Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
A senior Palestinian delegation is headed to Washington in a bid to exert influence over US policy in the waning weeks of the Obama administration.
The delegation is being led by Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who has overseen negotiations with Israel in the past. He confirmed the trip to the Voice of Palestine radio station Saturday.
According to a report in Al-Quds newspaper, the delegation, which includes intelligence chief Majid Faraj and Husam Zomlot, Abbas’s strategic affairs adviser, is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday.
The delegation also hopes to meet officials from the incoming Trump administration, Al-Quds reported.
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During the talks with Kerry, the delegation is expected to try and persuade him that the US should refrain from vetoing a Security Council resolution critical of settlement activity that the Palestinians hope will be voted on in early January before the Obama administration leaves office. The delegation may point to the Knesset’s passage on first reading of a bill legalizing settlement housing built on private Palestinian property to boost its case.
According to Al-Quds, the Palestinian side hopes the Washington meetings will result in the establishment of bilateral working committees to manage relations with the US, similar to what the Palestinians have with the European Union. Analysts say the intention of the Palestinians is to forestall an erosion of US-Palestinian ties under Trump, who during his campaign for the presidency promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
“Mahmoud Abbas wants to have some kind of strategic partnership with America and to establish a strong and stable relationship that can’t be affected by a change in the administration with the coming of Trump to the White House,” said Ashraf Ajrami, a former PA minister.
Ajrami predicts that the delegation will seek that the administration “support the headlines of American policy that considers the 1967 borders the base of the two state solution, considers east Jerusalem occupied territory and to have a peaceful agreement based on the [Clinton parameters],” which specify that Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem be part of Israel and Palestinian ones be part of a Palestinian state.
If a meeting takes place with Trump aides, the Palestinians will “want assurances that the Trump administration will not go in the opposite direction of Obama and the previous administration.
Abbas wants to keep American policy as it is now and maybe urge the administration of Trump to intervene in a very helpful way to help the two sides to reach agreement,” Ajrami said.
Abbas hopes “to build on the declaration of Trump that he wants to end the endless war between Palestinians and Israel,” Ajrami said.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal shortly after the election, Trump termed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the “war that never ends” and said that as a dealmaker he wanted to do “the deal that can’t be made. And to do it for humanity’s sake.”
One day after the election, Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet him as soon as possible.
Trump’s election was hailed by many on the Israeli right, who viewed it as a chance to have a freer hand in building settlements and moving toward annexation in the West Bank.
Last March, in a speech to AIPAC, Trump criticized the Obama administration’s policies and blamed the failure of the peace process on the Palestinians’ rejecting ostensibly generous Israeli offers. “When I become president the days of treating Israel like a second class citizen will end on day one,” he said.
But Ajrami said that Trump in power may be different than he was on the campaign trail: “Trump as a candidate is not Trump as president. In the White House he will behave in an official way and cannot oppose American interests or the guidelines of American policy.”