Reactions to US Mideast peace initiative reflect regional divide

Both Turkey and Iran have traditionally used the Palestinian card to try to exert influence in the Arab and Muslim world.
Sunday 02/02/2020
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, January 31. (Reuters)
Fateful juncture. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, January 31. (Reuters)

Regional reactions to US President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated Deal of the Century varied from cautious support to complete rejection, leaving the latest attempt at resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict up in the air.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made the Palestinian viewpoint official by vehemently rejecting the Trump plan.

“After the nonsense that we heard today, we say a thousand nos to the Deal of the Century,” Abbas said after the announcement of the peace plan.

Palestine Liberation Organisation Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said Abbas would take up the matter with the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court.

The Trump proposal calls for a two-state solution in which Palestinians would be permitted, based on Israeli security conditions, to establish a demilitarised state. However, Israel would be allowed to annex settlements in the occupied territories and Jerusalem would be under Israeli control, making the plan a non-starter as far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a thorny issue that has been politicised over the decades to appeal to public sentiments but with little gains for Palestinians.

Many in the Middle East, while stressing the need to protect Palestinians’ rights, welcomed the first attempt by a US administration since the Clinton era to resolve the issue despite the Trump plan’s flaws.

In the Gulf Cooperation Council, the consensus was to express “appreciation” for the Trump administration’s efforts but not necessarily for the plan itself.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates called for direct talks between Palestinian and Israeli officials. The two Gulf countries praised Trump’s push for a two-state solution but stopped short of endorsing the plan.

Any disagreements with the plan should be resolved through negotiations under the auspices of the United States, a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry said, “to move forward the peace process to reach an agreement that achieves (the) legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud phoned Abbas and stressed Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast stance on the Palestinian issue and the rights of the Palestinian people,” the SPA state news agency reported.

King Salman stands by the Palestinian people and supports “their options and what achieves their hopes and aspirations,” SPA said.

The United Arab Emirates diplomatically described the peace plan as a “starting point.”

“The plan announced today offers an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework,” the UAE Embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Kuwait and Bahrain released statements expressing cautious support. Oman, whose Washington envoy was in attendance for the plan announcement, has yet to comment publicly.

Qatar, which hosts the largest US military base in the region, said it “appreciates the endeavours of the current US administration to find solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Cairo “appreciates the continuous efforts exerted by the US administration to achieve a comprehensive and just settlement of the Palestinian issue,” adding that Egypt urges both sides to open communication channels to resume negotiations under the auspices of the United States to reach an agreement.

A similar position was expressed by the Moroccan Foreign Ministry, which said it “appreciates the constructive efforts of peace deployed by the current American administration in order to achieve a just, sustainable and fair solution in the Middle East.”

In Algiers, the Foreign Ministry for the first time identified “East Jerusalem” as the capital of a future state for Palestinians, instead of “Jerusalem” as in previous statements.

The only flat-out rejection of the plan from US allies in the Arab world was from Jordan and Tunisia. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi issued a statement warning against “the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures… that aim at imposing new realities on the ground.”

In a televised interview January 30, Tunisian President Kais Saied called the proposal “the injustice of the century.”

Outside the Arab world, strong denunciation came from Iran and its proxies as well as from Turkey. Both regional powers have traditionally used the Palestinian card to exert influence in the Arab and Muslim world.

With the usual touch of hyperbole, the Iranian government described the proposed US Middle East peace plan as an “act of treachery” and said Trump’s “objective is the realisation of the goal of the crusaders and Zionists.”

Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah followed the same line.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the deal “a project of occupation.”

The United States seems to think Iran’s aggressive designs in the region should usher in new alignments but signs of the Gulf region’s overtures to Israel have been timid with a continued insistence on upholding Palestinians’ rights first.

In an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television, Jared Kushner, White House adviser and one of the architects of the proposal, pointed to changes in the regional landscape.

“The biggest threat right now is not Israel,” he said. “Iran is the big threat. Iran is who’s shooting rockets at your airports and shooting rockets at your palaces.”