WASHINGTON – Normalization between Israel and additional Arab countries is possible, Avi Berkowitz, the White House special representative for international negotiations told The Jerusalem Post.
Berkowitz said he prefers not to name those countries at the moment. “One of the things we’re proud of is the fact that the entire negotiation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, didn’t leak prior to the president announcing it,” he said. “And so, while obviously now speculation is going to abound, I would like to try my best to sort of allow the negotiations to take their time and not rush it.”
Berkowitz, who is part of Jared Kushner’s peace team, replaced Jason Greenblatt as Middle East envoy last November. He noted that the UAE, Oman and Bahrain – all participated in the Trump administration’s rollout of the “Peace for Prosperity” in January at the White House, but added that “there are other countries that have reached out to us. And we’ve had extremely positive conversations with them.
“But peace agreements are extraordinarily difficult, and progress can happen quickly, but it can also happen slowly,” he continued. “We want to take the time that it is necessary to work through the details and to make sure that we can accomplish a real historic achievement with another country. These things are extremely complex negotiations with numerous discussions constantly ongoing, and so I’d really like to allow them to have the space and time.”
Berkowitz weighed in on negotiations during a pandemic and said that travel has been difficult. “It’s become diplomacy by cell phone for the most part, and it’s a little bit unfortunate, because there’s really nothing like sitting face to face with someone and having an open conversation,” he said. “And that’s actually why having [UAE] Ambassador [to the US Yousef] al Otaiba and Ambassador Ron Dermer in Washington, people that have a lot of respect and closeness with the leadership in their countries, were so helpful to accomplishing this deal, because even though travel was difficult, because everybody knew that they were speaking for their leadership, it really helped go through the negotiations in a much more efficient way.”
He also addressed the reactions of the Palestinian leadership. “On the one hand, I have had interactions personally with Palestinians who, of course, I will not name because I would like them not to have any issues, but they see this agreement as actually a very positive step, he said. “They appreciate Israel’s suspension of the application of sovereignty and also see that peace is possible. And I think what their thinking is that their leadership should engage, and should come to the table and should try to negotiate their own historic peace deal. And when they’re willing to do so, they will find us very, very excited and ready and happy to talk to them.”
“And to those that have publicly come out and condemned this, I think that that’s unfortunate because I think it misunderstands the opportunity that’s in front of them,” he added. “And it’s my hope that in time, once that perhaps, the initial shock of this decision is passed, hopefully they’ll see just how exciting this opportunity is and it’ll lead to further, further negotiations.”
“We’ve not had direct conversations [with the Palestinian leadership] in some time,” Berkowitz said. “I have, through my intermediary, reached out and suggested that they contact me. I’ve offered potential locations where we could meet potential ideas that we could discuss. But ultimately, they’ve all been rebuffed. And I feel badly that they’ve chosen to react that way. But it’s not exactly surprising. And hopefully, in time they’ll realize that the United States is someone who is a country that really wants to work with them.”