Palestinians, Israelis expect no change in Trump’s policies

Trump pledged to unveil his new Middle East peace plan in less than four months.
Sunday 30/09/2018
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, on September 27. (AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, on September 27. (AP)

LONDON - While divided by a sea of differences, Palestinian and Israeli officials appear to agree that a change in Washington’s policy towards the Middle East peace process is unlikely despite remarks by US President Donald Trump in which he said he favoured a two-state solution to the conflict.

“I like a two-state solution. That’s what I think works best, that’s my feeling,” Trump said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly.

The remarks were the first by Trump explicitly endorsing the two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict although, later in the day, the US president reiterated his previous position of being open to a one-state solution.

“If the Israelis and the Palestinians want one state, that’s OK with me. If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy,” Trump said at a news conference.

Trump pledged to unveil his new Middle East peace plan in less than four months. “I want to have a plan… that is solid, understood by both sides — really, semi-agreed to by both sides before we start a negotiation,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments were dismissed by Palestinian officials.

“Their words go against their actions and their action is absolutely clear (and) is destroying the possibility of the two-state solution,” Husam Zomlot, head of the recently closed Palestinian mission in Washington, told Agence France-Presse.

In his address at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Trump administration had undermined the two-state solution.

“With all of these decisions, this administration has reneged on all previous US commitments and has undermined the two-state solution,” Abbas said. “I renew my call to President Trump to rescind his decisions and decrees regarding Jerusalem, refugees and settlements.”

“It’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the ‘deal of the century’ but what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Only humanitarian solutions?” Abbas asked.

Netanyahu said he was not surprised by Trump’s comments and that he “looked forward to working” with him on the peace deal. Other Israeli officials, however, shrugged off the US president’s remarks on the two-state solution.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said a Palestinian state “simply doesn’t interest me.” The Israeli interest is “a safe Jewish state,” he said.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said as long as his party is in the coalition government “there will not be a Palestinian state, which would be a disaster for Israel.”

Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said “there will not be a state in the classic sense.”

Hanegbi’s remarks echoed what Netanyahu envisions for a Palestinian state. “I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us,” Netanyahu said in New York. “It is important to set what is inadmissible to us. Israel will not relinquish security control west of Jordan. This will not happen so long as I am prime minister and I think the Americans understand that.”

In his General Assembly address, Netanyahu’s focus was on Iran, not peace with the Palestinians.

“By empowering Iran, [the nuclear deal] brought Israel and many Arab states closer together than ever before… in an intimacy and friendship that I have not seen in my lifetime and would have been unimaginable a few years ago,” he said.

On the sidelines of the UN gathering, Palestinian officials met with representatives of approximately 40 countries and international organisations, with a notable absence of the United States.

“We ask the Americans to comprehend we have a just cause. We want to achieve our basic rights. We are producing a diplomatic, legal track in order to achieve that,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said at a news conference in New York.

Prior to the UN gathering, Abbas won the praise of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after he met with the Palestinian leader in Paris.

“[Abbas] is a great political leader and the most relevant person for the future developments in the relations between Israel and Palestinians,” said Olmert. “He is the man. He can do it (reach a two-state solution).”

Israeli commentators, however, said that Netanyahu is happy with the status quo.

“From Netanyahu’s standpoint, Abbas and his successor can return to the UN General Assembly time and time again and wave their demands for a state. With the current US administration and world apathy on the one hand and the typical naivete of the Arab world on the other, Israel has nothing much to fear,” wrote Jack Khoury in Haaretz.