Top PA official says Arab response to Trump peace plan disappointing
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Jordan tells Abbas it will stand by Palestinians

Top PA official says Arab response to Trump peace plan disappointing

Hussein Al-Sheikh admits Ramallah had hoped position would be ‘much better,’ frets Arab nations will be a ‘dagger in the side’ of Palestinians

Palestinians protest the Mideast plan announced by US President Donald Trump, in Hebron, West Bank, January 30, 2020. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)
Palestinians protest the Mideast plan announced by US President Donald Trump, in Hebron, West Bank, January 30, 2020. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

A senior official in the Palestinian Authority has spoken of Ramallah’s disappointment in Arab nations’ muted and sometimes-supportive response to the contentious US proposal for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the PA had been hoping “for much better.”

Hussein al-Sheikh, PA Civil Affairs Minister, member of the Fatah Central Committee and a close confidant of President Mahmoud Abbas, said there was concern that Arab nations, who the PA had hoped would back their position, may become a “dagger in Palestinian people’s side.”

Trump unveiled his long-awaited peace plan Tuesday. Several Arab counties, including Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia all gave responses that didn’t directly criticize the plan and indicated that it was a basis for negotiations that the Palestinians should seize. The 22-member Arab League has called an emergency session for Saturday to review the matter.

The Palestinians, who even before the release said they would reject the plan, have firmly maintained that position.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on Palestine TV, the official PA channel. (Screenshot: Palestine TV)

“We were hoping that the Arab position would be much better than that,” Sheikh told Al Jazeera Thursday night. “But the real test is on Saturday at the Arab League meeting.

“In every meeting with our Arab brothers, we did not demand that the Arabs fight America or Israel on our behalf,” Sheikh said. “We asked them for the minimum position…We asked them to tell the Americans: ‘What the Palestinians accept, we accept. And what the Palestinians reject, we reject.’

“We hope that our whole Arab nation will be a supportive force for us and not a dagger in the Palestinian people’s side,” Sheikh said.

The plan grants Israel much of what it has sought in decades of international diplomacy, namely control over Jerusalem as its “undivided” capital, rather than a city to share with the Palestinians, who would have the capital of a potential state in the East Jerusalem area — but without the coveted Old City and surrounding neighborhoods. The plan also lets Israel annex West Bank settlements, and rules out the return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood alongside Trump in the White House as the US leader presented the plan, immediately declared his support for the scheme.

He also initially said Israel would immediately move to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements with Washington’s okay — only to have the White House clarify quickly that there was no approval for immediate annexation moves.

“Is it reasonable for the Arabs to become applauders for Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2nd or 3rd row?” Sheikh asked, apparently referring to ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, who also attended the rollout ceremony.

“Is it reasonable for the Arabs to applaud the division of the Al-Aqsa? Is it reasonable for the Arabs to applaud al-Quds being the capital of Israel?” he added, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with US President Donald Trump during an event with in the East Room of the White House in Washington on January 28, 2020. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Sheikh also expressed his appreciation to Jordanian King Abdullah for his “strong and solid” position in stressing that the peace deal must include key Palestinians demands that are currently not part of the proposal.

Abdullah spoke with Abbas on Friday and assured him that Amman would stand by Ramallah’s side “in the fight to achieve [their] rightful independent state, in accordance with the 1967 borders.”

Jordan has also said it rejects any unilateral move by Israel, referring to the settlement annexation plan.

The Palestinians have angrily rejected the entire plan.

“This conspiracy deal will not pass. Our people will take it to the dustbin of history,” Abbas said Tuesday. “We say a thousand times: No, no and no to the ‘deal of the century.'”

Many Western countries and international bodies said they needed time to assess the plan, reiterating their support for the longtime international consensus favoring a two-state solution to the conflict on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.

And though the proposal provides for a Palestinian state, it falls far short of Palestinian hopes for a return of all the territories captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 22, 2020. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Egypt, the first Arab country to reach a peace deal with Israel, urged Israelis and Palestinians to carefully study the plan, and Saudi Arabia expressed support for a return to negotiations. The European Union said it needed to study the outline more closely.

The United Arab Emirates called it “an important starting point.” Qatar welcomed the initiative but stressed its support for a Palestinian state “including East Jerusalem” as its capital.

Iran and Turkey both rejected the proposal. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling the plan “satanic” and vowed that it would never be implemented, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared it as “absolutely unacceptable.”

Regionally, Arab states in the Gulf have moved closer to the Jewish state in recent years amid shared hostility to Iran.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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