Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks in the West Bank city of Ramallah last April following that month’s Israeli election. (Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images)

Top PA Officials: We’ll Boycott Trump until US Changes Course

Erekat, Abu Rudeineh tell Media Line that Trump Administration is ‘biased’ toward Israel, out to ‘erase’ the Palestinians

Senior officials in Ramallah insist there is no going back on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to boycott the administration of US President Donald Trump unless it reverses all moves it has taken that favor Israel, most notably its recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Media Line this week at his office in the West Bank town of Jericho that the current White House has broken with previous administrations by “180 degrees” in its policies.

“Previous administrations were giving Israel $3.8 billion a year. They were pro-Israel in every sense of the word, but they were pro-two-state solution. They were against settlements. This administration became pro-occupation, pro-settlement, pro-demolition of homes, pro-confiscation of land and pro-annexation,” he complained.

“This is undermining the two-state solution,” he stated. “And then they go and cut $844 million in Palestinian aid!”

The Palestinians’ disillusionment with the Trump Administration soared in December 2017 when the president, standing at a podium in the White House, announced a “new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” adding: “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

In Ramallah, where it was cold and rainy, Palestinians, glued to their TV sets, watched with dismay. Almost immediately, the PA announced it was severing ties with the administration.

Since then, the White House has taken additional steps that the Palestinians insist have been aimed at marginalizing their leadership and eliminating their cause. These steps include moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA and to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees; recognizing Israel’s annexation of that part of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in the 1967 war; and closing the PLO’s office in Washington.

Erekat now calls the US a “dishonest broker,” accusing it of being “hostile” to the Palestinians.

“We held 37 meetings with President Trump and his team [prior to December 2017]: four meetings between [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas and Trump, and 33 at my level with the American peace team,” he told The Media Line.

“We made the best possible effort to continue negotiations because all previous American administrations were pro-Israel,” he said. “Then this administration decided to shift from being pro-Israel to being pro-occupation.”

Erekat is highly critical of David Friedman, Washington’s ambassador to Israel.

“You have an ambassador of the United States today… who believes it’s God who chose Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; who believes that this town Jericho is called [the Hebrew] Yericho, not Jericho; who believes that this area must be annexed to Israel,” he said. “How can you negotiate what God decided?”

Also critical of Friedman is Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Abbas’s spokesman and the PA’s deputy prime minister.

Abu Rudeineh told The Media Line this week during an interview at his Ramallah office that when Abbas met with President Trump at the United Nations in 2017, the latter “was very positive” and “ready to recognize” the two-state solution. The problems began when the US leader ordered his team to go to the West Bank and Israel the following week to start negotiating.

“His group said, ‘No, Mr. President, you are going to destroy everything,” Abu Rudeineh related. “So, he [President Trump] was taken aback, and then somebody told him if you want to solve this issue, let’s take Jerusalem off the table.”

When asked who this “somebody” was, he replies: “The gang of three around him: His ambassador [in Israel, Friedman], [son-in-law and top adviser Jared] Kushner and [Mideast peace envoy Jason] Greenblatt.”

Abu Rudeineh says the three lacked “knowledge” and “experience” regarding the region.

“This team [was] a complete failure,” he stated. “This team ruined the credibility of the policy of the United States.”

Greenblatt resigned from his post at the end of October for personal reasons.

The meeting at the UN was the last time Abbas met with President Trump, who soon dubbed his plan for bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the “Deal of the Century.” The White House has yet to introduce it in full, with Abu Rudeineh dismissing it as “dead on arrival.”

Erekat, who also serves as the PLO secretary-general, insists that the Palestinians will not allow the US to “dictate” terms on the matter, saying this only frees Israel from the fear of being scolded.

“Israel continues with its policies of settlement and land confiscation, home demolitions and collective punishment. Why? Because it acts with impunity,” he complained.

“It does all these things, and then an American administration punishes me, cutting aid to my hospitals, my schools and infrastructure; recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; closing the PLO office in Washington; saying settlements are legal; saying there will be no Palestinian state – and then I’m the one who’s blamed,” he said.

The PA maintains good relations with the European Union, but that does not stop Erekat from softly criticizing it.

“Trade between the EU and Israel in 2009, when [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu came to office, was $19 billion. Today, it’s $39 billion,” he laments.

Palestinian officials maintain there is no longer any back-channel communication with the Trump Administration, yet Abu Rudeineh admits that security cooperation between Ramallah and Washington was never suspended. He adds that Majid Faraj, head of the PA’s security services, was in Washington for a week at the end of October for discussions with senior officials, among them Gina Haspel, director of the CIA.

“We definitely have maintained contact with the security branches. We have agreements with 83 countries, including the CIA, in the fight against terror,” he told The Media Line.

“This relationship has always been good,” he continued. “They [the CIA] have a better understanding of what’s going on, but no one is listening to them at the White House.”

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