(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Trump administration is still very much in listening mode, trying to understand the Israeli and Palestinian positions before putting forward its own ideas, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday, a day before meeting with Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law.
“This is already the advanced learning and listening stage,” Liberman said in a Kan radio interview. Asked if the Americans want to begin talking about the core issues of the conflict with the Palestinians – security, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and borders – he replied that at this point they want to understand what the basic interests are of Israel and the Palestinians.
“We are open to a dialogue with the Americans,” Liberman said, adding that there is no reason for Israel to panic or hide anything.
Kushner is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday for a day of talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He was here last month during Trump’s visit.
Netanyahu met on Tuesday with Trump’s Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who also met with Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s top adviser on the Palestinian issue. Greenblatt, who arrived on Monday, also held meetings with Palestinian leaders, tweeting afterward that the purpose was to “further our discussions on how to achieve peace,” without providing details of the talks.
Liberman, however, said in his interview that there is a need to lower the bar, and that realistically what can be discussed is a “long-term interim agreement. It is impossible to hurdle over stages, it is impossible to jump up 10 steps at one time.”
The defense minister said that it is difficult to talk about a “peace process” or sincere peace negotiations with the PA, which refuses to condemn terrorist attacks in Israel.
“Nobody here is being naïve,” he said. “And what needs to concern and worry us is not the Palestinian state, but the Jewish state. How to preserve Israel as a Jewish state, and not as a binational state. That is the correct order of priorities.”
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor Greenblatt released any details of their meeting, though it is widely believed that the Trump administration is trying to get Israel, the Palestinians and even some Sunni Arab states to carry out goodwill measures to improve the atmosphere and facilitate a return to the negotiation table.
Israel is being asked to moderate construction in the settlements; the Palestinians are being asked to stop incitement and payments to terrorists and their families; and the Arab states are being asked to take some steps toward normalization of ties with Israel, such as facilitating economic relations and allowing overflights by Israeli civilian aircraft.
Greenblatt met with three senior Palestinian officials in the West Bank on Tuesday.
A senior adviser to Abbas said Greenblatt met with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, PA General Intelligence chief Majid Faraj, and Palestine Investment Fund chairman Muhammad Mustafa.
The senior adviser said that he was not informed about the details of what was discussed during the meeting.
Erekat and a number of Palestinian officials declined to comment on what was said at the meeting.