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Israel plans to attend US-led conference on Palestinian economy

Business delegation rather than Israeli officials may attend meeting, which Palestinians are boycotting
Palestinians step on posters on Sunday during Bethlehem protest against US-led Bahrain conference (AFP)

Israelis will attend a US-led conference in Bahrain next week on proposals for the Palestinian economy as part of a forthcoming peace plan, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Sunday.

FM Israel Katz (AFP)
FM Israel Katz (AFP)

The US has billed the gathering as a workshop to boost the Palestinian economy as part of a broader effort by President Donald Trump's administration to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A source briefed on the event told Reuters that Israel would send a business delegation but no government officials to the 25-26 June workshop, which is being boycotted by the Palestinian leadership.

"Israel will be at the Bahrain conference and all the co-ordinations will be made," Katz told Israeli Channel 13 News in New York.

On Twitter, Katz later added that Israel's representation had yet to be decided and that the country's high-tech and innovation capabilities could greatly benefit development in the region.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what level of representation Israel was expected to have at the conference, Reuters said.

US officials have said they are inviting economy and finance ministers, as well as business leaders, to Bahrain to discuss investment in the Palestinian territories.

Palestinian officials have refused to attend, accusing the Trump administration of trying to buy off their political demands for a state and an end to Israeli occupation, the Washington Post reported. They say Trump cannot act as an honest peace broker after moves such as cutting aid and recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

"There will be no Palestinian participation" at the meetings, Ahhmed Majdalani, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said last month. "Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel."

The Palestinians say the still unpublished US peace plan falls short of their goal of statehood. They blame a halt in US aid and Israeli restrictions for an economic crisis in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian advocates have also stressed that investments and business initiatives will not fulfil the quest for equal rights and statehood. Not only is "economic prosperity" an inadequate substitute for human rights, it's not possible without Palestinian sovereignty, said George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

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"It's hard to have genuine, sustainable economic development and growth, unless you have control over your own resources - your borders, airspace, water and the like," Bisharat recently told Middle East Eye.

A White House official said on Tuesday that Egypt, Jordan and Morocco planned to attend the conference.

Egypt and Jordan's participation is considered particularly important because they have historically been major players in Middle East peace efforts and are the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel.

One of the sources briefed on the event told Reuters that US and Bahrain had deliberated over whether a non-official Israeli presence was preferable to a government-level delegation, given that Israel currently has a caretaker government in place, pending a September election.

Trump's plan faces delays amid political upheaval in Israel, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government last month and must fight a second election this year, set for 17 September.

Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said the unveiling of the peace plan may be delayed until November, by which time a new Israeli government is expected to be in place.