Netanyahu, Greenblatt .
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas all facing significant domestic challenges, Washington’s top Mideast negotiators are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening to try jump-starting the diplomatic process.
The team, made up of Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, will arrive after holding meetings in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. The three met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman on Tuesday, and according to Arab media, “reaffirmed” their joint commitment to achieving a “real and lasting” Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The delegation is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Thursday, and then go that same day to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas.
Fatah Central Committee Member Azzam al-Ahmad said on Monday that the Palestinian leadership believes the delegation will not lay out a “clear” vision for reviving the peace process.
“The information available to us is that they are coming without clear affairs [positions], and we hope that we are wrong,” Ahmad told Palestine Television, an official PA television station.
Ahmad and a number of other members of the Palestinian leadership have called on the US to declare its support for the two-state solution and ask Israel to freeze settlement activity.
The US delegation is expected to leave well before the scheduled Sunday evening arrival of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will be visiting the country for the first time since taking up his position in January. He will be here for three days.
A senior White House official said earlier this month, in announcing the US team’s trip, that Trump has clearly stated his commitment to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that “would help usher in an era of greater regional peace and prosperity.”
According to the official, Trump feels that the restoration of calm following the Temple Mount crisis “has created an opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration.”
But former US ambassador Dan Shapiro cautioned against unrealistic expectations.
In a phone briefing with reporters, Shapiro, now a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said the delegation “is going to confront some very challenging circumstances that will make it hard to make significant progress, and should probably lead to a recalibration.”
The main reasons for this, he said, is the political troubles facing all three leaders.
Netanyahu, he said, is “fighting for his political life.”
Shapiro said the prime minister’s speech to his Likud supporters at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on August 9, where he accused the media and the Left of trying to topple him and “replace him with a government that would make deep concessions to the Palestinians,” suggests he has adopted a strategy that would make it nearly impossible for him to show any significant flexibility.
The reason, Shapiro continued, is that to do so would jeopardize the support of his political base, which “he is now relying on to overcome” the police investigations against him.
Abbas, too, is embroiled in his political problems, as a succession battle swirls around the 82-year-old.
“For a long time he has been in competition with Hamas for influence and leadership among the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza,” Shapiro said, something made more complicated now because of an emergence of an alliance between Hamas and his bit-ter rival in Fatah, former Gaza Strong man Muhammad Dahlan.
Shapiro said Abbas has made it clear he doesn’t believe the Trump administration has a clear path toward a two-state solution, and that he also believes Netanyahu is entering a very inflexible period. “He has every excuse to do nothing but sit on the sidelines.”
As far as Trump is concerned, Shapiro said he is beset by numerous crisis – from North Korea, to the ongoing campaign against Islamic State, the new strategy in Afghanistan, his battles with Congress, the investigations of his dealings with Russia and the aftermath of the Charlottesville marches.
“I don’t see him in a position to be forward-leaning and creative, and particularly interested in the details of peacemaking, especially given the long odds because of the circumstances of the two leaders,” the former ambassador said.
Shapiro’s advice to the delegation is to be more explicit in US support of a two-state solution – something the Trump administration has not done until now – while concentrating on managing the conflict by taking steps on the ground to develop the Palestinian economy and institutions to be ready for a day when “better leadership circumstances emerge in the future.”Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.