If the incoming Trump administration moves the US embassy to Jerusalem, the PLO will revoke its recognition of Israel, the prospect of a two-state solution will be over, and any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace in the future will vanish, the top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned on Monday.
Speaking on a conference call organized by the Wilson Center policy forum in Washington, DC regarding expectations from the Trump administration, Erekat reeled off a list of what he said would be the consequences of President-elect Donald Trump honoring his campaign pledge and relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Erekat said he would immediately resign as the chief Palestinian negotiator, and that “the PLO will revoke its recognition of Israel” as well as all previously signed agreements with Israel.
Furthermore, said Erekat, all American embassies in the Arab world would be forced to close — not necessarily because Arab leaderships would want to close them, but because the infuriated public in the Arab world would not “allow” for the embassies to continue to operate.
In a statement issued by the Trump transition team on Friday announcing David Friedman as Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, Friedman said he aimed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region,” and that he looked “forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Asked about the prospect of Trump moving the embassy to the Israeli capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that this would be “great.”
In Monday’s call, Erekat castigated the selection of Friedman, citing the intended ambassador’s stated desire to work from Jerusalem and his support of settlement expansion. Moving the US embassy to the holy city, as Trump has promised he will and Friedman has publicly anticipated, would symbolize American acceptance of what Erekat called “Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem,” and would plunge the region into turmoil. “Any hope of peace in the future will just vanish,” he said, adding that he was not making threats, but rather issuing a warning.
Explaining why he would immediately quit as Palestinian negotiator, Erekat said he would not want to “fool my people” that there were any prospects of peace, and that moving the embassy would mean that all those, like himself, who had believed in the possibility of a two-state solution had been wrong.
Rather than take this path, Erekat urged the incoming president to declare Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem to be “null and void,” and revive negotiations on all core issues, including Jerusalem, with the goal of establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines alongside the State of Israel. He said the Palestinians had agreed to land swaps and to demilitarization.
Also in the call — which was moderated by the Wilson Center’s vice president Aaron David Miller and with a second speaker, The Times of Israel’s editor David Horovitz — Erekat noted that he held meetings last week in Washington with State Department officials, but failed to secure meetings he had sought with incoming Trump administration officials. “I don’t know any of them,” he said of Trump’s personnel.
Erekat also said that Palestinian and other Arab diplomats were meeting Monday evening in Cairo to finalize the text of an anti-settlement resolution to be submitted to the UN Security Council. He said the intention was to introduce the resolution “by the end of the year.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly expressed concern that the Obama administration might not use its veto to block such a resolution. Last Wednesday, Netanyahu said Israel remains concerned that Washington could back a Palestine-related resolution at the Security Council before January 20. “With every passing day that possibility becomes less likely, but, until then, it’s still there,” Netanyahu said.
Friedman, 57, an Orthodox Jew and a Hebrew speaker, has been an outspoken and active supporter of the settlement movement, and has argued that Israel doesn’t face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians. Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports that settlement near Ramallah.
Last week, it was reported that Trump’s team was already planning the embassy relocation, including undertaking advance work on the project, after his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said it was “a very big priority for him.”
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.