White House, PA have had no contact since Trump's Jerusalem announcement

Pence leaves Israel, says Trump still committed to reaching a deal, calls on Palestinians to 'move on' from Jerusalem issue and negotiate.

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January 23, 2018 23:35
4 minute read.
Trump and Abbas

Trump and Abbas. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Egypt and Jordan both disagreed with the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but have moved on, and now it is time for the Palestinian Authority to do the same and return to negotiations, US Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday at the end of his two-day visit here.

Pence, in an interview with MSNBC, said his hope was that all of America’s “friends in the region,” including in the PA, “will recognize that President Donald Trump is committed to peace and that the man who wrote The Art of the Deal would love to be the president who finally reaches a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians."

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Pence flew back home Tuesday evening, ending his trip to Jerusalem by meeting with President Reuven Rivlin and visiting Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. Prior to coming to Israel on Sunday, Pence spent a day Cairo and Amman, meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

He told Fox News that Abdullah told him the US and Jordan will “just agree to disagree” on the issue of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Palestinian leader Abbas says Trump's 'crime' over Jerusalem precludes US peace role (Reuters)

Pence noted that it was the Palestinians who walked away from the negotiations in 2014 and that “it’s time” for them to come back to the table. Trump’s decision on Jerusalem did not set the final boundaries of the city and was the fulfillment of a campaign promise he made to the American people, he stressed.

Pence’s comments came as a senior White House official revealed on Tuesday that there has been no contact between the PA and the White House’s top Mideast negotiators, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, since Trump’s announcement on December 6. Greenblatt was in the country with Pence.

Despite this, and that the Palestinians have said the US can no longer play the role of mediator in the diplomatic process, the official said the Trump administration remains “hard at work” on its peace plan, though there is currently no date for its release.

The official said the administration does not feel that its job is to impose a deal on either side, but rather to “present a plan that we think is appropriate, reasonable, fair for both sides, in particular for the Palestinians to have a brighter future. And it’s going to be up to the parties to make their decisions if they can come to terms on a deal.”

The official dismissed the idea, which the Palestinians are pursuing, that Europe could take over the lead role in the diplomatic process from the US.

“There isn’t a single European country or other country we’ve spoken to since the December 6 announcement that in any way, shape or form believes that a US-led process could be replaced,” he said. “They all want to work with the US, despite the Palestinian reaction. I don’t think anybody believes the US can be replaced in this process. Frankly, I don’t believe the Palestinians believe the US can be replaced in this process.”

While the White House Mideast team has not been in contact with the Palestinian leadership since the Trump announcement, there have been “quiet” meetings with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as with Palestinian Americans who want to continue to talk, “but they’re all afraid to talk,” the official said.


“They’re under a lot of pressure not to talk,” he said. “It doesn’t bode well for what we’re trying to create if there’s no freedom of speech among the Palestinians. So that troubles me greatly, and we’re trying to figure out how to deal with it.”

The harsh Palestinian rhetoric since the Jerusalem announcement has not been “helpful to reach a peace agreement,” the official said, adding that there is no upcoming event or summit where Trump could meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We’re not arrogant enough to say that the peace deal we’re going to deliver will solve the problem, but we’ll only know if they engage in dialogue,” he said. “And refusing to engage in dialogue – and worse, the harsh rhetoric that they are speaking – isn’t going to get us to even step one.” He described that step as telling the US team what they think of the plan and how they would like to negotiate it.

The official said the White House did not reach out to the Palestinians before the Pence trip to set up meetings and that the Palestinians know where to reach them.

There was no intention of putting a deadline on when the plan needed to be released, he said.

The plan will “come out when it’s ready and when both sides are actually willing to engage on it,” he said. “But we see no benefit whatsoever in trying to guess when it will come out.”

Asked whether Israel will negotiate with the Palestinians over Jerusalem, the official said everyone realizes there are many complex problems to solve, including Jerusalem, Gaza and the question of security.

“We could write the best plan in the world, but if we can’t figure out how to solve Gaza, there is no peace agreement,” he said, adding that he believes Israel will be willing to negotiate about Jerusalem.

Whether the two sides can come to terms on these matters, however, is a different question altogether, he said, adding: “Will we do our absolute best to help them to come to terms? Yes we will. But we are not going to force either side to sign something. That is not our job.”

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