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Palestinians protest Trump’s Mideast peace conference

June 25, 2019
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Palestinians walk next to closed shops in Gaza City, Tuesday, June 25, 2019, during a general strike against this week's economic conference in Bahrain that will kick off the Trump administration's plan for Mideast peace. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Palestinians burned effigies of President Trump and marched a donkey pasted over with images of Gulf royals in the West Bank on Tuesday, as the U.S. prepares to open its conference in Bahrain, which focuses on the economic portion of the White House’s long-awaited plan for Mideast peace.

At this week’s conference, the Trump administration hopes to draw pledges from business leaders and wealthy Gulf states to fund its economic plan, which calls for $50 billion of investment and infrastructure projects in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring Arab countries.

“Palestine is not for sale!” protesters chanted as they filled the streets of major West Bank cities. “From Bahrain to Saudi Arabia we are not tempted by your millions!”

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and various Gulf states have sent finance officials to the workshop. The White House says it did not invite Israeli representatives, so as to keep the event “apolitical.” The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has rejected the plan and wants nothing to do with the conference, arguing that an economic proposal cannot pre-empt a political resolution that addresses its long-standing demand for statehood.

Thousands across the West Bank held up signs saying “Down with the Bahrain conference!” and “Do not sell the Palestinian cause and erase our identity.”

Scattered clashes erupted as demonstrators hurled stones at Israeli soldiers, who fired back tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In the northern city of Nablus, protesters hanged an effigy of President Trump from a column. In Bethlehem, the protesters’ donkey took center stage, its backside covered with the crossed-out faces of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who are viewed as supporting the White House’s efforts.

Multiple Palestinian factions, including the Gaza Strip’s militant Hamas rulers, have called for continued mass rallies across the West Bank Gaza to coincide with the conference, set to begin Tuesday night.

In Gaza, stores and public institutions shuttered Tuesday in observance of a general strike.

A black-and-white banner calling for a strike replaced the usually illuminated billboard over the central Omar al-Mukhtar street in Gaza City.

Residents of the impoverished territory, where unemployment exceeds 50%, voiced opposition to the Trump team’s ambitious proposal, which envisions health, education and public works projects but does not deal with the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank or blockade of Gaza.

“We don’t need money. We are not hungry for bread. We are hungry for dignity,” said Gaza physician Said Jadba.

“They are selling the remainder of the Palestinian cause,” said Gaza City resident Abu Atef Ellaw. “This will never pass.”

Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, sent a letter of protest to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who is scheduled to speak on a panel at the Bahrain conference.

“How can the President of the highest governing body of football, and the most outspoken person on the importance of separating politics from sports, agree to participate in a political workshop whose objective is to determine the future of Palestine in the absence of Palestinians?” the letter reads.

“I beseech you to reconsider your decision,” Rajoub added, “for the sake of millions of Palestinians.”

In Beirut, Lebanon, hundreds of Palestinians took part in a protest orchestrated by Hamas outside the U.N. headquarters, chanting against the economic workshop and the possible naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon.

Some 175,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, and consider the right of return to their ancestral lands in what is now Israel a part of any future resolution to the conflict. Despite 70 years in the country, Palestinians continue to live under harsh conditions, confined to squalid camps and deprived of basic rights afforded to Lebanese citizens.

The U.S. economic plan’s large sums for Jordan and Lebanon, countries with substantial Palestinian refugee populations, have raised fears that the Trump administration aims to have Palestinian refugees absorbed into these nations, rather than allow them to someday return to Israel — one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict.

Mahfouz Monawar, head of international relations for the Islamic Jihad group in Lebanon said: “Today the Palestinian people are saying clearly that the deal of the century with all its components and today with what is going in Manama workshop do not represent the Palestinians.”

“We as Palestinian resistance factions will be unified to confront this deal until...the vanishing of the occupation from the Palestinian territories,” he added.

Ahmed Abdul-Hadi, deputy Hamas representative in Lebanon, said the protest represents the Palestinian commitment to the right of return.

The conference has also enraged people in Jordan, where some 400 demonstrators in the capital of Amman surrounded the prime minister’s office to protest their country’s participation.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lebanon and Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed reporting.

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