Finance officials were flying into Bahrain on Monday for a US-led peace conference that holds out billions of dollars for the Palestinians, whose leaders pronounced the idea dead on arrival.
Led by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the Peace to Prosperity economic workshop is billed as the opening of a long-delayed initiative that will later include political solutions to solve the long intractable Middle East conflict.
Unlike previous high-profile peace initiatives, the new plan will be an intimate affair opening Tuesday evening with cocktails and dinner at a luxury hotel in Bahrain, which like other Gulf Arab states has increasingly found common cause with Israel due to their shared hostility towards Iran.
It proposes raising more than $50 billion in fresh investment for the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours with major projects to boost infrastructure, education, tourism and cross-border trade.
Finance ministers from oil-rich Gulf Arab states along with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde are expected in Bahrain.
The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the workshop, with prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh criticising the plan for saying nothing about ending the Israeli occupation.
“This economic workshop in Bahrain is really going to be nonsense,” he told a cabinet meeting on Monday.
“What Israel and the United States are trying to do now is simply to normalise 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.
The Trump administration says it is trying a new approach and will later release political proposals – perhaps at late as November once Israel holds new elections and forms a government.
But Trump officials have hinted that their approach will not mention the creation of an independent Palestinian state, a goal of US diplomacy for decades.
Israel, which will attend the Bahrain conference, criticised the Palestinian leadership.
“I don’t understand how the Palestinians rejected the plan even before knowing what it contained,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday as he hosted Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton.
“That’s not how you move forward,” Netanyahu said.
Israel – which has imposed a blockade for more than a decade of the impoverished Gaza Strip because the territory is ruled by Islamist militants Hamas – says it welcomes the chance to improve the Palestinian economy.
But Netanyahu has also spoken of annexing parts of the West Bank, a prospect that could be the nail in the coffin for the creation of the Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Authority is facing growing financial strains as it refuses to accept tax revenue collected on its behalf by Israel because it is deducting millions of dollars that went to prisoners in Israeli jails or their families.
Arab League finance ministers on Sunday renewed a pledge to pay $100 million a month to the Palestinian Authority to stabilise its finances.
But in an implicit rebuke to the US approach, they insisted on “complete Arab support to the Palestinian state’s economic, political and financial independence”.
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.
The promises of massive investment come months after the US Agency for International Development suspended its work in the occupied Palestinian territories due to US legislation that makes US aid recipients liable to anti-terrorism lawsuits.
The Trump administration has also ended all funding to the UN agency that provides education, medicine and food to Palestinian refugees and has taken a series of landmark decisions on behalf of Israel.
In December 2017, Trump recognised bitterly disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, leading the Palestinians to cut off contact with the United States.
Aaron David Miller, a veteran US negotiator on the Middle East, said that the idea of a major economic plans 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.