US Repackages Bahrain Confab to Boost Arab Attendance amid Fading Trump Peace Plan

After US diplomats relabeled the subject of the Bahrain conference, the rulers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco were persuaded to send delegates to the event taking place in Manama on June 25-26. Washington stopped pitching the Prospect for Peace theme as a component of President Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They switched instead to billing the event as a meeting of prominent international business figures willing to invest in the Trump plan. This sales strategy – plus some hefty arm-twisting – worked at length this week in Amman, Rabat and Cairo.

The three governments, struggling to hold together their failing economies, decided it would be prudent to accede to Washington’s demand (although the next day, the Moroccan prime minister said he did not know about this.)

For instance, 38 percent of Egypt’s state budget is consumed by interest payments for longstanding loans, bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Jordan’s King Abdullah overcame his reservations on Tuesday, June 11, despite serious reservations and Palestinian protests. He was finally won over by the US envoys’ suggestion that the conference set aside the Palestinian issue and concentrate on addressing the kingdom’s desperate economic crisis. Jordan hosts more than 2 million Palestinians, representing more than half its total population. Abdullah was promised direct benefits from a program for developing jobs and livelihood. Down-payment on this investment would be delivered without delay to start hauling the Hashemite Kingdom’s economy out of its pit

US diplomats in Baghdad tried another sales tack for bringing Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi aboard. They maintained that the Manama event would bring together important global business executives and give Iraq a chance to take its place as a leading Mid East oil exporter. However, Mahdi joined the Lebanese government in opting out of the conference in solidarity with the Palestinian boycott.

On Wednesday, the UN reversed itself and agreed to send Jamie McGoldrick, deputy Middle East coordinator to the meeting. At the last count, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar were also on board.

The American diplomatic struggle to rescue the Bahrain meeting came after yet another postponement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan – this time indefinitely To avoid the impression that it was buried for good, the president White House decided to allow some advance scraps of the general text to see the light of day. That way, the White House would not have to admit that senior presidential advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt had failed in their mission to bring the parties to the table.

One such disclosure came from US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Saturday, June 8. He told The New York Times that he does not rule out an Israeli move to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in some circumstances. “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why it does not create more problems than it solves.” He went on to say: “These are things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”

The ambassador’s comments underlined two points:

1. Since Friedman does not answer to the State Department or any other part of the administration excepting only President Trump in person in regular conversations, his words could be taken to represent Trump’s disappointment in the Kushner-Greenblatt performance as brokers for negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

2. Trump is getting ready for the demise of his “Deal of the Century” and begun drawing lines for his future policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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