JERUSALEM - The United States is convening an economic workshop in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain Tuesday aimed at jumpstarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. America's Middle East allies are attending but the key players are not there.
The "Peace to Prosperity" conference was initiated by U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and Mideast envoy, Jared Kushner. The aim is to revive the peace process with economic incentives, while putting aside the thorny political issues until later.
The plan offers $27 billion in aid to the Palestinians, most of which would be financed by wealthy Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. Some $23 billion would be earmarked for poorer Arab states bordering Israel, namely, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the workshop, declaring that the plan is a whitewash and dead on arrival.
"I have not seen in the document any reference to [Jewish] settlements," said Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. "We have not seen in the document any reference to ending [the Israeli] occupation. This workshop is simply a political laundry for settlements and a legitimization of occupation."
Israel is not attending the conference either, because of Arab opposition to normalizing relations before the Palestinian problem is resolved. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to give the peace plan a chance.
"We'll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness; and I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan, reject it outright. That's not the way to proceed," said Netanyahu.
Kushner decided on a new approach after previous U.S. administrations tried and failed to resolve the thorniest issues of the conflict: borders, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem. The Trump administration believes economic prosperity will benefit the entire region and curb extremism, but the Palestinians say they cannot be bought and that their homeland is not for sale.