CAMERA Op-Ed: The Bahrain Conference and the Big Omission

Reporters writing about the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative seem to have amnesia. Curiously, the press and pundits pontificating about the Bahrain Conference have largely omitted the history of earlier failed proposals. Perhaps this is because those failures raise uncomfortable truths.

On June 25, the Trump administration presented part of its plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The long-awaited proposal, formally unveiled at a conference in Bahrain, envisions $50 billion in regional investment projects over a period of ten years.

Entitled “From Peace to Prosperity,” the plan seeks to encourage Palestinian economic growth by opening up the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), which is ruled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) — and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Fatah rival Hamas — to development. The proposal emphasizes regional integration, private sector growth, and improvements to healthcare, infrastructure, and education as means of improving the quality of life for Palestinians.

Both Fatah, the movement that controls the PA, and the terror group Hamas have rejected the plan.  In fact, both groups opposed the plan long before its details were announced, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) highlighted previously.

PA officials boycotted the Bahrain Conference, although some Palestinian businessmen and officials from several Arab countries did participate. Many in the press, however, chose to focus on the boycotters, while minimizing the participants.

The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy Magazine, and others reported on the PA’s refusal to participate, but failed to note that it was in keeping with a long history of Palestinians rejecting opportunities for peace.

In recent years, the PA has refused US and Israeli offers for a Palestinian state in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba, and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference.

As former AP reporter Mark Lavie detailed in Tablet Magazine:

In September 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a map, a proposal that would give the Palestinians 93.7 percent of the West Bank, with Israeli territory to make up 5.8 percent, and a corridor to Gaza from the West Bank for the other 0.5 percent. Olmert insisted that Abbas initial the map before taking it. It was clear that this was Israel’s final offer. Abbas rejected it.

The PA refused to even make a counteroffer to Olmert’s plan — just as they did when Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was presented with the 2000 and 2001 proposals.

In 2014 and 2016, the Obama administration sought to present plans for restarting negotiations, with the 2008 offer as a starting point. But yet again, the PA refused to sit down and engage in bilateral negotiations with the Israeli government — despite the fact that the Oslo Accords stipulate they must do so.

And this trend is not recent.

Palestinian leaders have refused opportunities for statehood going back to the 1930s: rejecting the recommendations of the 1937 Peel Commission Report, the 1947 Partition Plan, as well as efforts following the 1967 Six-Day War and the Camp David Agreement with Egypt, among others.

Yet, most major US news outlets omitted this important history and context. The Washington Post, for example, failed — in no fewer than five reports and thousands of words on the Bahrain Conference — to mention a single one of these recent rejections. One commentary masquerading as “analysis” by The Post’s WorldView columnist, Ishaan Tharoor, was particularly noteworthy.

Tharoor argued that the US economic plan made “no mention of Palestinian statehood or ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.” But Tharoor himself declined to mention that Palestinian leaders have, on a number of occasions, rejected precisely that. Instead, Tharoor asserted that Israeli and US officials don’t seem “interested in the creation of a Palestinian state.” History says otherwise.

And history is similarly ignored by another Post columnist, Max Boot, who claimed that Kushner, who like Trump comes from a real estate background, tends to look at problems “through the lens of a developer.” Kushner, Boot writes, has “replaced realpolitik with realestatepolitik.” Yet, arguably the opposite has occurred.

As noted above, the US and the Israelis, like the British before them, have previously advocated for a “land for peace” solution to the conflict. But evidence suggests that this real estate approach has failed.

During the 1990s Oslo process, Israel ceded land in much of the West Bank and Gaza — only to be rewarded with suicide bombings, blown up buses, and mass murder. Prior to Oslo, Fatah was in economic dire straits thanks to the demise of its Soviet patron, and its top officials were largely residing in Tunis.

Israel and the US gave them a lifeline. But as CAMERA’s Steve Stotsky has documented, Palestinian terrorist attacks actually increased after the Oslo Accords, which created the PA and provided the opportunity — for the first time in history — for limited self-rule by the Palestinians.  As his own wife admitted, Arafat, two-faced as always, even planned the Second Intifada while he was negotiating with Israeli and US officials at Camp David.

It was in that intifada’s wake that Israel decided to pull out of Gaza and give the Palestinians an opportunity for statehood in the Strip. This effort was also rewarded with terror, violence, and murder. Instead of building a state, Hamas immediately set to work building terror tunnels and launching rockets at civilians in the Jewish state. In the nearly 15 years since Israel’s 2005 withdrawal, Hamas’ actions have precipitated no fewer than three wars.

Evidence suggests that “land for peace” brings little peace when the Jewish state’s opponents can’t even be brought to acknowledge its right to exist.

But some Arab officials who decided to attend the Bahrain Conference did what the Palestinian leadership has been unable to. As Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told Israeli journalist Barak Ravid: “Israel is a country in the Middle East. Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region historically. So the Jewish people have a place amongst us.”

Al Khalifa was acknowledging the past while looking towards the future. The pundits writing about future Israeli-Palestinian peace endeavors should do the same.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Algemeiner on June 28, 2019)