U.S. United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley (C) White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) and Jason Greenblatt (R), U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, stand before the start of a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East at the United Nations in New York, U.S., Feb.
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team made an exceptional trip to UN headquarters in New York to attend the address by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to hear “fresh and constructive ideas” that might lead to talks with Israel toward a peace settlement.
What they received instead was a scolding from the Palestinian leader, still furious over Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there.
"This administration undertook an unlawful decision," Abbas said of Trump's Jerusalem move. He chastised the administration for cutting support to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which offers aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, warning that their abandonment might lead some to terror in far reaches of the West.
Abbas slams Trump on Jerusalem, calls for peace conference, February 20, 2018 (Reuters)
A White House spokesman, Josh Raffel, said that Kushner and Greenblatt are "finalizing" the administration's peace plan– a detailed document that has produced hundreds of pages, and that offers specific proposals to some of the toughest sticking points in the conflict. But while Abbas claimed he had never turned down an offer to enter talks, he did not express any interest in the pending American plan.
"We have expressed our absolute readiness to reach an historic peace agreement," he said. But he added: "No country alone can solve a regional or international conflict without the participation of other international partners."
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law leading his peace effort; Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations; and Nikki Haley, US envoy to the UN, sat stone-faced at the Security Council roundtable as the PA president spoke.
"It is essential to set up a multinational international mechanism," Abbas continued, calling for an international peace conference similar to one held in Paris last year.
Abbas refrained from repeating some of the harshest rhetoric he has leveled at the Americans in recent weeks, in which he has dismissed Trump's role in any future peace process outright. But he left the chamber before either the Israeli or the American representatives could respond– a clear diplomatic slight.
"I'm sorry that he declined to stay in the chamber to hear remarks of others," Haley said. Both she and Israel's representative, Danny Danon, remained seated during Abbas' speech. "We welcome you as the leader of the Palestinian people here today."
Haley said the administration "stands ready" to work with the Palestinian leadership. "Our negotiators are sitting behind me," she said. "But we will not chase after you."
"You don't have to like that decision," she said, of Trump's Jerusalem move. "You don't have to praise it. You don't even have to accept it. But know this: That decision will not change."
Haley said that Abbas faced two paths: one of anger toward the Americans and incitement of Palestinians to violence against Israelis, or one of direct negotiations with both.
Of the first, she warned: "I assure you that path will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations."