Bahrain Workshop Sets Back Arab-Israeli Rapprochement
Bahrain Workshop Sets Back Arab-Israeli Rapprochement
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at Manama's Four Seasons hotel, the venue for the U.S.-hosted "Peace to Prosperity" conference, in Manama, Bahrain, 25 June 2019. REUTERS / Matt Spetalnick
Commentary / Middle East & North Africa 1 minutes

Bahrain Workshop Sets Back Arab-Israeli Rapprochement

If President Donald Trump’s peace team thought they could advance Arab-Israeli rapprochement over the heads of Palestinians through the Bahrain Prosperity to Peace workshop, they were wrong. The one-off entry of a handful of Israeli journalists to Bahrain and photos of Israeli and Gulf businessmen could not compensate for three developments that underscore that, despite major international and regional shifts, Arab-Israeli normalisation still depends on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First, after committing to attend the workshop, senior leaders from participating Arab states declared their unyielding commitment to the longstanding positions the Trump administration had attempted to shift, namely those itemised in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Such statements were issued even by Arab governments who, before the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, seemed willing to support Trump’s efforts to coerce the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to accept considerably less than  the Arab Peace Initiative stipulates.

Israel’s overt acceptance in the region requires it to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians.

Second, some Arab governments appear to have conditioned their attendance on Israel’s absence: for several days after the White House announced Jordan and Egypt would participate, Amman and Cairo failed to confirm. They did so only after the U.S. announced no Israeli officials would attend. In Bahrain, these two Arab countries, which have peace treaties with Israel and whose heads of state have met openly with Israel’s prime minister, will not even have their officials meet with Israeli counterparts, or send senior officials to attend. The Trump administration’s attempts to normalise Arab-Israeli relations with flagrant disregard for the Palestinian national project thus undermined the progress already made toward Arab-Israeli normalisation.

Third, even though the PLO and Hamas are much weaker than before, and even though Israel and several Gulf states share an interest in countering Iran, the Palestinians managed to prevent an Arab-Israeli ministerial summit in a Gulf state. A shared Iranian enemy was (barely) enough for the U.S. to convene an anti-Iran meeting in Warsaw that Israel and ten Arab states attended last February. But that common threat has proven insufficient for the U.S. to bring Arab and Israeli officials to a summit focused on the Palestinians, let alone for articulating parameters of a peace agreement the Palestinians would be forced to accept.

If the Bahrain workshop secures a place in future history books, it will be for exposing the limits of Arab-Israeli rapprochement, underlining that Israel’s overt acceptance in the region requires it to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians and emphasising the deep commitment of Arab states to the Arab Peace Initiative.

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