The Trump administration is close to releasing a long-awaited Middle East peace proposal that officials said would present U.S. goals for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, despite the Palestinian position that President Trump cannot be an honest broker.
The proposal is likely to be released within weeks, with the aim of beginning negotiations between the parties, perhaps as early as this summer, diplomats and other officials said. It has been delayed by a months-long Palestinian boycott in protest of Trump’s policy that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may reject the framework out of hand.
“If he doesn’t give it a read, if he just sticks with the language which he’s been saying publicly, such as the U.S. is out [as a peacemaker] and that he won’t even look at it, that type of language, well shame on him,” a senior Trump administration official said. “How does that help the Palestinian people?”
The exact timing of a release is not set. “We’re going to let the situation on the ground determine when to do it rather than deciding on a deadline and force it,” said the official, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not been released. “We have one shot, right? We want to get it right.”
Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and the chief U.S. negotiator, former Trump attorney Jason D. Greenblatt, are visiting Arab capitals and Israel this week to describe some elements of the administration’s vision and seek help in drawing Palestinian leadership to the table.
They are not meeting with Abbas or his advisers. Abbas and his Fatah party have refused to meet or talk with White House officials since December, when Trump announced the change to decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem. Trump recognized it as the Israeli capital and also followed through with a campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the city, part of which the Palestinians also claim as the capital of a future state.
“We will not meet them, and that’s the position,” said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
He accused the Trump administration of “unprecedented” pro-Israel bias.
The plan, some 18 months in the making, is expected to include U.S. recommendations to resolve the major disputes in the 70-year conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, as well as economic and humanitarian proposals aimed at improving Palestinian daily life. It is unlikely to satisfy the core Palestinian demand that Israel relinquish all the territory it captured from Arab states in the 1967 wars.
The Trump administration has sought to pressure Abbas through other Arab leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II. After the Kushner delegation met with Abdullah on Tuesday, the Jordanian palace said the king “stressed the need to reach a just and comprehensive peace.”
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Thousands of Palestinians began protesting May 14, the same day the Trump administration hailed the movement of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. (Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)
Abdullah told the envoys that Jordan remains committed to the Palestinian demands for peace — an independent state “on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” Much of the land the Palestinians seek is now occupied by Israeli settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also met with Abdullah in the past week, and Palestinian officials met with him Wednesday.
While insisting that any deal must ultimately include the land and Jerusalem provisions, Jordan has been pressing the Palestinians to sit down and talk with the Americans and to push back at what they find unacceptable.
But Jordan’s position is somewhat different from that of the Persian Gulf monarchies the administration expects to fund economic inducements to the Palestinians. Abdullah is not only the “custodian” of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem — Jordan also has significant bilateral issues with Israel to consider, including water rights and border security. At the same time, more than 2 million Palestinians live in Jordan.
Jordan also shares borders with Syria and Iraq and is housing at least 1.3 million Syrian refugees, straining its already foundering economy.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have given public support to the Palestinians’ position and cannot afford politically to abandon them. But the issue has become a distraction for them.
Both are laser-focused on the perceived threat from Iran and are pleased with the administration’s policies toward Tehran. Israeli media has been filled with reports that the Saudis and Emiratis are prepared to back the U.S. plan and will twist Abbas’s arm to at least enter negotiations.
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At the same time, the Saudis and Emiratis, along with Kuwait, have stepped in to provide financial assistance to Jordan, earlier this month pledging $2.5 billion to help support its economy. Qatar has also promised $500 million.
The decision to release the plan with no indication that Abbas will entertain it is one sign that the Trump administration is looking past the 82-year-old leader.
Trump’s tenure has marked a low point for U.S.-Palestinian relations, with the president accusing Abbas and his Fatah leadership of disrespecting Vice President Pence, among others, by refusing to meet since the Dec. 6 embassy announcement. Trump had held positive meetings with Abbas before that, including at the White House, and spoke hopefully about brokering the “ultimate deal” to settle the conflict.
Since the breach, the Trump administration has focused on humanitarian and economic initiatives for the West Bank, where Abbas is headquartered, and the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the rival Palestinian faction Hamas.
Abbas was hospitalized repeatedly last month, including an extended stay to treat a lung infection. He has announced no intention to step down, but questions of who would succeed him have roiled Palestinian politics this year. The United States takes no position, the senior administration official said, but part of the U.S. strategy is to go around the Palestinian “old guard” to make a case for an agreement with Israel.
“We want the Palestinian people to hear our message directly,” the official said. “They are fed so much misinformation, and we want to address that.”
“That doesn’t mean we can solve the peace process” that way, the official said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t solve Jerusalem, don’t solve security issues, maybe there’s no peace agreement. But what can happen is an improvement in lives. They are looking for both, and they don’t think this leadership can improve their lives.”
The bad blood between the Trump team and Abbas was evident in recent weeks as Erekat and Greenblatt sparred in the opinion pages of Israeli newspapers.
“The Palestinians deserve so much better than Saeb Erekat,” read the title of an editorial by Greenblatt that ran last week in the Haaretz newspaper.
In an interview, Erekat accused the United States of trying to change the Palestinian leadership and negotiators. He said the Palestinians held 35 meetings with Trump officials before the Jerusalem decision and see no reason to engage again.
“There is no plan,” Erekat said. “Kushner and Greenblatt are trying to dictate the solution by making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, legitimizing the settlements and changing the conflict from a political one to a humanitarian one.”
The Palestinian leadership has criticized the reported effort by Kushner and Greenblatt to rally Arab support for a $1 billion Gaza investment fund during their regional tour.
“Of course we want Gaza’s suffering to be eliminated,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee. “What they are trying to do is sever Gaza from Palestine and address the concern that is Israel’s security instead of looking at a political solution.”
She said that the U.S. administration appears to have a strategy of “economic peace through Gaza, while making the Arab world pay for it.”
(c) 2018 The Washington Post