With just over a week to go before the June 25-26 conference, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has yet to be formally invited, but he is expected to represent Israel “if an Israeli delegation is present,” said one Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Israel Katz, the foreign minister, clearly believes Israel should have a seat at the table.
“Israel, with its experience and capabilities, can participate in these efforts and contribute in different fields of interest,” Katz said Sunday in a speech at a New York conference organized by the Jerusalem Post.
A White House official did not immediately respond to questions on Israeli participation.
The economic workshop in Bahrain is the first step in the rollout of the White House’s long-awaited peace plan, with delegations from across the region set to attend. Explaining the purpose of the summit on Sunday, U.S. Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said the intention is to highlight what the Palestinian economy could look like if there was a peace agreement.
Palestinian officials, who are refusing to attend, accuse the Trump administration of trying to buy off their political demands for a state and an end to Israeli occupation. They say the Trump administration cannot act as an honest peace broker after moves such as cutting aid and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israeli officials, however, are keen to attend. Katz said that Israel will be represented in a “way that will be decided later on.”
“Israel has the ability to contribute to the development of the region,” he said.
A person involved with the conference organization, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss invitees, said no Israeli government delegation has been invited but that business people have been.
Also in question is whether Israeli media coverage will be allowed.
“It seems that we are not wanted,” said Itamar Eichner, the head of the Israeli diplomatic journalists association, who has been pushing for Israeli reporters to be able to attend, with the registration process for all international press still unclear. “In the past, a peace conference was a celebration of peace,” he said.
Israeli delegates were largely forced to cancel a visit to Bahrain for an entrepreneurship meeting this year after a local backlash.
In an interview in New York, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said he “appreciated” the efforts of the U.S. administration.
Danon said that the U.S. rejection of the Iran nuclear deal has brought Arab countries and Israel closer together. “Everybody understands Iran is not only talking about chaos, it’s bringing chaos,” he said.
He said it was “worthwhile” to look at the U.S. peace plans. “We need fresh ideas, we need to think out of the box,” he said. While previous thinking was that normalization with Arab countries would come after a peace deal, today Israel feels there is a “different equation” and that cooperation can lead to a peace process, he said.
“Today we have very good, quiet relations with many of those countries,” he said. “It’s definitely brought us together.”
Greenblatt on Sunday said that it was a “milestone achievement” to hold the summit in Bahrain.
He dismissed criticism that the White House is simply focused on “economic peace” and said that the fact that Israel is holding an unprecedented second election, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, had complicated the rollout of the political portion of the plan.
“It’s no secret that the Israeli elections have certainly put a new thought into our head,” he said. “Had the elections not been called again, perhaps we would have released it this summer.”
Now the plan’s unveiling will probably be delayed until Nov. 6, he said. The fact that 2020 election campaigns in the United States will then be getting into full swing would not necessarily be problematic, he said. “We don’t think an election campaign would stop progress on something we want to move along with.”
When asked whether the plan could be difficult for members of a right-wing Israeli government to accept, Greenblatt said that “both sides are going to have to make compromises.”
Greenblatt also said that he supported recent comments by David M. Friedman, Washington’s ambassador to Jerusalem, on Israel’s right to annex part of the West Bank.
In an interview with the New York Times this month, Friedman said he thought that Israel has the right to retain some but “unlikely all” of the West Bank.
Greenblatt’s remarks on Sunday are likely to strengthen the voices of those in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition pushing for Israel to annex parts of the territory, occupied since the 1967 war.
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.