June 17, 2019 / 5:25 PM / a month ago

White House will not invite Israeli officials to Bahrain event: senior U.S. official

FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) speaks with United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and lawyer Jason Greenblatt (R) before a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will not invite Israeli government officials to a Bahrain conference devoted to gaining support for a Palestinian economic plan in order to keep the event apolitical, a senior administration official said on Monday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Palestinian business representatives are expected to attend the event in Manama on June 25-26, but not Palestinian government officials, who have boycotted a peace initiative led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

As a result, the administration decided not to extend an invitation to Israeli government officials to a conference expected to be attended by envoys from Arab governments as well as European nations.

“We’re inviting the Israeli business people and Palestinian business people. We’d like to make it as apolitical as possible,” the official said.

When the Bahrain conference was announced last month, U.S. officials initially suggested privately that Israeli government attendance in Bahrain would be an opportunity for Israel and some of its Gulf Arab neighbors to display in public the behind-the-scenes contacts that have grown in recent years, especially on security matters over their common enemy Iran.

After the White House announced last week that Egypt and Jordan had agreed to attend, some Israeli diplomats said Israeli government officials were also likely to attend. But no formal invitation materialized.

In Manama, Kushner and President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt are to unveil the economic part of Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

The plan, touted by Trump as the “deal of the century,” is to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor countries before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict.

Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas has heaped scorn on the conference and urged Arab governments not to attend.

Reporting By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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