GP Insights

GP Insights # 88, 29 June 2019

'Peace to Prosperity': The Bahrain Summit on the Middle East
Lakshmi V Menon

What happened?
On 25 June 2019, the US-led two-day workshop in Bahrain unveiled a part of the much-awaited Trump-Kushner' deal of the century' drawn up by Trump's advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenbalt and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel. The plan's economic fabric was proposed by the US, aiming to raise investments worth $50 billion. Kushner stated the need for an economic pathway deal as a precondition for peace. While the 'economy first' US approach saw approvals from some Arab countries, UN upheld the two-state solution, and the IMF urged "job intensive" growth in West Bank and Gaza. 

Meanwhile, Palestinians protested, and Palestinian leadership boycotted the Bahrain workshop saying the lack of political vision guaranteed the deal's failure.

What is the background?

Since the birth of Israel, numerous peace initiatives have crumbled owing to the inability to negotiate, discrepancies in conditions of the deals, changing demands with a change in leadership, extremists on both sides, unending violence, regional turmoil and the US and Arab states rooting for Israel and Palestine respectively.

The Arab-Israeli conflict commenced with the 1917 Balfour declaration. The major points of the clash were 1948 first Arab-Israeli war, 1956 Suez war, 1967 Six-day war, 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2018 opening of US embassy in Israel's US-recognized new capital, "undivided" Jerusalem. The peace initiatives starting from UNSC Resolution 242, though internationalized and glamourized were futile. Trump's Middle East plan is the latest in this series.

With the Trump government, Israel has mostly benefitted. The Jerusalem vote, US recognition of occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, statements on recognizing occupied West Bank as Israeli territory all point to Israel's victory; pushing Palestinians further away from the negotiating table. 

What does it mean?

The end game is always Arab-Israeli peace and not a mere resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestine, over the past six decades, has been reduced to tiny spots on the map and an insignificant entity in the broader peace process. Meanwhile, the collective Arab identity has been progressively dwindling. With the unprecedented Saudi-Israel rapprochement, the turbulent Saudi-Iran relations (unfolding in the Yemen war) and the fast-changing geo-strategic dynamics, the Arab states are swapping loyalties. 

The UAE has said the Trump-Jared initiative must be given a chance. Saudi officials have said that the plan could succeed. All this while Palestinians are vehemently rejecting the plan with teeth and claws.

These Arab states have made their choice clear. They are going Israel's way. Though Palestine is a trump card they have used time and again for domestic, regional and global benefits, they can no longer dither. Arab states have realized that it is domestically and foreign policy-wise more beneficial to give Israel what it wants, especially with a US President spearheading for Israeli interests.

However, boycotting by Palestinian leadership has made critics question the credibility of the proposed deal. Furthermore, IMF has expressed concerns regarding the failure of the plan as "peace, political stability and re-establishment of trust" are pre-requisites to economic success. Sultanate of Oman has expressed intention to open an embassy in Ramallah, West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians. Turkey may join Oman. Other Arab states are yet to make statements. Is their silence saying something!

Substantially the peace process has narrowed down to a question of real estate; is the Palestinian cause slowly sinking deeper into depths?

Lakshmi Venugopal Menon is a Research Consultant at ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at lakshmimenon0410@gmail.com. 

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