Meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos on Thursday, US President Donald Trump spoke unscripted about Israel and the Palestinians — and his remarks were music to Netanyahu’s ears and quite the opposite to the Palestinians’.
In May, hours after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Trump had declared in a speech at the Israel Museum, also in Netanyahu’s presence, that the Palestinians “are ready to reach for peace.” Aware of Netanyahu’s skepticism, Trump even reiterated: “I know you’ve heard it before. I am telling you. That’s what I do. They are ready to reach for peace.”
In Davos, by contrast, Trump was adamant that “Israel does want to make peace” but plainly no longer convinced about Abbas and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are “going to have to want to make peace too, or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer,” he said dramatically at one point. “They [the Israelis] want to make peace, and I hope the Palestinians want to make peace. And if they do, everybody’s going to be very happy in the end… It’s many years of killing people. It’s many years of killing each other. They have to be tired and disgusted of it.”
Asked if he’d heard Abbas’s recent speech castigating the US and him personally, Trump was withering again: “I didn’t really read his remarks personally. I’m probably better off not seeing them. But we’ve done a lot for them, and hopefully they’re going to make peace for their people.”
A major theme of his remarks was respect — or rather what he feels is the lack of it he is getting from the Palestinians. He protested that they “disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them.” He called on them to “respect the process.” He fumed at their failure “to respect the fact that the US has given tremendous support to them over the years in terms of monetary support and other support.” He insisted: “Respect has to be shown to the US or we’re just not going any further.”
The Palestinians, under Abbas, having flattered and tried to cultivate Trump in the first months of his administration, have refused to have any dealings with him and his team ever since December 6, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Taking his public opposition to the US president to new heights, Abbas declared in a furious speech on January 14 in Ramallah: “We told Trump we will not accept his project, the ‘deal of the century,’ which has become the ‘slap of the century. But we will slap back.” And he added of Trump, “May God demolish your house.”
Officials in the US administration have acknowledged that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem was a blow to the Palestinians — even though Trump on December 6 insisted that the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty would have to be negotiated between the sides — and said that a “cooling off” period would be required for the Palestinians.
But Trump on Thursday went further in his pro-Israel take on Jerusalem. He said straight out, turning to Netanyahu, that “you won one point” — on Jerusalem — and would have to give ground on other issues if the negotiations ever got going. He indicated that the Jerusalem issue was now dealt with; apparently it isn’t up for negotiation after all: “We took Jerusalem off the table, so they don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
He also said he still hoped the Palestinian leadership was “going to make peace for their people,” that he hoped “sound minds are going to prevail.”
But as Netanyahu sat alongside Trump listening contentedly, Abbas and the PA leadership could only have been boiling. However long that “cooling off” period was hitherto expected to last, it probably got a whole lot longer.
To which Trump, declaredly ready to withhold further US aid, would likely say, so be it.
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