Peace not on the agenda as Abbas boycotts Bahrain
he Trump administration is rolling out the economic portion of its Middle East peace plan at an important summit in Bahrain next week, June 25 and 26. The parley will focus on how best to support the Palestinian economy as part of a broader regional peace agreement.
There are some big names on the guest list: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have all RSVPed that they will be coming, and Israel is reportedly sending a business delegation. One name, though, is curiously absent from the list of confirmed attendees: the Palestinians.
Predictably, the Palestinians declared they would be boycotting the event. Their attempts to pressure Egypt and Jordan not to go fell on deaf ears.
I spoke with a few high-ranking officials, both Israelis and Americans, at the Jerusalem Post conference in New York on Sunday. Some said the summit is a brilliant idea, while others questioned whether it would be a waste of time, but everyone agreed that peace is not one of the anticipated outcomes of this event.
“I think that any interaction Israel has with any of the Arab states is a good thing,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the conference. “It’s a good thing, it’s something we didn’t have years ago.”
When asked about the Palestinian boycott, Engel responded: “The Palestinian leadership has failed their people for ages and ages. Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister, used to say the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And now, unfortunately, that’s still the case 50 years later.”
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians the most generous deal ever — which they rejected. I asked him what we could expect to see coming out of the Bahrain summit.
“I hope everyone involved remembers that, bottom line, we’re all looking for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “An agreement between Israel and Israel or between Israel and the American administration is not insignificant, but this is not the bottom line that we are looking for.
“I’m not familiar with the American peace plan,” he continued. “But the question is whether or not this peace plan is a platform that can bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. This is something that needs to be proved, and I’m not certain we are moving in this direction.”
On the Palestinian boycott of the conference, Olmert said, “The Bahrain summit can’t take the place of a political process between the Palestinians and us. And the fact that the Palestinians are not part of it leaves a serious question as to what exactly the purpose of this is. Maybe it can be useful, but it will not make any difference as far as the political agreement is concerned.”
Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon chuckled when asked if peace will emerge from the Bahrain summit. “B’ezrat Hashem [we will see peace], but unfortunately the Palestinians always say no,” he told me. “They don’t know exactly what the US will offer them, and they’re not entering the room. This is unfortunate.”
While the Palestinians won’t be there, Danon said the chance to further improve ties with other Arab countries makes the summit worthwhile. “I think that [Israeli] cooperation with other countries is crucial for the region, and I hope one day there will be a leader among the Palestinians like Anwar Sadat who will stop the incitement and the hate, and will take care of the needs of the Palestinian people.
News and Not News
Prior to the Jerusalem Post conference, American ambassador to Israel David Friedman caused a stir with remarks seeming to endorse Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank as part of a final peace deal. Israeli UN ambassador Danny Danon was somewhat dismissive of the controversy.
“In any future agreement, Jewish communities [in the West Bank] will be part of Israel,” Danon said. “You can argue over how many Jewish communities, and how big they will be, but even people from the left understand that you’re going to have a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. It’s obvious.”
Like Danon, Israeli minister for regional cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi said Friedman’s remarks are a non-issue.
“This is not news,” he insists. “For many years, Israel has declared that we are not going back to the ’67 borders, and that in any future arrangement, we will definitely annex part of the area. This is the idea of a [land] swap. I understand that people are very enthusiastic on the right wing, but for me, it’s not news.”
Hanegbi is more enthusiastic about the Bahrain summit, however. “I believe the summit in Bahrain comes at a crucial juncture in relations between Israel and the Arab world,” he told me. “This will be the first time we’re sitting together with Arab leaders, not as rivals, like at the Madrid peace conference [in 1991], but as people cooperating to achieve a specific positive goal. The goal is to build trust.”
According to Hanegbi, the Palestinians’ absence is their own problem “That’s a tragedy for the Palestinians, but it does not obligate us [and our] neighbors in the Middle East to be paralyzed. This is what they never understand. Whenever they boycott a political event, as they did after Camp David or after Oslo, they are the ones who lose.
“Israelis and the Arab states will go forward,” he continued. “We’ve had a peace agreement with Egypt for 40 years, against the Palestinians’ wishes. We’ve had a peace agreement with Jordan for 26 years, against the Palestinians’ wishes. And we will have political and economic cooperation with the participants at the Bahrain conference, against the Palestinians’ wishes.
“It’s of course very sad, but nobody’s going to stop and wait for them to be kind enough to cooperate with us. We want them to be part of it, because they’re not going to disappear. [Even] if you make peace with the entire Arab world, the Palestinians will still be our neighbors. We want them to be part of [a wider agreement]. But this decision is up to them.”
Next week, NBC will host the first Democratic presidential debates for the 2020 campaign. Some 20 contenders will take part in two separate events, spread over two nights, ten candidates each night. Here are some things to watch for in relation to the Jewish community, Israel, and the Middle East:
- Who will address the rise of anti-Semitism in the US?
- Will anyone criticize the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem?
- Will anyone threaten to cut military aid to Israel?
- Will anyone promise to rescind US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights?
- Who will promise to sign the Iran deal again if elected?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 765)