Trump lowers expectations on Mideast peace plan

Kushner insists Palestinians will have ‘self-determination’

Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump speaking at UN Security Council, Spetember 26, 2018 (photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump speaking at UN Security Council, Spetember 26, 2018
(photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
US President Donald Trump downgraded his administration’s long-awaited Mideast plan from “Deal of the Century” to “Let’s wait and see.”
Trump, on his way to Britain on Sunday, was asked at the White House to comment on downbeat remarks US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made about the plan’s prospects during a meeting he had last Tuesday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“Well, let’s see what happens. I mean, look, we’re doing our best to help the Middle East to get a peace plan. And he may be right. I mean, most people would say that. I think we have a good chance, but we’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
Pompeo’s remarks were made during a closed-door meeting, parts of which were taped and leaked to The Washington Post. The secretary of state’s comments came a day before the Knesset dissolved itself, sending Israel back to elections on September 17 for the second time in five months.
Trump also addressed Israel’s political crisis during his brief comments, saying that, “Israel is all messed up with their election. I mean, that came out of the blue three days ago. So, that’s all messed up. They ought to get their act together. I mean, Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] got elected. Now, all of a sudden, they’re going to have to go through the process again until September? That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.”
Trump said that most people don’t think the peace plan can be done. “I think it probably can. But, as I say often, we’ll see what happens.”
Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner has been leading a team that has been working on the oft-postponed plan for some two years. Last month he announced that the first part of the plan – the economic portion – will be unveiled at an “economic workshop” in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25-26.
Pompeo put some flesh on what is to be expected at that meeting of finance ministers during his meeting with the Jewish leaders.
“We’ll see what I think any fair person would describe as a very detailed – one might argue unexecutable: no one believes this will be easy – but a very detailed economic outline of what success might look like in the entire region, in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said, adding that there will be components of the economic plan that will touch on other countries in the region as well, such as Jordan.
Speaking before the calling of new elections in Israel – a move that has led to speculation that the political component of the plan will not be unveiled anytime soon – Pompeo said that the idea was to roll out the security and political piece of the plan after the economic one.
“Everyone will find something to hate about the proposal,” he said. But, he added, everyone will also “find something, including the Palestinians; something that they can say, ‘That’s something to build upon.’ And then, the big question is: Can we get enough space that we can have a real conversation about how to build this out?”
Pompeo said he understands “why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love. I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.”
Pompeo said that the administration had no illusions that success is just around the corner.
“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “We hope there is enough vision here, enough space, that lots of countries will see this as an opportunity to re-engage in this process.”
Pompeo, in answer to a question, said the administration was considering how to respond if Netanyahu, as he said prior to the elections in April, went ahead and annexed parts of the West Bank.
He said that while it has taken the administration “longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might,” he hoped that the administration will be able to present the plan “before a decision like that will be made.”
“I hope we’ll get the space to present it [the plan]. It may be rejected. It could be [that] in the end folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original, it doesn’t particularly work for me,’ that is, ‘It’s got two good things and nine bad things – I’m out.’”
Kushner, meanwhile, answered a few questions about the plan during an interview that aired Sunday on HBO’s “Axios.”
During the interview, he said that the Palestinians should have “self-determination,” but would not say whether the plan called for a two-state solution.
“I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan,” he said.
Asked about whether he believes the Palestinians can govern themselves, he replied: “The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.”
According to Kushner, “There are some things the current Palestinian government has done well, and there are some things that are lacking. And I do think that in order for the area to be investable – for investors to want to come in and invest in different industry and infrastructure and create jobs – you do need to have a fair judicial system, you need to have freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”
He said that he believes the Palestinians “want to have a better life,” and therefore their judgment of the plan will not be based upon whether they trust him or anyone else, but rather “they’re going to judge it based on the facts and then make a determination: Do they think this will allow them to have a pathway to a better life, or not?”
The Palestinian Authority leadership has dismissed the plan sight unseen.