NEW YORK – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
renewed criticism of the Trump administration at the United Nations on Thursday, questioning in a speech what is left to discuss after the American president sought to remove core issues from the negotiating table.
The PA leader once again characterized the US government as too “biased” to mediate peace talks with Israel, but appeared to soften his stance of recent months, claiming that US President Donald Trump had no future role in negotiations at all, but stating that in an international context the Americans could play a part.
Abbas opened with a scathing line. “Jerusalem is not for sale, and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining,” he said, describing the Palestinian cause as just and blessed.
He said the Trump administration, which has been working on a peace plan for 20 months, had undermined its own credibility with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital late last year.
“From the start of his tenure, from the same positive engagement, we welcomed his launching of the initiative of peace,” Abbas said. “We awaited his peace initiative with utmost patience. But we were shocked by his statements and actions that contradicted the aims of his administration in the peace process.”
Ramallah shut down communications with the White House in light of the Jerusalem announcement, which was accompanied five months later by the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the ancient city.
In recent months, Trump has shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington; revoked the visas of its top envoy to the US and his family members; cut all aid to the UN agency on Palestinian refugees as well as direct aid to the West Bank and Gaza; withdrawn from the Human Rights Council; and threatened retaliation for Palestinian referrals of Israelis to the International Criminal Court.
But Abbas said his core argument against Trump’s peace effort was his suspicion that the White House team seeks to change the terms of reference for peace, undermining positions that have been core to the Palestinian cause for decades. Those include east Jerusalem serving as the capital of a Palestinian state, some form of right of return for qualifying Palestinians and freedom from occupation by Israeli defense forces.
The administration has said that sovereignty over Jerusalem would be up for the parties to decide in direct talks. But it has questioned the model used by UNRWA – the UN agency for refugees – that allows an indefinite line of descendants of refugees to qualify for refugee status. And officials also say they will not compromise on Israeli security needs, including in the Jordan Valley, in their peace proposals.
“It’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the ‘Deal of the Century.’ But what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people?” Abbas asked. “When they remove from the table Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and security – what is left?”
He also claimed the president had “undermined the two-state solution,” although just one day before, Trump acknowledged his preference for precisely that outcome for the first time as president. Abbas did not acknowledge the development in his remarks.
Abbas referenced several details rumored to be in Trump’s peace plan, although members of the US peace team – led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations – noted that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have seen its contents.
“Some people try to outsmart us and say, your capital is in east Jerusalem. I’m sorry – no,” Abbas said, amid rumors that Trump was eyeing the neighborhood of Abu Dis as a Palestinian capital district. “Our capital is east Jerusalem and not ‘in’ east Jerusalem.”
“We want a state with very well-defined borders and rights, and then we can coexist with the Israelis,” he continued. “Otherwise, no.”
The US is likely to release its peace plan by the end of the year.