Bolton denies ‘quid pro quo’ in embassy move after Trump warns of ‘price’

US national security adviser downplays president’s claim that ‘the Palestinians will get something very good,’ says no change in administration’s policy

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

US National Security Adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, attends a press conference in Jerusalem, on August 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US National Security Adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, attends a press conference in Jerusalem, on August 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A top adviser to US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that there was no “quid pro quo” involved in the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, hours after the president said that Israel will pay “a higher price” in peace talks with the Palestinians due to his recognition of the city as the Jewish state’s capital.

Speaking to reporters near the end of his three-day trip to Israel, John Bolton said the president’s comments did not represent a change in the administration’s policy on peace negotiations or on Israel’s need to make concessions.

“I don’t think there’s any change in policy. I think the president looked at the recognition of Jerusalem as being Israel’s capital and the inevitable consequence of that is that the US embassy ought to be in the capital city of the country which its accredited as the right and natural thing to do,” he said. “It’s not an issue of quid pro quo.”

On Tuesday night, Trump told a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that the Palestinians “will get something very good” in any future negotiations in return for the US having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said, of his recognition of Jerusalem and the relocation of the US embassy to the capital, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table. And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.” The Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens.”

Bolton echoed the president in saying that the decision had removed Jerusalem as a contentious issue.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally August 21, 2018, at the Civic Center in Charleston West Virginia. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

“He’s made the point that this issue has been a hangup in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And as he said last night as well, he’s taken that issue off the table,” Bolton said.

In May, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also acknowledged that Israel would likely pay “a price” for the embassy move, explaining, “There is no free lunch.” But, he added, “it is worth paying it. We should welcome, and be prepared, to pay a price.”

Despite Trump’s assertions, Bolton suggested that the president was disappointed with the Palestinian response to the move.

“As a deal maker he would expect that the Palestinians would say, ‘Okay, great, we didn’t get that one, now we want something else.’ We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

Instead, Palestinian Authority officials have refused to meet with members of Trump’s cabinet, declaring them unfit to act as an honest mediator in negotiations.

Bolton nonetheless said “the president did the right thing in moving the embassy to Israel’s capital, and that in and of itself brings reality to the negotiations.”

“It was a very positive step forward not just for Israel, but for the Palestinians as well,” he insisted.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and US national security adviser John Bolton, visit the US Embassy in Jerusalem, on August 21, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Bolton remained tight-lipped about what such negotiations may entail or what the US may push for, saying it was “fundamental” that the two sides dictate the terms of talks and not a third party. “Any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is going to require agreement of the parties, it’s not something the US is prepared to force on anybody,” he said.

The Trump administration said last week that neither Israelis nor Palestinian would be “fully pleased” with its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, whose contents are one of the most guarded secrets in Washington.

Bolton declined to give a time frame for when the plan may be unveiled, saying that while “work continues and there are a lot of consultations underway, there are no decisions on the details or when the plan will be announced.”

Fielding a question about the US position towards Israel’s reportedly ongoing negotiations with the Hamas terror group towards a ceasefire in Gaza, Bolton lamented that “all the Palestinians have is a choice between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.”

He said there are “a lot of prospects to find ways here to resolve some of these problems and give the people of Palestine, who have been used as agents by radical leaders over the years for their own political purposes, a chance for a decent life going forward.”

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