Avigdor Liberman speaks at the Saban Forum.
(photo credit: SABAN FORUM)
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration should abandon its pursuit of a comprehensive, bilateral peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and instead focus on securing regional peace between the Jewish state and the wider Arab world, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday.
Liberman spoke as the US president’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, arrived in the region for a fresh round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leadership.
Greenblatt’s aides characterized his trip as an “interim visit” with no set agenda items or expectations – one of many such visits to come, as he and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, lay the groundwork for direct negotiations between the two sides.
But that is precisely what Liberman seeks to avoid, the minister told members of his party, Yisrael Beytenu, at its weekly faction meeting, questioning the intentions of the PA leadership after it declined to condemn the recent murder of an Israeli police officer, its promotion of hostile resolutions on Israel at the UN, and its decision to cut off the electricity supply to Gaza.
“With such intentions, I doubt whether we can advance anything, let alone an historic or far-reaching agreement,” Liberman said. “Therefore, we call on the American envoy to ditch the bilateral track and instead invest all efforts into a regional arrangement. If all the energy is invested in normalizing ties between Israel and the Arab states, the Palestinians and all others will have no choice but to join the initiative.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders are similarly questioning what framework will govern the Trump administration’s upcoming peace push: whether the president’s team will pursue direct, indirect or shuttle diplomacy, an outside-in approach or engagement driven by the two parties themselves.
“We still have not heard in which framework the American administration plans to renew the peace process,” one Palestinian official close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We hope that will be clarified in this meeting.”
A strictly regional approach would be problematic for the Palestinians and for the Arab states, whose leaders have told US President Donald Trump in no uncertain terms that their participation in his ambitious peace effort is predicated on achieving bilateral Israeli-Palestinian peace.
A bilateral peace agreement must precede larger Arab-Israeli peace, and not the other way around, Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Trump in recent months, warning that domestic constituencies across the Arab world simply would not tolerate Liberman’s suggested approach. And in Riyadh in May, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told the president to “forget” an outside-in approach, according to Jordanian and Palestinian sources.
US officials now hope for something in-between: that Gulf Cooperation Council nations will agree at minimum to work on normalizing ties parallel with progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. That would be a change from the plan set forth by the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers up Arab recognition of Israel as a prize only after completion of a comprehensive Palestinian peace agreement.
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