Gulf rulers embrace Israel at Kushner’s Bahrain workshop

Gaza-demo - 'Down with the Deal of the Century'

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 28, 2019

After much anticipation and few expectations, the US-sponsored conference in Bahrain’s capital Manama ended on Wednesday.

Despite the lack of official Palestinian and Israeli representation at the gathering to launch the US-backed “Peace to Prosperity” plan for Palestinians, the conference featured unprecedented manifestations of warmth between Israel and Gulf governments.

Ministers from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar attended, as well as low-level delegates from Jordan and Egypt.

US presidential adviser and Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner discussed the economic component of a yet to be fully unveiled peace plan in an attempt to garner financial backing for it.

“Peace to Prosperity” was published by the White House last week.

Iran at the core

On Wednesday, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin was joined on stage by the finance ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the host state.

It was notable that Qatar was not invited to the table despite its minister of finance Ali Sharif Al Emadi being present at the conference.

Mnuchin highlighted the countries’ joint alliance against Iran and the establishment of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center by the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman in Riyadh earlier this year.

“Not only are we here talking about peace and prosperity but we are sitting in a region right now that is under threat from bad actors that are exporting terrorists around the world,” he said.

The treasury secretary expressed confidence that the US could raise the funds for the $50 billion deal – which has been described as an attempt to buy Palestinian rights for peanuts.

“I know there is a lot of money in this room,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin’s words echo the attitude of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman towards the Palestinian issue as a mere nuisance standing in the way of closer ties with Israel in order to confront Iran.

“Israel’s never attacked us,” and “we share a common enemy,” bin Salman reportedly told US officials in more than one meeting, Adam Entous reported for The New Yorker last year.

“We’re going to get the deal done,” bin Salman reportedly told an American visitor to Riyadh in 2017. “I’m going to deliver the Palestinians and he” – Trump – “is going to deliver the Israelis.”

Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon echoed the sentiment on Fox News on Tuesday, saying Israel would “absolutely” collaborate with Gulf states “against the aggression coming from Iran. It is a threat to Israel. It is a threat to the stability of the Middle East.”

Danon penned an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday calling for Palestinian “surrender” and asserting that “a national suicide of the Palestinians’ current political and cultural ethos is precisely what is needed for peace.”

Unusual interview

Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 13 spoke to Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in an unusual interview between an Israeli journalist and a senior Gulf government official.

The foreign minister stated that formal diplomatic relations between Jordan, Egypt and Israel do not go far enough, adding that “we do want to see normalization” and a “good” and “meaningful landing” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Manama.

“Yes, you do have peace with Egypt and Jordan, and some kind of understanding with the Palestinians,” Al Khalifa told Ravid. “But this is not the limit of the scope of where you belong. Israel is a country in the Middle East. It is part of the heritage of this region. The Jewish people have a place amongst us.”

Al Khalifa said he trusted the Trump administration to reach an agreement, and called on the Palestinians not to “shun the role of the US in the peace process,” despite decades of its failure and extreme and increasing bias towards Israel.

Using the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that underpins the warming ties between some Gulf states and Israel, the foreign minister asserted that “Iran is a major threat to the security and stability of the region. I don’t want to use the word Iran. It’s the Islamic Republic. It’s this regime that changed all the dynamics.”

Al Khalifa acknowledged meeting Israeli officials in the past “on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly,” adding that those meetings always led to “understandings.”

When asked who left the biggest impression, he responded, “the late president Shimon Peres. I never met the late Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin. Peres really put his heart in achieving peace. But it didn’t happen.”

In 2009, Bahrain’s king met secretly with then Israeli President Shimon Peres in New York, a meeting organized by an unnamed Israeli diplomat who warmed up to several Bahrain foreign ministers, Ravid reported earlier this year.

When Peres died in 2016, Al Khalifa paid tribute to him on Twitter, and the Bahraini government sent a representative to the funeral in Israel.

Peres is responsible for decades of crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese people.

In another interview with The Times of Israel, Al Khalifa said that Palestinians “agreed” to land “swaps” when told that the Palestinian Authority still demands “sovereignty.”

He offered his support for Israel keeping settlements built on occupied Palestinian land it seized in violation of international law.

“Look, they agreed to [mutually] agreed [land] swaps. Let’s not forget that. Because some of the territory in the West Bank is now occupied by settlements that grew to become cities. Agreed swaps.”

Meanwhile, Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah attended the wedding of Joshua Kushner, brother of the US presidential adviser, days before the Bahrain conference took place.

Some 200 people stormed the Bahraini embassy in Baghdad on Thursday in protest of the conference. Bahrain recalled its envoy from the Iraqi capital.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada