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Frosty U.S.-Palestinian ties shape Bahrain peace plan conference

Kushner at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Manama, Bahrain — The U.S.-led conference to launch the economic part of the Trump administration's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan will begin today in Bahrain amid an ever-growing crisis between the White House and Palestinian leadership.

Why it matters: The White House and the Palestinian Authority are both hoping Palestinian public opinion will favor their narrative around the plan.

The latest: The White House released an overview of the economic plan on Saturday, and hopes to use the Bahrain conference to generate debate about it in the international community and especially within Palestinian society.

  • Jared Kushner, who leads the White House "peace team," will give the opening speech.

The Palestinian leadership sees the Trump administration as hostile and anti-Palestinian.

  • Palestinian President Abbas and other officials are pushing hard against the U.S. plan.
  • They claim it is a conspiracy to turn a political issue into a humanitarian or economic one, to legitimize Israeli occupation and to wipe out any possibility for the Palestinians to fulfill their national aspirations for an independent state.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, tries to differentiate between the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people.

  • U.S. officials claim Abbas and other Palestinian leaders aren't looking out for the best interests of their people. They claim ordinary Palestinians are much more pragmatic than their leaders, and want most of all to improve their living conditions.

The Palestinian Authority and the White House have been fighting for several weeks over attendance at the Bahrain conference.

  • The U.S. managed to get all the Gulf states plus Egypt, Jordan and Morocco to send delegations.
  • The White House also managed to get Russia and China to send representatives even after both countries said they'd boycott.

On the other hand, Palestinian pressure led all the Arab attendees and even many Western countries to send only low or mid-level officials, and stress they're in listening mode and won't support any plan the Palestinians reject.

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who will lead the U.S. delegation, hoped to see upwards of 10 of his counterparts. In the end, very few if any finance ministers will attend.
  • Palestinian pressure also led Egypt, Jordan and other Arab states to ask the White House to refrain from inviting Israel's minister of finance and other government officials. In the end, the only Israeli attendees will be businesspeople.