Announcement comes despite Palestinian Authority’s ongoing boycott of Trump administration
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration will begin “work” on jump-starting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “immediately following” the Jewish state’s elections slated for April 9.
Speaking by satellite to the World Economic Forum in Davos, the top American diplomat suggested the peace push “won’t be [uniquely] a U.S.-driven process,” adding that the White House has already started sharing elements of its proposal with regional countries.
“Ultimately, the Israelis and the Palestinians will have to come to an agreement. But we think that the foundations that we have laid and the work that we’ll do immediately following the Israeli elections will set conditions where we can have a constructive conversation,” Pompeo said.
Israeli media reported last week that the plan provides for a Palestinian state in up to 90 percent of the West Bank, with its capital located in “most of the Arab neighborhoods” in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority has rejected out-of-hand any such deal and has been boycotting American officials since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over a year ago.
“I think that the Americans are reticent although the exact details of the so-called ‘deal of the century’ remain unknown,” Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, Senior Research Fellow and head of the Program on Israeli-Palestinian Relations at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line.
“During their last trip to the Middle East, the outline presented by [senior presidential adviser] Jared Kushner and [lead American negotiator] Jason Greenblatt was near-uniformly rejected by all parties, not only the Palestinians but also the Saudis.
“A key issue is that a change has taken place in Riyadh, as King Salman interjected and is not allowing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to proceed as the [perceived] risk is too high. Because of this,” he continued, “the Trump administration does not want to propose a plan that will be refused right away. Even Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu will likely have so many conditions and demands that it will practically also be a rejection.”
Pompeo’s declaration was therefore somewhat unexpected, doubly so given the Trump administration has to date refused to commit to a timetable for rolling out its long-anticipated proposal.
“I’ve been hearing statements about the timing of the release of this plan for over a year, and each time it is ‘imminent’ or ‘in a few months’ or the ‘timing will not be changed regardless of elections,’” Dahlia Scheindlin, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Policy Fellow at Mitvim—The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told The Media Line.
“These statements give us no indication of what is actually supposed to happen. So it is hard for me to say that I trust Pompeo’s recent remarks any more than past ones.”
Commenting on the prospective launch, Scheindlin explained that Pompeo’s statement could relate to projections that Prime Minister Netanyahu will easily secure another term in office and that this would facilitate initiating negotiations.
“American policy analysts—as well as Israeli ones—know that there is a decent chance Netanyahu will get re-elected, but there is also a good possibility that there will be legal developments that lead to a different outcome,” she said, referring to the ongoing corruption probes against the premier.
There are also many new parties forming and a centrist bloc that is trying to topple the prime minister, “so Israeli politics are unpredictable and there are often surprises,” Scheindlin concluded.
Notably, Pompeo said the U.S. will commence unspecified “work” after the Israeli elections, an ambiguity that does not necessitate the presentation of a formal peace plan.
(Charles Bybelezer contributed to this report)