US President Donald Trump is not in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pocket, senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub said on Wednesday.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post in Jericho, Rajoub said post-US election clamor that Trump will move the American Embassy and condone settlement building does not reflect the realities on the ground.
“In the beginning, we heard a lot about him [Trump] that he wants so and so, as if he was working as an agent or a subcontractor for Mr. Netanyahu,” Rajoub said in his opening remarks. “Then, you know, I think Netanyahu did not sleep that night when Trump called Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas].”
Trump spoke to Abbas on the phone on Friday about the US administration’s desire to help Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace deal and invited the Palestinian leader to visit him in Washington.
Rajoub described the conversation as “positive” and said Trump “is not playing games with anyone.”
“The way Mr. Trump presented himself was constructive and we can build on that... He said he wants to make very serious peace and end the suffering of both sides,” Rajoub said of the phone call. He told Abbas: “... you are my strategic partner.”
Rajoub added that a peace deal is possible under the Trump administration.
“[Trump] is interested in American interests and national security first, which means his mission is to protect America’s interests, not the fascist, racist, imperialist, expansionist policies of occupation,” Rajoub remarked.
“I think we can make a peace deal under him... We are optimistic.”
Trump, in his inaugural address on January 20, said he would govern the US on the principle of “America First.”
Rajoub also said that Abbas and Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, had a “constructive” meeting on Tuesday, in which they discussed a number of issues pertaining to the peace process.
“Abu Mazen presented our position, [goals] and understanding of how to deal with the conflict,” Rajoub said. “He said that we are committed to two states and working with Israelis as a partner to end the occupation, not to help continue it.”
Abbas and Greenblatt discussed forging a peace agreement, ending incitement and the Palestinian economy, a US Consulate readout said.
Greenblatt wrote on Twitter Tuesday that his meeting with Abbas was “positive” and “far-reaching.”
Asked if he thinks Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, Trump’s Middle East envoy, are biased because they are Jews, Rajoub said their faith does not bias them in favor of Israel or against the Palestinians.
Jewish envoys might even be better for the peace process than non-Jewish envoys, Rajoub said.
Later in the briefing, he said Netanyahu’s talk of a regional solution will not come to pass.
“Netanyahu is joking; he is deceiving his own people, because we know what the Arabs want,” Rajoub said.
The prime minister, standing alongside Trump on February 15, told a White House press conference: “I believe the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach, from involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace.”
Rajoub said Saudi King Salman told Abbas during a visit to the kingdom in January that Riyadh will not participate in regional initiatives at the expense of the Palestinians.
“You have the right to lead your people according to your strategy. No one has the right to dictate anything. No normalization or bypassing the Palestinian rights,” the king told Abbas, according to Rajoub.
Saudi-Israel relations have improved over the past few years in light of their shared opposition to Iran’s regional influence, but the two states have not normalized ties.
Rajoub added that Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi general who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last July, also told Israeli officials that Israel cannot bypass the Palestinian issue.
Nonetheless, other Arab states such as Egypt reportedly made serious efforts to advance a regional solution with Israel last winter, despite the PA president’s objections. According to a report in Haaretz, Egypt and Israel made substantial efforts to plan a regional conference before the initiative collapsed.