WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a somber assessment of the chances of the not-yet released Trump peace plan, acknowledging that parts of it might be “unexecutable,” could fail, or may be dismissed out of hand by either the Israelis or the Palestinians.
In remarks made last Tuesday in a closed-door conversation with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that was leaked to the Washington Post, Pompeo said he could understand why many see the deal as one “only the Israelis could love” and said the US was also planning for failure.
The plan has repeatedly been postponed and Pompeo’s remarks were made a day before the collapse of Israeli coalition negotiations and a move to fresh elections in September, something that is widely expected to set back the launch of the plan even further.
Even then Pompeo noted, “This has taken us longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might — to put it lightly.”
After the publication of the remarks on Sunday, US President Donald Trump was asked about Pompeo’s skepticism, telling reporters outside the White House: “He may be right.”
“When Mike says that, I understand when he says that, because most people think it can’t be done. I think it probably can. But, as I say often, we’ll see what happens,” Trump said, adding that he was unhappy with the situation in Israel, which he called “messed up.”
“Bibi got elected. Now, all of a sudden, they’re going to have to go through the process again until September? That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that,” he said, urging Israel to “get their act together.”
Pompeo, who said he believes he has seen “all the details of what we are going to roll out,” said the plan was “very detailed.” However, he conceded that parts of it are, “one might argue, unexecutable.”
He said that the US plans to start with the economic aspects, before moving on to the “security and political” parts.
Pompeo’s comments came as the two main architects of the plan, Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, toured the Mideast to lay the groundwork for the economic section that is to be unveiled at a conference in Bahrain later this month.
Pompeo’s remarks were the most candid yet from the Trump administration on the challenges facing the plan, dubbed by the US president the “deal of the century,” and he expressed hope that the parties would even consider it.
“Three things are certain, everyone will find something to hate about the proposal,” he said. “Everyone will find something, I think, including the Palestinians, will find something they say ‘that’s something to build upon.’ And the big question is can we get enough space that we can have a real conversation about how to build this out.”
The Palestinians have already dismissed the peace plan and said they will not attend the Bahrain summit, rejecting it as heavily biased in favor of Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut ties with the Trump administration in late 2017 after it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Trump’s White House responded with a series of punitive measures, including severing assistance to the PA and defunding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
UNRWA provides education, health and food services to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Pompeo said he recognized the widely held notion that the deal would favor Israel.
“I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love,” he said. “I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.”
He also said that once the US puts out the plan it will be up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to “deliver it.” The US “won’t drive this,” he said.
“We’re under no illusions we’re going to show up with this thing and everyone’s going to say, ‘Tell me where to go for the signing ceremony,’” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“I hope everyone will look at it and say that there is at least a nugget of hope in there for me,” he said.
Preparing for failure
Pompeo also said the US was preparing for how to react if the plan fails, including in a scenario where Israel annexes parts of the West Bank, a move that many in the international community see as being the end of the possibility of a two-state solution.
Ahead of the April elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would consider extending Israeli law to West Bank settlements.
“It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original, it doesn’t particularly work for me,’ that is, ‘It’s got two good things and nine bad things, I’m out,'” Pompeo said, adding that the State Department has given “quite a bit of consideration” to what it would do if the plan “doesn’t gain traction.”
“I don’t want to call it failing,” he said. “Call it whatever. I fail a lot, so it’s not about not using a word like that.”
He said there had been “a great deal of thought on how to react and what would be the appropriate response,” to an Israeli annexation, but added that there was currently “no consensus.”
In March, Trump broke with long-held US police and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which it captured in the 1967 Six Day War from Syria.