A senior Palestinian official said the Trump administration has failed to respond to Palestinian overtures to initiate contact.
Speaking to Newsweek in a telephone interview, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who serves as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the new American administration worried Palestinians.
If US President Donald Trump’s first week in office is the shape of things to come, he added, then “God help us, God help the whole world.”
Erekat noted that Trump has not criticized Israel’s recent announcement of plans to build some 3,000 homes in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. The previous Obama administration, which opposed settlement construction, always spoke out against such announcements, he recalled.
“We Palestinians are so worried. [Trump] does not comment. Trump is Trump and it’s up to him what he will do with the settlement policies. At the end of the day, peace is made between Palestinians and Israelis.”
The US has yet to respond to the announcements and when asked, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered only that Trump would discuss the matter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli leader visits in February.
The Trump administration has not yet made any contact with the Palestinian leadership, Erekat said. By contrast, Trump has spoken by phone with Netanyahu and the two men scheduled a meeting for February 15.
Trump’s appointments of his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner as his point-man on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and of the settlement-backing Orthodox Jewish attorney David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, along with his pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, have concerned Palestinians, Erekat said
“I don’t know the guy,” Erekat said of Kushner. “I don’t know any of them…. We have sent them letters, written messages, they don’t even bother to respond to us.”
“It’s time for President Trump to stop these things and focus on what this region needs,” Erekat said. “What we need in this region is peace, what we need in this region is dialogue, what we need in this region is to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the table.”
“My worst-case scenario: I’m under Israeli occupation. What can Trump do to me?” he asks. “He’s only been there for a week. If that’s the trend of four years: God help us, God help the whole world.”
Erekat also criticized Trump’s ban on entry into the US of citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, as well as the rejection of refugees from those countries.
“We totally disagree with this. It’s really not acceptable to target Muslims,” Erekat said. “This is a ban on Muslims, this is not a ban on terrorists.”
“You may prevent people entering the United States, but can you stop ideas from traveling? President Trump cannot stop ideas from traveling without visas.”
Erekat has previously warned that if Trump goes ahead with a plan to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv 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.
Last week Erekat released a video statement in which he warned that Trump’s silence on the settlement construction boom was emboldening Netanyahu to defy the international community, which recently scolded the Jewish state for its settlement enterprise via a critical resolution in the United Nations Security Council.
But Husam Zomlot, a senior political adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the man slated to become the PA’s next envoy to the US, said Tuesday he still hopes for a more positive relationship with Washington.
“Our expectation is that the long-held US policies with regards to the illegality of the settlements, the status of Jerusalem and with regards to the contours of the solution will remain,” said Zomlot.
“We did not hear any change of these long-held US policies up until today. Until we hear otherwise, this will be our working assumption.”
Zomlot said he does not believe the silence of the Trump administration is a tacit approval for settlement construction.
“The Trump administration is not yet fully formed,” he said, pointing out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has yet to take office.
Dov Lieber contributed to this report.