Trump peace team in 'pre-launch' phase, completing economic package

"We are in the 'pre-launch' phase of the plan and still need to put the finishing touches on it, although that can happen very quickly."

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September 15, 2018 17:17
4 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Donald Trump (C) and Mahmoud Abbas (R)

Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Donald Trump (C) and Mahmoud Abbas (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s top diplomats are setting the stage for the launch of his peace plan – with or without participation from the Palestinian Authority, senior administration officials told The Jerusalem Post this week.

The Middle East peace team, led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations, is still completing the economic portion of its plan now 19 months in the making. It is also engaging interested parties outside of government for buy-in and settling in new staff that will manage the public rollout.

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“We are in the ‘pre-launch’ phase of the plan and still need to put the finishing touches on it, although that can happen very quickly,” a senior administration official said. “And, in an ideal world, we want to put forth a plan at a time that gives it the best chances of achieving success.”

But the peace team is acknowledging that serendipity might never strike, and that it could ultimately present the president with a recommendation to proceed without Palestinian cooperation as months continue to pass without rapprochement. Indeed, relations between Ramallah and Washington have deteriorated in recent weeks.

As Trump aides lay the groundwork for launch, the White House has simultaneously hit the PA with several punitive measures, including the closure of PLO offices in Washington and aid cuts to the West Bank and Gaza, to east Jerusalem hospitals, and to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA.

Trump suggested last week that this series of cuts were part of a calculated plan to pressure the PA to come to the table ahead of the launch.

“I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying,” Trump told Jewish leaders in a Rosh Hashanah phone call. Ramallah cut off contact with the White House last December after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv five months later.

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Nikki Haley, who serves as the US ambassador to the UN and who has consulted closely with the peace team, also said Palestinian rhetoric critical of the president contributed to the aid cuts. “Our job is not to take the beatings that you give us, saying we’re not kind to Palestinians and then turn around pay for them,” she said last month.

Administration officials told the Post they understand that recent actions will have an effect on their peace efforts. But they insist the cuts are not part of a diplomatic strategy to jump start talks – nor are they indicative of the contents of the plan.

“These decisions have to be made regardless, but we do understand, like the Jerusalem announcement, that they may have some impact on the peace effort,” an official said.

But “this is not a political strategy,” the official continued. “The US needs to make decisions about certain issues all the time. The president wanted all foreign aid reviewed. That included aid to the Palestinians. And while in prior administrations aid to the Palestinians has been viewed in the context of the peace process, we don’t look at these decisions through that lens. We look at it through the lens of how the United States benefits from the use of its money.”

Kushner, who is leading the entire peace effort but is particularly active in designing the economic package in the plan, told The New York Times this week that the team was intentionally slaughtering sacred cows that have thwarted past peace efforts.

Speaking to the Times’ Mark Landler on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords at the White House, Kushner said, “There were too many false realities that were created – that people worship – that I think needed to be changed. All we’re doing is dealing with things as we see them and not being scared out of doing the right thing. I think, as a result, you have a much higher chance of actually achieving a real peace.”

PA leaders have recently referred to the Trump administration as enemies of the Palestinian people and say its peace plan is “dead on arrival.” But the team is betting that Arab allies of Ramallah will not tolerate its refusal to read or engage with the American proposal once it is released.

In a telling exchange, a senior administration official suggested to the Post that the plan leaves room for the PA to negotiate a comprehensive end to the conflict satisfactory to them, amid rumors in the region and concerns in the PA that the team plans on undermining Palestinian claims to sovereignty.

“If we’re successful at reaching a comprehensive peace agreement, which is our goal, then all of these decisions become moot,” the official noted. “If the parties agree on a solution to Jerusalem, then the Jerusalem decision and embassy move become moot. If the parties agree on a solution to the refugee question, then the UNRWA decision becomes moot because UNRWA itself becomes moot.”
“What will bring both sides to the table is the peace plan itself,” the official added.

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