In Rejecting the Bahrain Conference, Palestinian Leaders Keep Faith with Their Long-Range Intentions

July 11, 2019 | Zalman Shoval
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The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to boycott the recent conference in Bahrain, where the U.S. and Arab states proposed spending $50 billion to improve his people’s economic conditions, has brought to mind Abba Eban’s famous quip that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” But, writes Zalman Shoval, this interpretation of Abbas’s decision-making, like Jared Kushner’s recent statement that Palestinian leaders made a “strategic mistake” by refusing to come to Bahrain, rests on false assumptions about his goals.

Palestinian leaders’ true intention [is] to thwart in advance any Israeli or international initiative that would put them on the road to accepting the existence of the state of Israel, which could be interpreted as a final and historic confirmation of the Jewish people’s right to a state in any part of Palestine. . . . Abbas claims that he is opposed to terrorism, and apparently genuinely so—but his basic ideology is no different from that of the terrorist organizations. . . .

Incidentally, the recent meeting in Bahrain had a precedent: the Casablanca Conference following the Oslo Accords. There, too, politicians and businesspeople gathered from all over the world, including a few Arab countries—and there, too, was euphoria. The Israeli delegation, which included ministers and prominent businesspeople, even prepared detailed plans for economic cooperation with all of the parties, the Palestinians first and foremost. But the Palestinian representatives announced right from the start: “No cooperation with Israel.”

Thus, Shimon Peres’s vision of the “New Middle East,” the main project of that conference, died before it was born. As then, so now: the Palestinian leaders care nothing for the logical assertion that economic advantages do not cancel out the option of future political gains—which means that U.S. President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s generous and balanced plan is doomed to become another link in the chain of Palestinian rejectionism.

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