinian leadership for declaring that the plan amounted to surrender. “I ask: What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?” he wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times. “Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission,” he said. Denouncing both the “corrupt” Palestinian Authority and Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip, Danon noted that Palestinian unemployment remained stubbornly high despite years of international assistance.
“Given this woeful state of affairs, it is self-evident that the Palestinian people need a new course of action,” Danon wrote, charging that Palestinian national identity was “motivated not by building a better life for its people but by destroying Israel”. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat “misleadingly suggests that a ‘surrender’ will lead to an end of the Palestinian people,” he added. “But nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, surrendering will create the opportunity to transform Palestinian society, thereby leading to his people’s liberation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has spoken of annexing parts of the West Bank, also took the Palestinians to task. “I don’t understand how the Palestinians rejected the plan even before knowing what it contained,” Netanyahu said Sunday as he hosted Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. “That’s not how you move forward,” Netanyahu said.

The Trump administration says it will later release political proposals – perhaps as late as November once Israel holds new elections and forms a government. But Trump officials have hinted their approach will not mention the creation of an independent Palestinian state, a goal of US diplomacy for decades. Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said the Bahrain workshop “is not about buying peace”. “In no way is this about forcing the Palestinians to accept an agreement that they don’t like and to draw a connection – you accept this and you’ll get that,” he told Le Monde on a visit to France.

Aaron David Miller, a veteran US negotiator on the Middle East, said the idea of a major economic plan for the Palestinians was not new. “Had Trump administration not spent the last two years waging an economic/political pressure campaign against the Palestinians and undermined their aspirations on statehood/Jerusalem, the plan would have made sense,” he said.

The US-led peace conference could also present Washington with a new opportunity to push Gulf allies and Israel closer together as tensions with common foe Iran rise. Gulf countries are “well aware a Palestinian investment conference without Palestinians and even without official Israeli participation is ridiculous”, said Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute. “I think the Gulf countries are simply trying to win brownie points with the Trump administration, particularly at a time of heightened confrontation with Iran,” he said.

The Trump administration is keen to use the conference to push for closer ties between the oil-rich Gulf Arabs states and Israel to bolster an anti-Iran coalition. “I don’t think the… absence of Palestinian political leaders… makes any difference to the US administration’s desire to deepen the nascent but undeclared alliance between itself, Israel and some Gulf Arab states against Iran,” said Middle East analyst Neil Partrick. “In terms of the individual national security priorities of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, Iran has long been of greater importance to them than the almost extinct ideological pressure that Palestine once placed on the policies and behavior of all Arab state leaders,” he added.
In recent years Israel has been courting Arab nations which do not recognize the Jewish state, and in October last year Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held surprise talks in Muscat with the ruler of Oman. These efforts at rapprochement came as Iran – the arch-foe of Israel and regional rival of Gulf kingpin Saudi Arabia – was bolstering its influence in several Arab countries.

Analysts say improved ties between Israel and Arab countries cannot take place in the absence of a tangible progress to defuse the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “If you want to unite everyone against Iran, you need to do something in the (Mideast) peace process,” Yoel Guzansky, a former head of the Gulf department at Israel’s National Security Council, told AFP. Ibish agreed. “A real, open and meaningful rapprochement in not on the cards,” he said, pointing to the dispute over the city of Jerusalem – which both Palestinians and Israeli claim as their own.

Meanwhile, a handful of Israeli journalists were making their way to Bahrain yesterday after getting special permission to attend the US-led economic conference. Their apparently unprecedented visit is facilitated by the involvement of the US, an ally of both countries, which do not have diplomatic relations. Israelis are normally barred from most Arab countries, except when they who enter on second passports.
“I’ve been travelling the world to cover events for 13 years, but this one is the most exciting,” tweeted Barak Ravid, correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13 private TV. “This is the first time Israeli journalists will be allowed to enter Bahrain,” he wrote in a post that included a selfie of himself on a plane he said was heading from Jordan to the Gulf kingdom. “Not a usual flight route for an Israeli journalist… Proud to enter with an Israeli passport,” journalist Ariel Kahana from the Israel Hayom daily tweeted when he arrived in Bahrain.

Diplomatic correspondents from six Israeli media outlets – the newspapers Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, Channel 12 and Channel 13 and the website The Times of Israel – were invited. However, Channel 12 said it would not send a correspondent after the US refused to accredit its journalist Dana Weiss, for reasons that were not immediately clear. The Trump administration has running feuds with several American news organizations it views as hostile.

Jason Greenblatt, adviser to Trump and one of the architects of the conference, played up the significance of their presence. “There are those working to improve the lives of Israelis, Palestinians & others in the region, and to see if peace can be achieved. Bahrain is one such country,” he tweeted. But one of the invited journalists played down the significance of their participation. “It is very exciting on a personal level, but we must not overstate the scope of our participation as Israeli journalists,” he said on condition of anonymity. “This is not a normalization of relations between Israel and Bahrain, only an invitation by the White House to a conference, organized in Bahrain by the United States.” – Agencies

By B Izzak and Agencies