We Need to ‘Seize Opportunity’ With Trump: Palestinian Official
L to R: Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, DF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, and moderator Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for ME policy at Brookings
Conditions are ripe for a regional peace initiative given President Donald Trump’s interest in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians with the backing of Arab countries, says IDF Brigadier General (Res.) Michael Herzog, who was involved in every round of negotiations since the Oslo Accords, including in the years 2013-2014 on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Jibril Rajoub, Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, hosted by the Israel Policy Forum in New York on Wednesday, Herzog said that one of the reasons the most recent regional peace initiative (in 2016) fell apart was because the Obama administration didn’t want to be part of it. “I think they did not believe that this would yield results. To my knowledge, both sides – the Israelis and Palestinians – did not trust the [Obama] Administration to be the leading part of that initiative and the administration didn’t want to be part of it,” he explained.
The principles of the initiative were agreed upon during a secret peace summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Aqaba, according to a report by Haaretz. The proposal later served as a basis for talks between Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog on joining a national unity government. As reported by Haaretz, the plan was laid to rest after the coalition talks fell through in late 2016.
During Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in February, the two leaders agreed on reviving that plan with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf region.
“This administration is willing to involve the region in the peace process,” said Herzog. “I still don’t know how they are going to design the process. I don’t know if they have a strategy yet. We just have to wait and see. But it’s clearly a priority for this administration.”
Following a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday, Trump said, “I’m working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and I think we’ll be successful,” The President called Abdullah a “tireless advocate” for a peace settlement “and he’s going to help me with that and help me at the highest level. And we will be consulting with him closely in the days ahead.”
Rajoub, after expressing regret at some of his past statements and promising to be more cautious in the future, agreed that the Palestinians need to “seize this opportunity” with the Trump Administration to renew peace talks. Asked if the Palestinians would agree to enter into negotiations without a full settlement freeze, Rajoub told Jewish Insider, “The settlements, believe me, brother, its existence is a threat to the state of Israel. We are talking about two states – with two territories. Why expand it? Listen, I think it’s the time to freeze all settlement activities. Believe me, it’s a benefit to the Israelis like it’s a benefit to the Palestinians.”
According to Herzog, Trump has leverage on the Palestinian Authority to bring them to the negotiation table if Israel follows through with the new policy restraint in settlement activity. “I think the Palestinians will demand a freeze,” Herzog told Jewish Insider after the event. “However, I believe that if the Trump Administration pushes them to enter negotiations even with Israel just restraining settlement activity, I don’t think they have an alternative. I do think Trump has leverage over them. You don’t want to mess with him. And since he prioritizes the peace process and wants a deal, he has leverage on them. They will have to do with some kind of restraint, and if he pressed them they will follow.”