Bahrain: Sole aim in hosting US peace confab is to back Palestinian cause

Bahrain on Tuesday defended its hosting of a conference next month, during which the Trump administration will roll out the first phase of its peace plan, after the Palestinians signaled they would stay away from the event.

Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Gulf kingdom’s foreign minister, denied there was any hidden motive behind the June meeting in Manama and said Bahrain’s decision to host it was a reflection of its support for the Palestinian cause.

“Khalifa affirmed that the Kingdom of Bahrain’s official and popular position remains supportive of the brotherly Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate rights on their land as well as establishing an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement from Bahrain’s foreign ministry said.

The Bahraini foreign minister stressed that Manama was committed to boosting the Palestinian economy “in bilateral and international forums” and that the conference was designed “to empower the Palestinian people through developing their abilities and enhancing their resources.”

“The hosting of the workshop serves no other purpose,” the statement said.

Khalifa also voiced his support for the Palestinian Authority and its “firm stances” regarding the Trump administration’s peace efforts.

“There is no way to doubt or belittle the peaceful approach of the Palestinian leadership, affirming that the Kingdom remains supportive of the Palestinian people,” the statement said.

Khalifa, who in the past has raised eyebrows in the Arab world with his pro-Israel comments, issued a similar statement on Monday that did not mention Israel.

On Sunday, Bahrain and the US jointly announced that they will host the economic “workshop” for international government, civil society and business leaders to “share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”

During the summit, set to take place on June 25-26, the US is expected to present the first part of its long-anticipated peace proposal. Its second part, which will deal with the political issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will be revealed at a later stage, according to the White House.

The Palestinian leadership has pushed back on plans for the Manama conference, saying it was not consulted and no party was entitled to negotiate on its behalf.

Palestinian Authority Minister Ahmed Majdalani told Reuters that Palestinians would not send a representative, while businessman Bashar al-Masri said he had been invited to the conference but would not attend.

The plan envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work, much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries, in the Palestinian territories.

But officials say the gathering will not address the core political issues at the center of the conflict: final borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees or Israeli security demands.

“Any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political … and based on ending the occupation,” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said at a Monday cabinet meeting. “The current financial crisis is a result of a financial war waged against us and we will not succumb to blackmailing and extortion and will not trade our national rights for money.”

The Palestinians, who severed ties with the US over a year ago, have repeatedly expressed fears that the White House will try to buy them off with large sums of investment in exchange for freezing their demands for an independent state. They believe the US is trying to rally support from other Arab countries to bully them into accepting a plan they see as unacceptable.

The Trump administration is expected to unveil the long-awaited plan — after numerous failures by their predecessors — possibly as early as next month, but the Palestinians have already rejected it as heavily biased in favor of Israel.

Washington has yet to commit to an exact timetable as concerns the political aspects of the plan.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon intends to attend the conference, a spokesman told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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