Israel is reportedly concerned that the Trump administration is considering recognizing Jerusalem as the Palestinian as well as the Israeli capital in a bid to bring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table.
That fear is born of an Israeli assessment that the administration sees getting a deal as a fairly simple task once both sides are at the negotiating table, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Sunday.
“Trump wants a deal and he’s very serious,” a senior Israeli official told the paper. “To the Americans, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is relatively easy to solve.”
Sources told the newspaper that US-led talks between the two sides will work on a strategy of give and take: Anyone who comes to the table has to ante up a concession, one the other side agrees to. Anyone who doesn’t come to the table has to pay a penalty, and anyone who rejects the draft deal risks being put in a weaker position for the next round.
However according to the newspaper, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to ask the Americans to hold off on an announcement about the plan until after Israel goes to the polls in 2019, as any clause regarding the possibility of Jerusalem also being a Palestinian capital could cause him problems in his coalition as well as opening him up to attack from the right.
With regards to the upcoming US midterm elections in November, the report said that if the Republican Party weakens, the White House will ramp up pressure for a deal in the hopes of having a big foreign policy achievement to show voters ahead of the presidential elections in 2020.
Science Minister Ofir Akunis, in response to the report, said such a deal would be impossible.
“Jerusalem will never be a joint capital, and a Palestinian terror state will not be established in the West Bank, under any circumstances,” Akunis told Yedioth Ahronot. “If the Palestinians want to return to the negotiating table, it will be done without preconditions and clauses.”
Although the Trump administration has been touting its peace plan for months, details of it have been scarce, and the Palestinians have vowed not to cooperate with US efforts to implement it once it is announced.
Abbas has said Trump’s policies toward the Palestinians, which have been seen as embracing many Israeli policy points, were an “assault on international law,” and has rejected Washington as a mediator in the peace talks.
The Palestinian Authority has boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and announced it would move its embassy to the city. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of their future state.
The US has made a number of other moves that have been denounced by the Palestinians, including the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission in Washington over what it said was the Palestinians’ refusal to engage in peace talks with Israel.
Last week the State Department announced that it would bring its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians under the auspices of the US Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, an implicit downgrade of the facility’s status and a fresh blow to its already strained ties with the Palestinians.
Jewish-American billionaire Ronald Lauder was reportedly dispatched by Trump last week to meet with Abbas in a bid to encourage Ramallah’s return to peace talks.
According to a Hadashot TV news report Thursday, Lauder met with Abbas “behind Israel’s back” and without the knowledge of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the two White House officials in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace portfolio. The White House denied the report.
Trump, who has called an Israeli-Palestinian accord the “ultimate deal,” said during his meeting with Netanyahu in September that the peace plan would be rolled out within the next four months.