Bahrain: Why Not?

Even the most enthusiastic proponents of the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan have been careful to keep expectations low for the Bahrain conference. The Palestinians won’t be there, most Arab countries won’t be there, and even those who will be there do not sound terribly optimistic.

In order to avoid getting bogged down in the intractable aspects of the conflict– Yerushalayim, statehood, refugees, borders — the architects of Bahrain have chosen to focus first on economics. The official title of the event is “Peace to Prosperity,” the subtitle: “an economic workshop.”

They have gone so far as to exclude political leaders, inviting only finance ministers, international financial bodies and private businessmen, to keep the animosities and the posturings of politicians out of it, in order to put before the participants a vision of a better life for the Palestinians and for the region.

The Palestinian leaders back in Ramallah and Gaza City have insisted on having their say, which has been purely destructive.

U.S. envoys want to talk about a $50 billion stimulus package that could be of immense benefit to the Palestinians. It could wipe away in a short time the perennial budget crisis and the day-to-day hardships of the local people that exacerbate the region’s problems and fuel the violence. It could be the beginning of a better life. It could show in graphic and factual terms what people are missing — and could have — in healthcare, schools, tourism, industry and infrastructure.

This is something that could actually get done. An outline already exists; the technical framework for economic resuscitation could be set up; it is a goodwill gesture with global heft, a power generator for a light at the end of the tunnel.

But as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Americans are seeking to avoid the political issues, and opponents of Bahrain warn that without agreement on those issues, they will not be “bought off.” Such are the posturings of Mahmoud Abbas and the terrorists of Gaza. This is what passes for a principled stand in their world.

American assurances to the contrary have been to no avail.

The fact is, even if the core issues had been on the agenda at Bahrain, the Palestinians would have likely boycotted it too. For more than a year, they have refused to meet with U.S. officials to discuss the core issues – or any other issues. Their policy objective has been to depose the United States from its historical role in Mideast peacemaking in retaliation for the decision to move the U.S. embassy to Yerushalayim.

Their desired interlocutor, the European Union, is incapable of taking over for the United States to help the Israelis and Palestinians move toward some viable compromises. The EU has only reluctantly gone along with the U.S. initiative, while at the same time taking care not to disturb the Palestinians’ comfort zone with any criticism over their unwillingness to attend. The Palestinians are squandering yet another opportunity to make the lives of their people better, continuing their bleatings about the “sacred” two-state solution.

The result has been that, without an effective mediator, the Palestinians have succeeded in removing not only the Americans but themselves from any peace process. They have achieved only a stalemate.

One can only wonder why, even if the Palestinians don’t “trust” President Donald Trump and his envoys, what they would have lost had they sent a few low-level delegates to Bahrain. They could have continued their denunciations of the U.S. and Israel and repeated their demands for statehood with all the trimmings. For a small price, they would have won some encomiums for their willingness to put aside suspicions in the search for peace.

As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, “I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan, reject it outright. That’s not the way to proceed.”

Indeed. The Palestinians are squandering yet another opportunity to make the lives of their people better. Their refusal to cooperate shows that they don’t really want a solution, nor even a state of their own. Rather they want to play the eternal victim, to blame Israel for all their problems and get international money and support.

Yes, the run-up to Bahrain has been inauspicious. But what could be less auspicious than allowing matters to remain as they are? Political stalemate can go on indefinitely, but every additional day of hatred and violence has a great cost in itself.

The Bahrain conference will go on without the Palestinians, and progress can be made toward an economic plan that has the potential to benefit everyone.

When the time arrives to re-engage on the political issues, the plan for economic change will already be there, a significant incentive for serious negotiations for peace.