WASHINGTON – Speaking before a packed crowd on Monday afternoon at the National Press Club, Husam Zomlot, the PLO’s Chief Representative to the U.S., called out the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and blamed them for the stalled peace process.
Responding to a question from the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin about President Donald Trump’s peace plan, Zomlot said, “All these plans go back to 1991 and the Washington Institute and their policy papers: read them again, Josh: They were a major reason why we failed. Major reason. Because they have framed the agenda in a way that was exactly in the opposite direction of peace. An agenda that wanted to build and sustain a process that was designed to prevent the outcome.” Zomlot said he appreciated Trump’s willingness to “disrupt the peace industry and peace business,” in Washington.
The Washington Institute did not immediately respond to Jewish Insider’s request for comment on Zomlot’s remarks.
At the event, sponsored by the Arab Center Washington DC, Zomlot praised the Trump administration’s approach to the peace process. He called Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Ramallah “very successful” and appreciated the senior US official’s willingness to meet with a diverse segment of Palestinian society, including during a visit to a West Bank refugee camp, which was received “very positively” by PA leaders.
Signaling flexibility on the longstanding divide on refugees, Zomlot emphasized that “half of the issue” is Israeli “acknowledgment” of their role in the 1948 war. “The issue of refugees is made to be the mother of all issues and that it would actually be storming the state of Israel with demography. It’s not true. It’s my opinion as a refugee myself,” he explained. “Only one of these options include negotiating with Israel, which is to return to their actual homes. But, the other options do not involve Israel. Why should we wait?” Zomlot also suggested financial compensation for Palestinian refugees, in addition to easier travel options to and from the West Bank.
The Palestinian Chief Representative informed the audience that he would be returning back to the West Bank on Monday evening to prepare for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with Trump in Bethlehem next week. Zomlot called for Arab analysts and officials to better humanize the Palestinian narrative including a Palestinian who saved the life of a settler family. “That is a story that we should be proud of,” he added.
The lunch was attended by top think tank analysts, journalists, and Congressional staffers. Despite the optimism, Zomlot cautioned regarding the White House’s Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, “There is no approach: there is no mechanism. There is nothing by the way. We did not discuss or agree on exactly what would be the way forward.”
“We reminded many people here that this (two state solution) was a condition by the US and the international community on the Palestinians to concede 78% of our land for the sake of peace,” Zomlot said. The Trump administration has been unwilling to explicitly endorse the two state solution. “This is our strategic option for the two state solution because the alternative Mr. President, which you mentioned in your press conference with Mr. Netanyahu, is a one-state solution which is either a one-state solution that will see a Democratic and egalitarian one-man one-vote state as you may have meant it, which we believe Israel will reject: wholeheartedly or it will be the status-quo of full-fledged apartheid and discrimination: which we will wholeheartedly reject.”
In contrast to some of the media reports suggesting a complete breakdown of communication between the PA and Trump’s transition team, Zomlot clarified, “Our relationship to the State Department and the (US) Consulate General in Jerusalem were sustained all through that period.” The PLO’s Chief representative also mentioned the strong military and security ties that were maintained during this period. Zumlot praised the American “deep state” as playing an important role in preserving core Palestinian positions in the period of initial uncertainty.
Despite domestic Palestinian opposition to ongoing PA security cooperation with Israel, Zomlot defended the practice. “We know it’s unfair and has never been asked or requested by any other in the history of humankind: I mean. Israel is the only country ever that seeks protection by and from the victim. 260 nuclear warheads, the fourth biggest air force in the world wants to be protected by the victims and for the victims. Yet, the victims do it. We want to take that argument away. Some Israeli smart — without saying the other word — keeps pocketing these things and getting comfortable with the status-quo and not reciprocating.”