The “Peace to Prosperity” conference, co-hosted by the U.S. and Bahrain, began on Tuesday. There were few expectations that the conference would lead to a breakthrough in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. In fact, no elected Israelis or Palestinians attended. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Bahrain workshop “stillborn,” and added that there could be “no peace without the Arab Peace Initiative and the Security Council resolutions.” With Abbas boycotting the event, the U.S. decided not to invite Israel to the Bahrain gathering.
The conference, crafted by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, calls for a $50 billion economic program for the Palestinians. That program would include grants, loans and private capital, and its initiatives focus on bolstering the Palestinian people, government, and economy.
The conference comes nearly 26 years after Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat stood between former President Bill Clinton in front of the White House and offered up a handshake to mark the signing of the Oslo accord. For a brief, golden period after the signing there was a sense of optimism that a final accord could be reached between both sides. But by Nov. 4, 1995 – the day an Israeli gunman killed Rabin moments after the prime minister appeared at a Tel Aviv peace rally – good will between the two sides was fading. By then, Palestinian suicide bombers had killed 79 in bus bombings.
The hope of a final peace treaty ended in 2000 after the Camp David talks ended without an agreement. In 2014, in an address at George Washington University, Clinton confirmed that during the talks Israel had offered the Palestinians control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. At the time, Arafat dismissed the offer, and after he arrived back in Ramallah, he initiated the second Intifada. Since then, trust between both sides deteriorated. Israel handed over Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005, and Gaza’s residents promptly backed the Hamas coup over Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.
While both sides have met since, no international leaders have been able to convince them to sign a peace treaty. Meanwhile, more than four million Palestinians now live in two mini-states – Gaza and the West Bank – and there’s little sign that Palestinian leaders are prepared to live together, let alone sign a peace treaty with Israel. Their demands, such as a return to pre-1967 borders, the “right of return” for up to five million additional Palestinians, and sovereignty over large parts of what is now modern-day Israel, will never be accepted by the Israelis.
To achieve a two-state agreement, both sides need to make painful compromises. At present, neither side is prepared. At best, this week’s conference could be looked at as a tiny step toward bringing both sides back to the negotiating table.