JERUSALEM — Palestinian officials said Monday that they were not invited to a summit planned for Bahrain next month to discuss the Trump administration’s proposal to bring economic development to Palestinian areas as part of a wider peace effort.
But private Palestinian business people said they had been contacted about attending.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the Palestinian political leadership had not been approached and that economic issues could not be separated from political ones.
“Nobody consulted us. Nobody talked to us. Nobody invited us,” he said. “There needs to be a clear political horizon, and then we can discuss ways of implementing that target.”
The White House is seeking to roll out its Middle East peace plan, spearheaded by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at a time when the Trump administration’s relationship with Palestinian leaders has ruptured.
Palestinian officials say U.S. moves, such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, slashing Palestinian Authority funding and closing the authority’s Washington office, show a heavy bias toward Israel and are undermining Palestinian chances for a future state. As a result, Palestinian political leaders have said they will no longer engage with the United States as an honest broker in the peace process.
The Trump administration said Sunday that it would unveil the economic component of its long-awaited peace plan at a two-day “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain in late June. The meeting will not address long-standing political issues, including borders of a potential Palestinian state, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
Ibrahim Barham, the founder of a Palestinian electronics and engineering company and a member of the Palestinian Monetary Authority, said he had been “surprised” to receive an invitation to the workshop Monday morning from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Barham said his attendance would depend on a decision by Palestinian political leaders. “It looks like they’ve invited many business people, but it’s an issue related to our national interest,” he said. “We can’t divide it from what’s going on in the political arena.”
Rudeineh did not rule out Palestinian participation and said the Palestinian Authority would respond if invited. But he objected to U.S. efforts to separate economic issues from the core of the conflict. Palestinian officials have accused the administration of following the wishes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in pursing “economic peace.”
“Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief negotiator. “This is not about improving living conditions under occupation but about reaching Palestine’s full potential by ending the Israeli occupation.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Palestinians were not interested in improving life under occupation but in ending the occupation altogether. He said the financial crisis facing the Palestinian Authority results from the “economic war” being waged against it to “extort political positions.”
He pointed, for example, at Israel’s decision to withhold some of the tax money it collects from Palestinians and traditionally provides to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials say they are reducing those transfers by the same amount the Palestinian Authority pays to Palestinian prisoners, their families, and the families of those killed in attacks against Israelis or by Israeli forces.
David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s project on the Middle East peace process, said deferring the political part of the peace plan and unveiling an economic plan first has benefits as well as risks.
“If you become more convinced the political part is not going to work, maybe there’s an advantage of demonstrating the benefits and stabilization,” he said. “The flip side is obvious. Will it be misrepresented as the belief you can achieve peace purely through economic means? No one believes that’s possible.”
A senior Trump administration official said the United States was doing more than creating “economic peace.”
“The political plan is a very extensive and detailed approach, and the economic plan is also a very extensive and detailed approach. And it’ll be easier for people to digest in the two different settings,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details.
The official said invitations had been distributed and included a “very wide representative group” of stakeholders in the region, but the official did not expand on whether Israeli and Palestinian officials had been invited. The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment on whether it had been consulted, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
“The idea of economic peace is an old idea that is now being put forward differently, and as our people previously rejected it, we reject it now,” Palestinian American billionaire Bashar al-Masri said in a Facebook post Monday. He said that he had received an invitation but that neither he nor representatives of his companies would participate.
However, there was one Palestinian businessman who said he’d attend. Ashraf Jabari, co-founder of the recently established Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce, which partners with Israeli West Bank settlers, said he would represent the group, the Jerusalem Post reported. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has praised Jabari’s “coexistence” efforts and said he’s proud to call him “my friend.”
Carol Morello in Washington, Sufian Taha in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.