By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is leading a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week seeking support for a late June workshop aimed at helping the Palestinians, a White House official said on Tuesday.
Kushner, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz began their trip in Rabat and were to travel to Amman and Jerusalem, arriving in Israel on Thursday.
Kushner also will attend the Bilderberg conference in Montreux, Switzerland, where he is expected to be a speaker, at the end of the week and then will meet U.S. President Donald Trump in London when the latter makes a state visit there next week.
The trip is similar to one that Kushner and Greenblatt took in February to Gulf states to drum up support for the economic portion of a Middle East peace plan they have been developing on behalf of Trump.
The official said one reason for this week's trip is to bolster support for a June 25-26 conference in Manama, Bahrain, in which Kushner is to unveil the first 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 leaders have been sharply critical of the effort.
"We didn't mandate anyone to negotiate on our behalf, and if anyone wants to trade the interests of the Palestinians for their own benefit, let them do it out of their own pockets," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.
"We urge all Arabs who have accepted to go to Bahrain to reconsider out of respect for the Palestinians," he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they will participate, and a senior U.S. official said officials from Qatar have said privately their country was expected to attend as well.
The Russian foreign ministry took a dim view of the conference in a statement on Tuesday, saying the United States was attempting to "impose an ‘alternative vision’ of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.”
"The Palestinian leadership has already categorically refused to take part, saying that the PLO will not surrender to anyone its exclusive rights to make crucial decisions regarding the realization of Palestinians’ national aspirations," it said.
Participants in the conference in Manama are expected to include 300 to 400 representatives and business executives from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and possibly some Palestinian business leaders.
A source familiar with the planning said it appeared Egypt, Jordan and Oman, as well as the G7 countries, also would send representatives to the conference.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Susan Thomas, James Dalgleish and Jon Boyle)