INTERVIEW: Palestinian Representative to DC Offers Restrained Assessment of Trump

WASHINGTON – Being a Palestinian Authority diplomat in Washington now is a challenging task. While Palestinian officials lobbied aggressively to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution in December critical of Israel, then President-elect Donald Trump voiced strong opposition to the measure and almost blocked it entirely. The new President has blamed Palestinian Authority leaders for the failed peace talks in 2014, 2008, and 2000 while railing against Palestinian incitement in the West Bank.

Nonetheless, in an interview with Jewish Insider, Maen Areikat, Chief Representative of the General Delegation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to the United States, adopted a moderate tone in his assessment of the new Commander in Chief. The Palestinian envoy called the Trump Administration’s decision to — so far — not relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem a move that “shows caution and wisdom.” While some Palestinians have hurled threats against Trump, Areikat refused to criticize the President or his team. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions by describing this current Administration as being the most pro-Israel or the most pro-settler administration,” he said.

Areikat clarified that he has not met any member yet of the Trump team, in stark contrast with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer who has forged close ties with the new Administration. While Areikat declined to comment on Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, who the President has asked to mediate a Middle East peace deal, the Palestinian Authority’s top diplomat in Washington praised Secretary of Defense James Mattis for his support in resolving the conflict.

The Ambassador reiterated that the President would be wise to engage the Palestinian leadership. “You can’t make peace between two sides by only talking to one and not talking to another,” he added.

Q: Would you describe the current Trump Administration as the most pro-Israel in US history?

Areikat: “I don’t want to jump to conclusions by describing this current administration as being the most pro-Israel or the most pro-settler administration. There is a big difference between making political statements and trying to implement these political statements. The real world is much different than the world of campaigning and elections. There are rules and laws that govern every country, every leader including the U.S.  I don’t believe that the United States with this new Administration wants to find itself isolated by siding with Israel on issues that are opposed by the entire world.”

Q: What is your opinion of Jared Kushner? Does he have a strong enough understanding of the region in order to serve as a fair mediator?

Areikat: “I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Mr. Kushner or meet any of the Trump team yet. I’m sure if this Administration wants to pursue peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, they have to eventually talk to the Palestinians. You can’t make peace between two sides by only talking to one and not talking to another.”

“Secondly, it’s his choice to pick whoever he thinks could represent him and could implement his policies. We will judge the Trump Administration by its actions and not by its statements. We would expect anybody who wants to play the role of bringing together the Palestinians and the Israelis to be very well informed about the subject matter, to be very well informed about each side’s positions, concerns and interests: without that, they will not succeed.”

Q: If Trump relocates the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, what will be the Palestinian response? Can the Palestinian leadership deter the new Administration from taking this move?

Areikat: “Our fight is not with the United States. We Palestinians don’t see the United States as our adversary or foe. In the past, the United States took measures that were anti-Palestinian and then they changed course after that. This measure that you are talking about hasn’t happened. Everybody was thinking that it would happen on Saturday morning, on Sunday morning, and on Monday morning. It hasn’t happened. It tells me this administration knows the consequences of taking such a step and how it could escalate and make the situation worse. The last thing the US Administration wants to see is another area of instability in the Middle East. This is a president who is seeking a solution to conflicts around the world.” 

“Secondly, it also shows caution and wisdom on the part of this administration because they are the ones who are saying they want to be the ones who will make the deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis. How can they do that if they take such a measure that will be interpreted easily not only by Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims but by the majority of the world as a step to undermine any prospect of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

Q: Secretary of Defense James Mattis has criticized Israel and even invoked the term “apartheid.” Do you view Mattis as a friend or advocate in the new Administration?

Areikat: “General Mattis is not an advocate for Palestinians. General Mattis is a military man who is an advocate for the National Security interests of the US. He is one of many military commanders who in the past, including David Petraeus, who has said that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, addressing Palestinian grievances is important to create a situation of stability that serves the interests of the US. So General Mattis is talking about the interests of the US. He is right when he characterizes the situation as unless there is a solution to the conflict, unless the Israeli occupation is ended, then the region will continue to be volatile and unstable.”

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