US official on peace process: ‘These efforts take multi-years’

WASHINGTON – Even before the arrival of the U.S. delegation to the Middle East in late August, Palestinian patience had begun to wear thin. The visit followed numerous trips by Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. On Friday, however, a senior Trump administration official suggested that the U.S.-led process is unlikely to achieve immediate results. “This is a very challenging set of circumstances. There is a reason these efforts take multi-years,” the official told Jewish Insider.

Palestinian Ambassador to the U.S. Husam Zomlot told reporters on August 17 that “it’s now or never” while also threatening to resume the Palestinian campaign for recognition at the United Nations if the Trump administration’s efforts did not bear fruit.

Dore Gold, a former Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, cautioned that the peace process shouldn’t be rushed. “Diplomacy isn’t instant coffee,” Gold explained. “You have Abu Mazen (Abbas) in the later years of his life with questions about succession. The whole break between Hamas ruling Gaza and Fatah-dominated forces in the West Bank. Perhaps the conditions aren’t right for nine months.”

Nonetheless, Shibley Telhami, a professor at University of Maryland and non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, expressed concern for a dragged out U.S.-led peace process. “The Palestinians are always worried that the peace process is an end to itself that is intended to divert attention from the fact that they are still under occupation. That it is intentionally intended to legitimize the status quo, disarm the political arguments and pacify them,” he said.

“Having a process which takes time and stretches over a longer period of time is something that may suit Netanyahu,” noted Dan Arbell, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “There will be a process so he can fend off some of the pressure.”

The U.S. official dismissed Palestinian accusations of bias and emphasized that the Trump administration team has earned the trust of both sides. “You saw that by the positive statements that were put out which is unusual. It’s been many years since actually both the Israelis and the Palestinians have put out positive statements about the meetings,” the official added. But, Arbell said that he wouldn’t give Abbas’ public statement after sitting with Kushner a “lot of weight. It’s niceties. He’s (Abbas) going through the motions and doesn’t want to be considered a spoiler.” In recent months, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat assailed the Trump administration’s handling of the peace process and Abbas blasted the Trump team last month citing the lack of U.S. diplomatic initiative.

Breaking with past Democratic and Republican administrations, President Trump has declined to endorse the two state solution. When asked what other long-term options they were exploring, the senior official declined to elaborate.

The official stressed the common concerns against Iran across the region as a significant factor in their ongoing conversations. “Something very interesting is how much the leaders that we met with are also working closely with Israel on a number of important fronts in terms of security. Everyone is clear who the enemy is and there is a common enemy in Iran. I think there is a significant opportunity,” the official explained.

Reflecting the Trump administration’s viewpoint, Gold concluded, “There are significant diplomatic changes going on, the strategic convergence of Israel and the Arab states that might allow for new opportunities in the future.”

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