RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Donald Trump’s team must commit to a two-state solution and oppose Israeli settlement construction before the US president’s peace push can move forward, Palestinian officials said Wednesday.
Their comments came ahead of talks on Thursday with Trump aides, including special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt and the president’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner.
The visit for meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders comes with many analysts expressing little hope that major progress can be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace for now.
Trump’s aides have been ferrying between leaders from the two sides in recent months in attempts to restart direct talks, with the aim of achieving what the US president has called the “ultimate deal”.
Trump himself visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in May.
But Palestinian officials have become increasingly frustrated with the administration and pessimistic about chances of a breakthrough.
President Mahmud Abbas reportedly told Israeli leftwing politicians recently that despite more than 20 meetings with US officials he was still unclear what Trump’s strategy was.
Ahmed Majdalani, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation which Abbas heads, told AFP they were demanding “a clear and frank answer on the position of the administration on the two-state solution and settlements”.
“Without a clear American commitment to the two-state solution and stopping settlements and ending the occupation, we don’t expect much from this administration.”
A US diplomatic source told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday night that Trump wanted discussions “to focus on the transition to substantive… peace talks, the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there, and the economic steps that can be taken”.
The president acknowledges that “there are likely to be a lot of ups and downs on the way to peace and making a peace deal will take time”, but he “remains optimistic that progress toward a deal can be achieved”, he said.
Kushner and other US officials met on Tuesday evening with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The kingdom is a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the palace said in a statement that Abdullah, Kushner and Greenblatt had stressed the need to start “serious and effective peace negotiations” on the “basis of the two-state solution”.
Previous US governments have committed to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, but Trump broke with longstanding US policy in February by saying he would be happy with either a one-state or two-state solution if the parties were happy.
The administration has also sought to protect Israel at the United Nations from criticism of its occupation of Palestinian land.
Omar al-Ghoul, a Palestinian political analyst, said there was little optimism from the Palestinian leadership.
“The level of optimism from the Palestinian leadership and people towards the Trump administration is zero,” he said.
“There is not a glimmer of hope the administration will change its politics and positions.”
Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under former president Barack Obama, said all three leaders –Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas –were not in a position for any imminent major peace drive.
Netanyahu, facing a graft investigation, is “fighting for his political life” and relying heavily on support from his right-wing base, which strongly opposes any concessions to the Palestinians, said Shapiro, currently a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies think-tank in Tel Aviv.
Abbas is 82 and unpopular among Palestinians, while Trump faces various crises in addition to domestic controversies weighing on his presidency.
“I don’t see him in a position to be forward-leaning and creative and particularly interested in the details of peacemaking, especially given the long odds based on the circumstances of the other two leaders,” Shapiro said of Trump.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in 2014. — AFP