How Norway supports Trump’s Middle East peace plan

Only Washington could broker a peace agreement while stressing international support for the Palestinian cause.

By SIGURD NEUBAUER
January 31, 2018 22:36
US President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerus

US President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

The European Union will host a meeting in Brussels on January 31 of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (ADLC), the 15-member body that is the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance for the Palestinian people.

The upcoming meeting, which will be chaired by Norway, is part of a strategic effort to revitalize the embattled Middle East peace process and is designated to lend international support to US President Donald Trump’s much anticipated peace plan.

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In light of Norway’s historic support for the two-state solution since the days of the Oslo Accords, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini asked Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide to chair the ADLC meeting.

Washington is actively supporting the AHLC meeting, and the US delegation will be led by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations.

The Palestinian delegation will be led by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and the Israeli delegation by Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi.

Invitations to all of the foreign ministers of the EU, the Arab League and the members of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) were issued last to rally international support for the Palestinian cause and for the urgent need to secure a two-state solution.

The meeting comes at a time of growing Palestinian anger with the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a matter that US Vice President Mike Pence reiterated last week during meetings with Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli officials.

Not surprisingly, Palestinian officials declined to meet with the US vice president over the Jerusalem issue during his visit to the region.

This, along with the Trump administration’s subsequent threat to cut funding for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has only increased Palestinian skepticism over whether Washington is able to serve as an honest broker.

Amid this difficult climate – coupled with a rapidly deteriorating Middle East plagued by turmoil and Arab-Iranian proxy wars – the Norwegian foreign minister has sought to narrow the gap of mistrust between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his US counterpart ahead of the upcoming ADLC meeting.

Toward that end, Soreide met respectively with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 8 to convey international support for a twostate solution.

She reiterated to the opposing parties that only Washington could broker a peace agreement while stressing international support for the Palestinian cause.

Through Norway’s long-standing relationships with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, coupled with Oslo’s historic strategic alliance with Washington, Soreide was able to secure Israeli and Palestinian commitments to participate in the upcoming Brussels meeting.

Their respective commitments to participate were conveyed directly by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg to Trump during their White House meeting on January 10.

Subsequent discussions centering on the upcoming ADLC meeting – and how to narrow Israeli-Palestinian differences – were held by Soreide and her US counterpart Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on January 11.

Trump initially sought to employ a traditional US diplomatic approach toward bringing the two sides together, but when he realized how entrenched the conflict was he sought to deploy a disruptive approach instead.

In light of this disruptive approach, the international community – spearheaded by Norway and the EU – expect all EU, Arab League and OIC foreign ministers to attend as well.

While the Israeli and Palestinian leadership await Trump’s new peace plan, the purpose of the ADLC meeting will be twofold:

1. To recommit international support for a two state-solution, including by the parties themselves.

2. To recommit to the necessity of enabling the PA to exercise full control over Gaza, based on the Cairo agreement of October 12, 2017.

The ADLC meeting arrives against the backdrop of the newly released US National Security Strategy, which lists Iran as America’s principal regional adversary.

The document lists Washington’s Arab allies, along with Israel, as equal pillars to the implementation of its regional agenda. Within this context, Trump wants to use the peace process as a glue to officially bind them together.

This strategic outlook was once again reaffirmed when US Secretary of Defense James Mattis presented the National Defense Strategy.

By organizing the ADLC meeting, the EU and Norway’s strategic vision is to help narrow Palestinian-Israeli differences so that direct negotiations between the parties can take place.

The acceleration of the Middle East peace process is also meant to bring Israel closer to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as part of a broader strategy toward isolating Iran regionally. Toward that end, Washington is in parallel seeking to resolve the Qatar crisis by hosting the US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in Washington on January 30.

The US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue not only presents Doha with a diplomatic victory as it effectively demonstrates that the accusations leveled against it were false and politically motivated, but more broadly signals that Washington sees stability in the Gulf as a key national security interest.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar over allegations that it is supporting terrorism and embraces Iran and its regional agenda. The block also imposed an economic embargo on Qatar – which includes cutting off all food supplies and access to medicine – by closing off land and maritime borders. Qatar has denied the charges.

The US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue will become an annual event, but it is unclear for now whether it will be rotating between Washington and Doha.

For the time being, however, there are no indications of de-escalations of the GCC crisis, but unconfirmed reports suggest Trump will invite the GCC leaders to Camp David in May to help shepherd through an end to the standoff.

In the meantime, the timing of the January 31 ADLC meeting is not coincidental, either: on February 1, the Arab League’s foreign ministers will gather in Cairo where they will likely discuss the outcome of the ADLC meeting and how to proceed.

Within this context, Trump may also be gambling that Abbas – with European and Arab support – will engage with Israel. In return, the Arab states can expect Washington to keep the heat on Iran by using the 2015 nuclear deal as leverage to pressure Tehran to roll back on its malign regional activity.

The author is a Middle East analyst based in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @SigiMideast.


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