Peace was missing piece’ in controversial Israeli-Gulf conference
The recently held international moot in Manama, Bahrain, was meant to lay the economic foundations for Israeli-Palestinian peace. It was interchangeably called the “Economic Workshop” and “Peace to prosperity conference” and that explained the confusion in the minds of its sponsors.
One title recognized the primacy of peace as a precursor to economic prosperity. The other ignored political settlement and focused only on the economic aspect of what was dubbed the “deal of the century.” That explained why this meeting attracted controversy from the very beginning. It tried to put the cart before the horse. You cannot achieve prosperity in Palestine without a political settlement first.
When the Arabs indicated their willingness to accept the two state solution through the Fahd Peace Plan, they made a major concession of accepting the reality of Israel in exchange for the restoration of legitimate Palestinian demands. For Palestinians, an independent state of their own with east Jerusalem as its capital was the essential starting point. The return of Palestinian refugees to their homes is their right under international law. Israel’s deliberate refusal to implement the road map agreed upon in Oslo created a huge trust deficit between the two sides. And President Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was like the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
The Manama conference tried to put the cart before the horse. You cannot achieve prosperity in Palestine without a political settlement first.
The conference in Manama was US sponsored and senior US advisor to Trump Jared Kushner was its linchpin. The government in Ramallah refused to participate in it. So it was like an engagement ceremony where the would-be groom was deliberately absent. It was a quasi-governmental moot wherein civil society representatives and journalists, including Israeli ones, were present. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair attended as did the IMF chief Christine Lagarde. Arab countries that participated opted to send low profile delegates. It was here that Kushner unveiled an ambitious $50 billion development plan for Palestine over the next ten years. It envisages vast improvements in infrastructure to enhance regional connectivity and create new jobs. But rather than only achieving prosperity over the next ten years, the Palestinians have shown their clear preference for a political solution of their national problem first.
The conference did not get much traction in Pakistan. The reason is that Pakistan opts to keep quiet whenever there is a lack of consensus amongst its Arab friends on any issue.
Pakistan has been steadfast in its support for the Palestinian issue. For Pakistan, the issue has two dimensions: political and spiritual. The inalienable right of Palestinian people to self-determination is very similar to the Kashmiris’ demand for determining their future. And no less important is a burning desire in Pakistanis to see Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque free from Israeli occupation. For Pakistanis, Al Quds and its illegal occupation is a highly emotive issue.
Since the conference had lopsided priorities, it could not achieve its major objective of marketing the “deal” to the Arabs. Some important delegates were quick to discern this.
The IMF chief said, “Peace is the missing piece in the US Mid-east plan. Satisfactory peace is imperative for prosperity. Improving economic conditions and attracting lasting investments to the region depends ultimately on being able to reach a peace agreement”. She pretty much summarized what everybody wanted to say. Indeed, a US-based think-tank had described this conference just before it commenced as “dead on arrival.”
Will these overtures be an attractive incentive for Israel to sue for a peace that has been elusive for so long a time? The way Israel is still building settlements in the Occupied Territories suggests there is nothing yet to get too excited about.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.