Manama meeting on 'Deal of the Century' to go ahead despite odds‎

Ahmed Mustafa, Thursday 30 May 2019

Despite Netanyahu's failure to form a coalition government in Israel, the planned roll-out of the economic aspect of the so-called Deal of the Century remains scheduled for 25-26 June

al-Aqsa Mosque
A Palestinian man prays in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 24, 2019 during the Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting holy month of Ramadan (Photo: AFP)

The holy city of Mecca witnesses heated debate among foreign ministers of the countries of ‎the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) over details of the final communiqué of the ‎OIC Summit Friday, the last day of May. 

Mecca is hosting two other summits also, called for by King Salman of Saudi Arabia (KSA): one ‎Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit and the other for all Arab countries. In his official invitation to ‎the summits, King Salman said the event was for discussing challenges in the region resulting from ‎Iranian aggression and the dangers of its proxy militias in Arab countries.‎

But observers expected that the summits will be about the Palestinian-Israeli peace deal as ‎much as about Iran. As OIC foreign ministers couldn't agree a draft Thursday, sources ‎at the meeting in Mecca said that the main issue was wording regarding the stance towards the ‎American proposal for peace, dubbed by the media as "Deal of the Century," between Palestinians ‎and Israelis.‎

Just before the Mecca summits, the US president's special envoy to the Middle East, Jared ‎Kushner, visited Israel and Jordan. The goal was to garner support for the Peace to Prosperity ‎economic workshop in the Bahraini capital Manama on 25-26 June, as American officials ‎said.‎

Kushner was advised to go to Amman and persuade King Abdullah II of Jordan to support ‎the deal. ‎

As the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced earlier its opposition to the Manama meeting, all ‎eyes were on Jordan's position. This week, the Jordanian king visited Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates ‎‎(UAE) and had a phone call with King Hamad of Bahrain, but no official statement on ‎participation in Manama workshop has been made.‎

After meeting Kushner and President Trump's negotiator Jason Greenblatt in Amman, Jordan ‎reiterated that "No economic plan can replace the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli ‎conflict."

Jordan is wary of the whole deal as the king has in mind that half of the population in the ‎country is of Palestinian origin. In addition, another source of wariness is the Jordanian ‎Muslim Brotherhood's opposition to the deal.‎

Yet, from internal debate reflected in Jordanian media, Amman wouldn't antagonise its allies, nor give full-blown support to the deal. Most probably, Jordan will attend ‎the Manama meeting with a low-profile delegation of junior officials and business people from ‎the private sector.‎

The KSA and the UAE welcomed the Manama meeting, which was well-received by the ‎sponsors of the deal as both countries are expected to be main investors in the business side of ‎the deal.‎

The vague outline of the economic aspect of the peace deal is "projects in West Bank, Gaza, ‎and Israel to make the life of Palestinians better in the way to final settlement." Nothing more ‎concrete has come out yet.‎

A notion has been floated that neighbouring countries, those with Palestinian ‎immigrant populations like Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, will benefit from proposed projects.‎

What seems sure is that the Manama workshop is set to go ahead anyway, and  reluctant parties can have downsized participation. The workshop involves finance ‎ministers and business people and not a high profile manifestation of endorsements through ‎heads of governments or even foreign ministers.‎

The PA's position seems to be of less significance to those supporting the deal, as it's considered a ‎‎"corrupt bureaucracy that can't be trusted by money assigned for prosperity of the Palestinian ‎people."

Even if the Mecca summits reiterated common rhetoric about Palestinians rights, the clout of the KSA ‎will be tested in gathering as many parties to go to Manama.‎

Kushner, who is also President Trump' son-in-law, was in Jerusalem the day after the end of ‎the mandate for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government, amid an ambiguous ‎situation that will lead to a snap election. The time to stage the peace deal was postponed due to ‎Israeli elections a couple of months ago, but that might not happen again. 

American and Israeli pundits rule out any other postponement until the political stalemate in ‎Israel is cleared.‎

Though it seems the US administration prefers to deal with Netanyahu, the outcome of the snap ‎Israeli elections wouldn't make a big difference to the overall process. The odds are for ‎Netanyahu to win a comfortable majority that enables him to remain prime minister.‎

Kushner and his team are going ahead with the economic part starting in Manama ‎and later, probably by the end of summer, the political aspect of the deal will be rolled out. ‎

Nothing about the political aspect of the deal will be unveiled yet, and some say that ‎Kushner's team is waiting to see how regional partners react to the economic side to ‎formulate the political points.‎

In his tour of the Gulf in late February, Kushner was asked in one off-the-record ‎briefing about what he'll do if the deal fails. His answer was one of casual indifference: "I ‎have my own businesses to go back to care for."‎

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