WASHINGTON — Top US officials insisted Sunday that they could still push forward the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, despite outrage across the Arab world over the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem, topped with a refusal by Palestinian officials to meet with their US counterparts.
Speaking on the eve of the embassy opening, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hopeful of success in efforts to end the decades-old conflict while National Security Adviser John Bolton said it should make peace “easier.”
In an address December 6 from the White House, US President Donald Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as based merely on reality.
The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to gather along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Monday to protest the embassy opening.
Since the move was announced, the Palestinian Authority’s leadership has refused to speak to Trump’s team, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is supposed to be spearheading a new drive for peace.
Asked in an interview with Fox News on Sunday about whether there was any life left in the peace process, Pompeo responded by saying, “The peace process is most decidedly not dead.”
“We’re hard at work on it. We hope we can achieve a successful outcome there as well,” said Pompeo, whose first two weeks in office have been largely consumed with arranging a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
As well as the protests by the Palestinians, demonstrations are expected on Monday in other Arab capitals where governments have argued that the status of Jerusalem should only form part of a final peace agreement.
Pompeo said he was aware that there could be security concerns for US embassies and citizens in the region in the coming days.
“The United States government has taken a number of actions to ensure that not only our governmental interests but the American people in that region are secure as well, and we’re comfortable we’ve taken action that reduces that risk,” said the top US diplomat.
Bolton meanwhile said the opening of the embassy in a city which the Palestinians also want to make the capital of their promised future state would actually enhance the prospects of peace.
“I think it will make it easier. It’s a recognition of reality,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
“If you’re not prepared to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that’s where the American embassy should be, then you’re operating on a completely different wavelength.”
“I think recognizing reality always enhances the chances for peace.”
Washington’s ambassador to Israel also said that there is still hope for peace in the region.
Acknowledging the Palestinian anger, David Friedman told Fox that the mood “will change over time because they will understand that the United States continues to extend its hand in peace and people need to focus on what’s important, the quality of life, more infrastructure, more security, better hospitals.”
Friedman in the past has been a supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has decried Washington’s embassy move as a “provocation to all Arabs,” and the opening falls on May 14 which this year marks 70 years since Israel’s declaration of independence — which Palestinians call Nakba, their “day of catastrophe.”
Around 15,000 Palestinians took part in protests along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel on Friday, in the final weekly “March of Return” before next week’s Nakba Day events on May 14 and 15, when the violent demonstrations are expected to reach their peak.
The IDF said violent protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers at five major points along the border. Troops were attacked with pipe bombs, grenades, rocks, and burning tires. Rioters also attempted to sabotage “security infrastructure,” the army said.
The Hamas-encouraged demonstrations have ostensibly been designed to protest the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the terror group violently seized power in Gaza in 2007, and to assert Palestinian demands for millions to “return” to lost properties in what is now Israel.
But Israel maintains that Hamas was using the protests as a cover for violent attacks at the border and attempts to breach into Israeli territory.
According to the Hamas health ministry, around 50 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded by gunfire. Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained from acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.