NEW YORK — By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiating a process to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, US President Donald Trump backstabbed the Palestinians, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington envoy charged on Thursday.
Speaking before the Middle East Institute, a DC think tank, Husam Zomlot excoriated the American president shortly after Trump called the Palestinian leadership “disrespectful” over its response to his December 6 decision. Trump also threatened to cut all US aid to the PA if it did not enter negotiations with Israel.
“Trump violated his own pledge: ‘I do not want to impose, I do not want to dictate.’ Then you come and you want to take the core of the two-state solution out,” Zomlot said. He went on to compare the act to “backstabbing.”
Sitting alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their bilateral meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos Thursday, Trump suggested his recognition of Jerusalem settled one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict.
“The hardest subject they had to talk about was Jerusalem,” he said. “We took Jerusalem off the table, so we don’t have to talk about it anymore. They never got past Jerusalem. We took it off the table. We don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
He then turned to Netanyahu and said : “You won one point, and you’ll give up some other points later on in the negotiation — if it ever takes place. I don’t know that it ever will take place.”
Zomlot, a close confidant of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, addressed that point directly. “You didn’t take Jerusalem off the table – you took away the whole table,” he said. “No Palestinian will sit at it.”
Besides refusing to meet with members of the Trump administration, most notably US Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the region this week, Abbas and his deputies have declared the US can no longer play the role of an honest broker in the conflict. They have, in turn, sought to have European countries supplant the United States as a primary mediator.
Zomlot said the Palestinians still seek a two-state solution, but dedicated the majority of his speech to why the US can no longer help facilitate that outcome.
Despite his national movement’s current diplomatic losses, Zomlot said it still had at least one major piece of leverage — the suggestion that the long-term sustainability of a Jewish and democratic state depends on the realization of a Palestinian state.
“There is a lot of thinking that the Palestinians are in their weakest position,” he said. “The key to Israel’s survival is in the Palestinians.”
Zomlot indicated that threats from Trump, including a withdrawal of monetary aid, would not soften the Palestinians’ position or motivate them to reengage with the White House.
“If the choice is between starving the people of Palestine and surrendering rights,” he said, “the people will not choose surrendering their rights.”
Among the threats the administration has made over the Palestinian boycott is closure of the PLO’s Washington office, which would cost Zomlot his job.
Trump also spoke with great pride on Thursday about the US expediting its embassy relocation, saying it would open the new mission in Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
The act of unilaterally moving the embassy, Zomlot said, was favoring Israel in the conflict. “Any embassy in the city is tacit recognition of Israel’s claim.” He noted that Palestinians would not object to two US embassies in the city — one in the West and one in the East — after an agreement was reached.
The Palestinian envoy waved off criticism of Abbas’s recent speech in which he denied any Jewish connection to Israel and said the Zionist movement emanated from European colonialism.
And while Israel has gained enormous favor with the current administration, Zomlot said it was not resonating with the younger generation in the same way. Eventually, he suggested, attitudes would move in Palestinians’ favor.
“Things are changing in this country,” he said. “Netanyahu can go and speak in Congress, but can he go and speak at a university in California or Wisconsin?”