Palestinian officials say US team admitted they did not know details of past peace process but believed business skills could break deadlock
US President Donald Trump believed he would be able to secure a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel in less than a year and was surprised by his predecessors’ failure to resolve the issue, a Palestinian official involved in talks with the White House has told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.
“At the beginning, the American president was telling us that he was surprised how previous American presidents were unable to solve the conflict and said he would be able to find an agreement within nine months to a year maximum,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying, adding that “We told him this is what we want”.
Trump has met three times with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since taking office in January 2017, and has made frequent references to an “ultimate deal” which he has said will bring peace to the region.
The US president also formed a team to sketch out a peace plan led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and including Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations; David Friedman, the US ambassador in Israel; and Dina Powell, Trump’s deputy national security adviser.
The Palestinian official was quoted saying that “they told us at the beginning that they want to listen to the stance of both parties, the Palestinians, and the Israelis”.
“And this is what happened in meetings with Trump himself in Washington, Bethlehem and New York, and other meetings with Kushner and Greenblatt in Ramallah, Washington and the Jordanian capital, Amman.”
Trump visited Bethlehem in May and met with Abbas who said at the time that the Palestinians were “committed to working with [Trump] to reach a historic peace deal between us and Israel”.
But relations between the White House and the PA have collapsed since Trump announced that the US would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month.
Trump’s peace team comes mainly from a business and law background, unlike previous US mediators who come from within the US political establishment.
Kushner is a real estate entrepreneur, while Greenblatt is a property lawyer and Friedman is a bankruptcy lawyer. Powell, who comes from an Egyptian background and speaks Arabic, is the only one on the team who has political experience beyond business and law.
Another Palestinian official said that Trump’s peace team admitted that they did not know the details of the conflict.
“We would like to hear your stance on every issue that is discussed and what are your red lines, what do you accept and what do you not accept at all,” the official was quoted as saying.
Issues which were discussed included the status of Jerusalem, the final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, the status of Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law, Palestinian refugees, and matters relating to security and access to water, the official said.
The official added that Kushner and his team were frank about their backgrounds.
“They said that as they came from the business sector, they did not like to work in the same way as previous American politicians had done. Thus, they did not believe in the term ‘process’. They preferred the word ‘deal’, and this was what they were going to work on.”
But the Palestinian official said that he still did not know the details of Trump’s proposed “ultimate deal”.
He said that PA officials had explained to Trump “that they will accept a deal based on a two-state solution on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital”.
He added that the PA considered settlements to be illegal and could not accept their incorporation into Israel, but it could be open to accepting a land swap with Israel in reciprocity.
“We reminded the Americans that Arab countries would establish ties with Israel,” he also said.
“This would be if Israel agreed on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 which called on Israel to withdraw from the Arab and Palestinian lands it occupied in the 1967 war. And for a Palestinian state to be established, and a just peace reached according to the UN General Assembly resolution 194 regarding the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes.”
Trump’s peace team is expected to announce details of the “ultimate deal” early in 2018.
But, according to a Western official quoted by Anadolu, Trump’s deal will offer the PA “a mini-state in Gaza Strip and Areas A and B in the West Bank and some of Area C, while Israel will remain in full security control over all these areas. The Israeli settlements will remain intact and offer a huge financial aid to help develop the Palestinian economy.”
The same official said that issues including Jerusalem, final borders and Palestinian refugees’ right of return would only be discussed after Arab states had established formal relations with Israel.
The latest details of the talks come as officials told Middle East Eye that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had asked Abbas to back a US-sponsored peace plan, reportedly describing it as “the only game in town”.
This came shortly following a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on 13 December where Abbas announced that he would no longer accept the US as a broker in the peace process because of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.