Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

Can we respond to the Bahrain workshop idea with a ‘yes and no’?

| May 21, 2019

BEIRUT — Washington’s formal announcement of its plan to hold an economic workshop in Bahrain in June to kick-start a promised Palestinian-Israeli peace process — “the deal of the century” — brings us all face-to-face with a momentous decision. Do we dance or stay home?

We will find out soon if Bahrain is the first stop on a serious journey towards peace with justice for Israelis and Palestinians, or merely Jared Kushner’s social secretary confusing this event with his children’s slumber party in the desert. The vexing problem for Palestinians and a few others is that they cannot possible accept an invite to attend such an insulting fantasy event that tries to buy off Palestinian rights with promises of material life improvements. Yet they also should not simply reject the invite and not go. What to do?

Critics of the Bahrain weekend workshop must figure out how to transform this offensive and nonsensical opening act of “the deal of the century” into a more credible and constructive negotiating process that serves the interests of all. One option is for Palestinians and their supporters to muster world support for a counter-offer two-day seminar — a step up from a mere ‘workshop’ — in which the Bahrain gathering would be one segment, perhaps even the first one, if it is organically linked and leads into a political and legal rights process that respects the conflict’s core elements of land, sovereignty, dispossession, refugeehood, security, recognition, normal relations, and national political rights — all of which only make sense if they apply equally to Palestinians and Israelis.

We must now wake up from the Arab region’s collective old men’s slumber and reaffirm to the world three simultaneous points: 1) we are willing to participate in any credible opportunity to negotiate a fair peace that addresses all the core issues seriously, such as we offered in the 2002 Arab Peace Plan; 2) we are prepared to be pragmatic and flexible on procedural logistical and sequencing issues, as long as the core substantive issues are on the table; and, 3) any negotiations must be anchored in existing international legal/political principles and consensuses.

The fundamental point we must make in both rejecting and conditionally accepting the Bahrain invitation — which is now essentially a weekend cookout and slumber party — is that we will not enter into a process that only reflects the power imbalance on the ground that the Israeli and American governments are using to force the Palestinians to surrender (just as the U.S. also tries to force the entire world to abide by its laws and wishes).

The current U.S. government’s actual deeds and words to date on Israel/Palestine show Washington to be working according to Israel’s rightwing government’s interests and the wishes of its colonial-settler community — to which Jared Kushner and the two top officials working with him are directly linked. This follows the string of recent Trump decisions that gave Israel what it desired and ignored Palestinian and Arab rights, on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, aid to Palestinians through the UN and directly, and Palestinian diplomatic representation in the United States, among others.

Washington’s Bahrain weekend invite also affirms the more sinister and dangerous legacy of U.S. policy-making on Israel/Palestine: For the entire last century from Balfour to Kushner, the United States largely perpetuates a steady colonial mindset that has seen white men in London and Washington toy with the Palestinians and stay close to the Israelis, largely for their own domestic political interests but also for other perceived short-term reasons (like fighting Communism or terrorism, making money, seeking technological-strategic gains, and others).

That colonial/imperial mindset in London and Washington, from Balfour to Kushner, has allowed Israel’s dominance to prevail in the region. It also reflects a dominant perception in Washington that the Palestinians, like African-Americans in the U.S. in the 1940s, exist neither as a national people with collective sovereign rights nor as individuals who should enjoy the same political or civil rights as Western white men or Israelis.

The double pain is not only that we must endure the increasing American pressure to crush Palestinian society until it surrenders or dies; it is also that we have not found a way to stop the United States under Trump from dictating its terms of conduct to the entire world, including its European allies and powers like China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

Can our response to the Bahrain invite start to change this unbearable situation that will soon start pummeling other Arab countries beyond Palestine?

Can we transform the Bahrain gathering into the initial step in a UN-managed meeting at the Security Council that would launch substantive negotiations based on the extensive existing international consensus for a two-state peaceful solution?

The Bahrain weekend invite is a silly idea offered by politically immature men with a century-long history of colonial meanness and cruelty — which will be heightened if we simply refuse to attend Bahrain. We must suggest a better way to enter into a credible and equitable negotiating mechanism that could be phased to include a weekend cookout, a slumber party a few days after that, and end with a full-fledged square dance hootenanny a week later.

Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow and adjunct professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. He can be followed @ramikhouri

Copyright ©2019 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global

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For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami.“Can we respond to the Bahrain workshop idea with a ‘yes and no’?.” Agence Global, May 21, 2019.