Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

Trump's economic peace plan for Mideast is doomed before it begins

By Hadas Gold and Andrew Carey

Jerusalem (CNN) - The White House's economic workshop, the first step in its much-heralded Mideast peace plan, puts investment in the Palestinian economy front and center.

But leading Palestinian businessmen say they will stay away from the conference, scheduled to take place in Bahrain at the end of next month.

The workshop is purposely focused on the economic aspect, with finance ministers, business leaders and donors invited to take part, but assiduously avoids hot button political issues such as borders, settlements and the status of Jerusalem.

Bashar Al Masri, the man behind the creation of Rawabi, a new planned Palestinian town in the West Bank aimed at fostering economic regeneration, wrote on Facebook that he would not participate in the meeting -- and nor would anyone else from his companies.

"We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus," he wrote, explaining his decision. "We Palestinians are capable of advancing our economy away from external interventions. The idea of economic peace is an old idea that is now being asked differently, and as our people have previously rejected it, we reject it now."

In a similar vein, Palestinian-American business consultant Sam Bahour, based in the West Bank, writing in the online magazine +972, described the proposed workshop as the latest attempt by the Trump administration to "batter the Palestinians into political surrender" using money as its "weapon of choice."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, through his spokesman, said an economic focus was "futile" without a conversation about the political horizon.

The Palestinian Authority hasn't spoken to the Trump administration at an official level since December 2017, when the US President recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's Secretary General Dr. Saeb Erekat said in a statement to CNN that the group had not been consulted ahead of the announcement, and that such attempts to promote an "economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected."

"This is not about improving living conditions under occupation, but about reaching Palestine's full potential by ending the Israeli occupation,"Erekat said.

"The basic requirements for peace are well known within the context of full implementation of the long overdue inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as per international law and UN resolutions, with an independent State of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem its capital and a just solution to all final status issues based on international law and the Arab Peace Initiative," he said, referring to a peace plan from 2002 proposed by Saudi Arabia.

Ghassan Al Khatib, a former Palestinian minister and political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, told CNN the workshop would be a "complete failure" because the Palestinian leadership will not attend.

"I think the Arab potential donors are not going to be enthusiastic to contribute, mainly because of the absence of the Palestinian leadership. So, I don't expect success in this," Al Khatib said. "It's only crazy people who would think to gamble with their money and invest in the Palestinian territories, given the Israeli restrictions that are making investments impossible and not profitable." >>>