President elect-Donald Trump wasted no time placing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict high on his foreign policy agenda, telling The Wall Street Journal on Friday that he hopes to end the conflict after taking office in January.
“That’s the ultimate deal,” said Trump. “As a deal maker, I’d like to do … the deal that can’t be made. And to do it for humanity’s sake. He referred to the conflict as the “war that never ends.”
Just one day after the election Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with him in the United States as soon as possible.
The Israeli Right has welcomed Trump’s election to office, hoping it brings to an end to the animosity that existed between the Netanyahu government and US President Barack Obama’s administration.
Donald Trump addressing the AIPAC conference
Many on the Israeli Right have euphorically speculated that there would finally be a president in the White House who moves the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and accepts the idea that settlement activity is not a stumbling block to peace.
But Trump’s statements about his future negotiations are likely to have little impact on activity that could happen in the next two months until Obama leaves office.
“I can’t rule out that there may be a new initiative before the end of this administration,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
Israel has been concerned that this could include support for a UN Security Council resolution that condemns settlement activity, or that would set the terms of a final state agreement with the Palestinians.
The French are pushing for an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the end of July. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered Moscow as a venue for direct talks between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as soon as possible. But Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev ended his three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Friday, having signed separate economic agreements with both governments, but without setting a date for such talks.
He told Russian reporters that the initiative at this point “is at stage zero. I have discussed the issue during my talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with President Mahmoud Abbas. Both sides have stated that a direct dialogue is a necessity, yet there is no final agreement on holding this kind of meeting. Our country is ready to act as a mediator.”
In addition, Medvedev said Russia plans to continue its efforts within the Quartet to resolve the conflict.
“The stance of other countries in the process will be crucial including the position of the United States, which has not been particularly active in this issue,” he said. “Perhaps their activity will increase after the change of administration.”
Abbas told reporters in Jericho that “we have already sent our congratulations to Donald Trump, and will now wait to see what he will do when he takes office. We demand that the United States recognize the state of Palestine, and agree to work toward achieving a solution that results in two states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side in an atmosphere of security.” Abbas spoke in Arabic, and a translation of his words was provided by the Russian government.
He explained that he spoke with Medvedev about Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel, and warned that continued settlement activity is undermining the “foundations” of a peaceful solution.
The Palestinians, Abbas said, are ready to reach an agreement with Israel based on “internationally recognized resolutions” and the Arab Peace Initiative.
He said that he is open to the Russian initiative, but wants to know what would be discussed.
“Benjamin Netanyahu must realize that unless he begins to have faith in the two-state solution, no peace can be achieved,” Abbas said. “We expect Netanyahu to say one short phrase: ‘I support the two-state solution within the 1967 borders.’” Abbas has refused to hold such talks with Netanyahu, unless he agrees to halt settlement activity and to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. Israel, in contrast, has called on the Palestinians to hold direct talks without preconditions.
The last round of US brokered talks, which did not involve a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting, broke down in 2014.
It is precisely this stalemate that Trump hopes to break. In the days immediately after the election, Trump’s advisers gave a number of interviews on what Israel can expect from Trump when he enters office.
They were divided over the question of whether the campaign pledge to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem would now be fulfilled.
“Many prime ministers of Israel have that close to their heart,” said adviser Walid Phares. “Many presidents of the US have committed to do that, and he [Trump] said as well he would do that.” Then he added a caveat to the pledge.
“But [Trump] would do that in consensus,” Phares said. He issued the statement in an interview with BBC radio that was widely publicized by CNN on Thursday.
“The other thing he has said that we need to pay attention to; he is ready and he will immediately move to try to solve the problem between Palestinians and Israelis, something lingering for many years. It won’t be impossible for him to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians, at least he is going to go in that direction and not waste eight years, or at least four years for now, not doing anything for Palestinians and Israelis," Phares said.
Trump adviser David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday that one of the administration’s first moves would be to follow through on the campaign promise made last month by Trump's daughter, Ivanka, who said her father would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“It was a campaign promise, and there is every intention to keep it,” Friedman said.
Another adviser, Jason Greenblatt, made a similar statement to Army Radio on Thursday.
Immediately after Trump’s election, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat tweeted, “In your term as president, I am confident that you will continue to empower our city by reaffirming its sovereignty and moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.”
Congress has long called for the relocation of the embassy, and in 1995 approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandated that this must be done by May 31, 1999.
But Obama, along with former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, have used a presidential waiver to avoid executing the act, claiming that it was not in the country’s national security interest to do so.
At the State Department briefing in Washington later in the day, deputy spokesman Mark Toner explained that “since Israel’s founding, the administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy here and that is recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.”
He added that the Obama administration remains committed to this policy. Toner added that the Obama administration would make sure the new administration would understand “our rationale behind exercising that waiver.”
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