PA boycotting Trump team, but open to US role in multilateral peace bid

Diplomatic adviser to Abbas says Security Council powers or Quartet, both of which include Washington, could form basis to revitalize peace process

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: US President Donald Trump center seated at the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh, May 21, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
Illustrative: US President Donald Trump center seated at the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh, May 21, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)

The Palestinians remain insistently opposed to having the United States as the sole sponsor of peace talks with Israel, but are now open to Washington taking a role within a multilateral framework to pave the way to a Palestinian state, a senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Following the US decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Palestinian leadership declared that Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has been boycotting US administration figures dealing with Mideast peace since US President Donald Trump’s December 6 declaration on Jerusalem, including refusing to meet US Vice President Mike Pence, who left the region Tuesday.

Instead, Abbas has been seeking a new international framework through which the Palestinians can win an independent state, traveling to Brussels this week to seek EU support for a new peace push.

Majdi al Khalidi, Abbas’s most senior diplomatic adviser, told The Times of Israel that the Palestinians would be willing to work with the US if Washington was part of a multi-party international effort.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) is welcomed by EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini prior to attend a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

“We cannot accept the United States alone. But we are not against the United States being part of a multilateral mechanism,” he said.

Khalidi said there were two models the Palestinians are looking at for such a multilateral framework. The first is organized around the Middle East Quartet, which includes the US, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union, as well as the possible addition of other countries.

The other framework is through the permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Like with the Quartet model, Khalidi said other countries could be included within the latter model.

The Security Council powers along with Germany provided the framework for the landmark Iran nuclear agreement signed in 2015.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has been adamant that Jerusalem will accept only the US as a peace broker.

“There is no alternative for American leadership in the diplomatic process,” he told Israeli ambassadors Sunday. “Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace — does not want peace.”

The US has brokered the last several rounds of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, including a short-lived effort in 2010, and a several-month peace push in 2014, both of which eventually broke down.

On Monday, European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said Brussels was ready to take a “central role,” alongside the United States, expanding the international role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We affirmed our conviction that the framework has to be multilateral. We will continue working within the Quartet, which includes the US, Russia and the UN, enlarging this to a few Arab countries, and possibly Norway,” she told reporters after meeting with Abbas in Brussels on Monday.

Officials wait for a meeting with diplomats from P5+1, the European Union and Iran at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel March 31, 2015 in Lausanne. (AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/POOL)

“The Palestinian president was perfectly fine with this idea of not having the United States as the only interlocutor for the peace process, but of having a multilateral framework in which the European Union has a central role that is together with others, including our partners in the Quartet, including the United States,” she added.

Abbas, in his remarks on Monday, made in Brussels, asked EU states to “swiftly” recognize the state of Palestine, arguing it would help Palestinians hold out their hopes for peace.

In an interview with AFP on Sunday in Brussels, PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said the EU recognizing the state of Palestine would be “a way to respond” to Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

But diplomats and officials in Brussels on Monday said that recognition for Palestine is not on the cards — the EU leaves recognition in the hands of individual members — and the best Abbas can hope for is progress toward an “association agreement” with the bloc.

Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.

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