Palestinian PM Mohammad Shtayyeh says economic workshop in Bahrain focusing on aid for Palestine "is really going to be nonsense." Meanwhile, hundreds protest in occupied West Bank against US "deal of the century" on Mideast conflict.

Palestinian men sit around a makeshift coffin with the words
Palestinian men sit around a makeshift coffin with the words "No to deal of the century" during a protest in Yatta near West Bank's Hebron against a US-led meeting this week in Bahrain on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. June 24, 2019. (AFP)

Finance officials were flying into Bahrain on Monday for a US-led peace conference that will consider the distribution of billions of dollars for Palestinians. 

Palestine's leaders pronounced the idea dead on arrival, and protesters in occupied West Bank rallied against the conference. 

Finance ministers from oil-rich Gulf Arab states, along with US Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, are expected in Bahrain.

'Nonsense' conference

The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the workshop, with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh criticising the plan for saying nothing about ending the Israeli occupation.

"This economic workshop in Bahrain is really going to be nonsense," he told a cabinet meeting on Monday.

"What Israel and the US are trying to do now is simply to normalise relations with the Arabs at the expense of the Palestinians," he added.

President Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinians "will not be slaves or servants" of Jared Kushner or other Trump aides.

"For America to turn the whole cause from a political issue into an economic one, we cannot accept this," he said.

'Deal of the century'

Led by President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Kushner, the "peace to prosperity" economic workshop is billed as the opening of a long-delayed initiative that will later include political solutions hyped by US officials as "deal of the century" to solve the long intractable Mideast conflict.

Unlike previous high-profile peace initiatives, the new plan will be an intimate affair opening Tuesday evening with cocktails and dinner at a luxury hotel in Bahrain, which, like other Gulf Arab states, has increasingly found common cause with Israel due to their shared hostility towards Iran.

It proposes raising more than $50 billion in fresh investment for the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours with major projects to boost infrastructure, education, tourism and cross-border trade.

Protests in occupied West Bank

Hundreds of Palestinians protested in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday against the workshop in Bahrain.

"The Bahrain conference aims to provide political support and an economic cover for the deal of the century," Qais Abd al Karim, deputy secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), said.

He said the conference aims to "liquidate the Palestinian cause."

"We reject the Manama conference," Zeyad Abdo, a protester, said. "Our cause is political, not economic."

Similar rallies took place in the cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Salfit and Qalqilya.

General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti said that he believes it is not a deal designed "for peace" and instead would "legitimise the illegal annexation" of Jerusalem, the West Bank and of Golan Heights.

"We cannot have economic development without being free," he added. 

US approach to tackle Mideast conflict

US says it is trying a new approach and will later release political proposals, perhaps as late as November, once Israel holds new elections and forms a government.

But Trump officials have hinted that their approach will not mention the creation of an independent Palestinian state, a goal of US diplomacy for decades.

Israel, which will attend the Bahrain conference, criticised the Palestinian leadership.

"I don't understand how the Palestinians rejected the plan even before knowing what it contained," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday as he hosted Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton.

"That's not how you move forward," Netanyahu said.

Israel, which has imposed a blockade for more than a decade of the impoverished Gaza Strip governed by Hamas, claims it welcomes the chance to improve the Palestinian economy.

But Netanyahu has also spoken of annexing parts of the West Bank, a prospect that could be the nail in the coffin for the creation of the Palestinian state.

'Not about buying peace'

The Palestinian Authority is facing growing financial strains as it refuses to accept tax revenue collected on its behalf by Israel because the Jewish state is deducting millions of dollars that went to prisoners in Israeli jails or their families.

Arab League finance ministers on Sunday renewed a pledge to pay $100 million a month to the Palestinian Authority to stabilise its finances.

But in an implicit rebuke to the US approach, they insisted on "complete Arab support to the Palestinian state's economic, political and financial independence."

Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al Jubeir, said the Bahrain workshop "is not about buying peace."

"In no way is this about forcing the Palestinians to accept an agreement that they don't like and to draw a connection: you accept this and you'll get that," he told French newspaper Le Monde on a visit to France.

Not a new plan

The promises of massive investment come months after the US Agency for International Development suspended its work in the Palestinian territories due to US legislation that makes US aid recipients liable to counterterrorism lawsuits.

The Trump administration has also ended all funding to the UN agency that provides education, medicine, and food to Palestinian refugees and has taken a series of landmark decisions on behalf of Israel.

Aaron David Miller, a veteran US negotiator on the Middle East, said that the idea of a major economic plan for the Palestinians was not new.

"Had Trump administration not spent the last two years waging an economic/political pressure campaign against the Palestinians and undermined their aspirations on statehood/Jerusalem, the plan would have made sense," he said.

Source: AFP