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June 25, 2019 7:07 am

The Bahrain Conference Is a First Step Forward

avatar by Jack Rosen

Opinion

Manama, Bahrain. Photo: Wadiia via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s economic workshop in Bahrain, where the US administration is presenting its “Peace to Prosperity” plan for development of the Palestinian economy, is an opportunity to reenter a process that has the potential to propel the Middle East towards a better future.

Despite the natural, and understandable, skepticism surrounding the workshop, we firmly believe that engagement on economic issues can be a springboard for further dialogue and engagement. We are proud to have been involved in similar economic development initiatives in the past, due to our belief that providing a sound economic foundation for the Palestinians makes peace more viable in the future.

We believe that if the Palestinians are given a sense that they stand to lose by not engaging, there is a greater chance they will embrace the process — both economically and politically. In addition, the plan must create an incentive for the Palestinian people to pressure their leadership to abandon its boycott of the US administration, and return to full engagement.

The participation of key Arab states in the conference — Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the UAE, and even regional adversaries Saudi Arabia and Qatar — proves that there is growing concern in the region, as well as a desire to give this process a chance. Enlisting the Arab states to invest in the future can be a game-changer, and we hope their participation will help move the region closer towards peace. Much like the regional efforts to counter Iran’s malignant activities, we hope the region’s leading powers will coalesce around the objective of helping the Palestinians move towards a better future.

But we also believe that the economic discussions cannot replace a genuine political process — one that must aim to resolve the core issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A solid economic foundation can only be sustained if it is followed up by a good-faith effort to address the Palestinian aspiration for self-determination, and to ensure that Israel continues to exist as a peaceful, secure, and democratic Jewish state. History has shown that disillusionment can lead to violence, and we caution all parties that unless steps are taken on the political track, the results may be highly destructive.

Greater economic opportunity can help the next generation of Palestinians to choose partnership over extremism and peace over terrorism. We are hopeful that the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain will indeed provide the foundation for prosperity, and will ultimately be combined with an honest political process. This is a first — but necessary — step towards a true Israeli-Palestinian peace, and a better future for the region.

Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress.

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