(June 19, 2019 / JNS) As part of U.S. President Donald Trump's push for movement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the upcoming economic summit in Bahrain at the end of June promised to be the first step in the administration's rollout of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan.
But with both Israeli and Palestinian officials absent from the dialogue, how much progress could possibly be made? What's the point of the summit without the major players in attendance?
"A donors' conference absent Israelis and Palestinians would be a bit of an embarrassment," American Enterprise Institute resident scholar and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin told JNS. "That said, both economic integration and Palestinian self-sufficiency are keys to a better future, deal or no deal."
Although Israel was told by the United States that it would receive an invitation, when it didn't arrive in the past few days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu purportedly said behind closed doors that he wasn't going to "chase an invitation" (though the prime minister's office denied that). Netanyahu apparently has no issue with Israel not being invited and respects the decision, a senior Israeli official told Channel 13 and Axios.
On Tuesday, however, Netanyahu indicated that Israelis would be attending the conference, although he did not provide further details.
Nonetheless, news of the snub came as U.S. special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt indicated that the Trump administration may delay the publication of the highly anticipated plan until November, following Israel's second round of elections on Sept. 17 and the High Holiday season.
"I think there's even odds as to which concludes first: The Trump administration's 'deal of the century' or OJ Simpson's hunt for the real killer," quipped Rubin.
'One important pillar of their plan'
Responding to an inquiry from JNS, an administration official said the goal of the conference was economics and not politics.
"We will release a list of attendees closer to the workshop," said the official. "This is a workshop where we will present our economic vision for the Palestinian people. As such, we want the focus to be on the economic aspect, not the political."
Greenblatt and senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner recognized early on that for a peace to be sustainable between Palestinians and Israelis, "they would, of course, need to address the core political issues of the conflict, but would also need focus on an economic plan as well," Security Studies Group senior fellow Matthew Brodsky told JNS. "They have repeatedly stated that both the political and economic plans are necessary in conjunction [with each another], and that they are designed to reinforce each other."
"In other words," continued Brodsky, "this isn't an economic workshop in Bahrain instead of a political plan, but one important pillar of their plan that can only happen in the context of a political solution."
Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, dismissed the economic approach to the conflict.
"I don't believe in the economic approach, so even if it were a successful conference, I think it would be unsuccessful," Pipes told JNS. "Nothing is going to be successful economically. It's rather a small amount in the larger aspect of the conflict."
"Nobody is particularly enthusiastic about handing over tens of billions [of dollars]," he added.
In addition to Israel and the Palestinians, other major world powers, such as Russia and China, will not attend. The European Union will only send a "technical level official" to Bahrain, said European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, who met with Kushner last week in advance of the conference.
Nevertheless, several Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have said that they will attend.
"It is wise to encourage more moderate Arab stakeholders to help guide the Palestinians, rather than rely on countries like Qatar and Turkey, which fund extremism," said Rubin.
However, the Palestinians boasted on Tuesday that they had foiled the Bahrain conference by encouraging others to boycott the Trump administration.
In a statement to the Palestinian Authority's official Wafa news agency, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said "any meeting, whether in Bahrain or elsewhere and without the legitimate Palestinian endorsement, proves that Washington cannot and will not succeed on its own in achieving anything."
Rubin warned of a precedent as it pertains to the Palestinian Authority strategy regarding the Trump administration.
"Previously, the Taliban, North Korea and Iran have lost their bets when they gambled on the outcome of U.S. elections," he said. "Even if [P.A. leader] Mahmoud Abbas thinks he can do better if a Democrat returns to the Oval Office, he likely misjudges the mood both in Congress and in many Arab capitals, all of whom are becoming exasperated with Palestinian corruption and rejectionism."