US President Donald Trump has said he is willing to “be tough” on Israel in peace negotiations, mirroring the administration’s combative stance toward the Palestinian Authority, according to an Israeli report Monday.
Such a move would mark a significant shift in the US approach to peace talks so far, which has seen a number of concessions to Israel and punitive measures against Ramallah, stoking Palestinian anger and a boycott of efforts to jump start peace talks.
According to a Channel 10 news report, which cited four Western diplomats with knowledge of the matter, Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron, during a recent meeting, that he was prepared to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the administration’s long-gestating peace initiative, once it is unveiled, mirroring pressure already leveled against the Palestinians.
“I’ve given a lot to Netanyahu. I moved the embassy to Jerusalem… We give Israel $5 billion a year. I can be tough with Netanyahu on the peace plan, just like I’ve been tough on the Palestinians,” Trump reportedly told Macron on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.
It’s unclear where the $5 billion number comes from. The US currently gives Israel $3.8 billion annually in defense aid as part of a memorandum of understanding.
When Macron told the US leader that he was under the impression that Netanyahu preferred the status quo over making progress on a peace deal, Trump allegedly replied: “You know, Emmanuel, I’m very close to reaching that same conclusion.”
Responding to the report, a White House official told The Times of Israel that “the president believes that the prime minister is committed to pursuing a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Trump, the official added, “has faith in the prime minister’s efforts.”
The reported comments to Macron took place three days before Trump, during a meeting with Netanyahu at the UN, said he favors the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seemingly signaling a reversal in the administration’s previous refusal to endorse the formula.
Trump also reportedly told Macron he had taken tough measures against the Palestinian Authority in recent months — cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and closing the Palestinians’ Washington mission — in response to the Palestinians cutting ties to his administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“I was tough on the Palestinians because they wouldn’t talk to us, and that’s unacceptable,” he reportedly said.
Trump worried Israeli officials when he said in August that Israel would pay “a higher price” in any future talks with the Palestinians, due to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said during a campaign rally in West Virginia on August 21, referring to his recognition of Jerusalem and the relocation of the US Embassy to the capital, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table. And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.”
The Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens.”
US and Israeli officials later downplayed the remark, with senior US officials telling Channel 10 that “the US will not impose unacceptable conditions on Israel in its peace plan.”
US National Security Adviser John Bolton, in Israel at the time, told reporters there was no “quid pro quo” involved in the US decisions regarding Jerusalem.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said Monday that the status quo was “not acceptable” and expressed hopes leaders on both sides would make concessions.
“The situation is only getting worse. At some point, the leaders will have to take a bold step and make compromise. We hope to find leaderships that are ready to do so,” Trump’s son-in-law told CNN during an interview at the channel’s “Citizen CNN” conference.
The Trump administration has said in the past that neither Israelis nor Palestinians would be “fully pleased” with its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, whose contents are one of the most guarded secrets in Washington.
Although the administration has been touting its plan for months, details of it have been scarce, and the Palestinians, who have long boycotted the Trump administration, have vowed not to cooperate with US efforts to implement it once it is announced.
Trump, who has called an Israeli-Palestinian accord the “ultimate deal,” said during the meeting with Netanyahu last month that the peace plan would be rolled out within the next four months.