Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s top diplomatic adviser on Thursday poured cold water on swirling media reports regarding a US-led regional peace process that would see Arab states partially thawing their relations with Israel as a first step toward restarting peace talks.
“There is no regional peace process or anything like it,” Majdi al-Khalidi told The Times of Israel. “No one is talking about it with us, or with anyone.”
The latest report, on Thursday in the Hebrew-language daily Israel Hayom, quoted an unnamed senior Palestinian official revealing ostensible details of what US President Donald Trump conveyed to Abbas when the two men met in Bethlehem earlier this week.
According to that report, Trump’s approach appears to fall in line with that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been promoting a so-called “outside-in” approach that would see ties normalized between Israel and moderate Arab states as a way to promote peace with the Palestinians.
By contrast, the Palestinian leadership has insisted on the time-honored formula, first laid down in a 2002 Saudi-led peace initiative, that sees a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians as a prerequisite for normalization with the entire Arab and Muslim world.
Khalidi stressed on Thursday that the PA had in no way changed its stance.
“First, the two-state solution must exist and be implemented. And once the Palestinians will have their own state beside the State of Israel, then the Arab peace initiative can be implemented,” he said in a phone interview.
Trump, in prepared remarks delivered in Bethlehem on Tuesday, after a meeting with Abbas, seemed to support the inside-out approach preferred by Palestinians.
“I also firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East,” he said.
However, during a February meeting with Netanyahu at the White House, Trump seemed to support a regional peace approach, saying he wanted to pursue “a much bigger deal” in the Middle East, which would include “many, many countries.”
According to the unnamed official quoted in the Israel Hayom report, Trump stressed to Abbas that there is agreement in principle in Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states to give a chance for the new formula to succeed.
Moderate Arab states would formally recognize Israel and the Jewish state’s right to exist, although peace treaties and exchanges of ambassadors would only come after an Israeli-Palestinian deal, the official reportedly claimed.
The unnamed source added that the developments were angering the Palestinian street and causing tension between Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
But Khalidi pointed out that so far, no official has been named in any report confirming the existence of a regional peace plan.
Abbas has met with Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi numerous times since Trump was elected. The meetings were carried out in order to ensure a consensus vis-a-vis the peace process.
However, despite the appearance of seemingly closed ranks between Cairo, Amman and Ramallah, the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders did meet in secret with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year in Aqaba, as part of US-led effort to jump start a regional peace process. The summit ended when Netanyahu reportedly rejected the US proposal.
Some of the recent unconfirmed reports about a regional peace track featured the idea of a peace summit either hosted by the US president in Washington, or by Egypt or Jordan, which would take place in the coming weeks to kick-start the process.
For example, the Lebanese daily al Akhbar on Monday cited unnamed Egyptian diplomatic sources who said Trump and Sissi, in their meeting in Riyadh on Sunday, agreed to hold a peace summit either in Washington or Egypt “very soon.”
The Lebanese report said that Saudi Arabia expressed interest in participating in the summit. That would be a major shift in policy for the Gulf kingdom, which has never openly sat at the negotiating table with Israelis.
However, no government official has confirmed that such a summit is being planned, and Khalidi denied it.
Trump has yet to formally endorse the two-state solution, and since taking office in January has suggested taking a different approach to solving the conflict. During his 28-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he didn’t mention a Palestinian state, nor did he say anything about the Arab Peace Initiative.
He did make repeated references to his meetings in Riyadh with King Salman over the weekend, saying in Bethlehem that the king “could not have been kinder, and I will tell you: He’s a very wise, wise man.”
In the days before Trump set off for his first foreign trip as president last week, media reports said there was discussion among Gulf state leaders on offering better ties with Israel if the Jewish state were to take substantive action to try to reach peace with the Palestinians.