WASHINGTON — Determined to make the elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, US President Donald Trump is deliberating bringing in Arab states and embracing the “outside-in” approach to peacemaking that has been endorsed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to The New York Times.
An article Thursday said that both Trump and his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner — who has been designated the point man for the Mideast peace process — have found the idea appealing after meeting with a number of Arab leaders since the president assumed office in January.
In the last three weeks, Trump has meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and spoken on the phone with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
Kushner has reportedly met with a number of Arab officials, including Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States.
Those discussions, according to The Times, have led the two to believe in the possibility of enlisting such Arab states to help bring Palestinians to the negotiating table and create the conditions for a comprehensive agreement to be made.
Moreover, Kushner has also become friendly with Israel’s envoy to the US Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s closest confidantes, who has sometimes been referred to as “Bibi’s brain.”
Netanyahu, for his part, has said before that Arab cooperation could help make progress on the Palestinian issue. This past summer, he indicated a willingness to work with Arab partners after Egypt’s Sisi promised warmer ties with the Jewish state if it accepted his efforts to resume peace talks.
Netanyahu expressed a desire to resuscitate the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by the Saudis, that promised Israel diplomatic recognition from Arab countries in exchange for a deal that results in the establishment of a Palestinian state. That proposal, however, calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the return of Palestinians refuges to Israel — points of contention for the Israeli premier.
“This initiative is 13 years old, and the situation in the Middle East has changed since it was first proposed,” he said. “But the general idea — to try and reach understandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”
Since the landmark pact America forged with Iran and world powers in July 2015, which rolled back Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, Israel has grown closer with many of its Sunni Arab neighbors that also fear the possibility of an empowered Iran — a development the administration may see as an opportunity.
The Times report suggested that Trump’s meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah two weeks ago was a catalyst to the administration’s mild warning on settlement expansion, a statement that came hours after they spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast.
It also said the president’s conversations with other Arab leaders helped slow the president’s resolve to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Abdullah reportedly told Trump he feared moving the embassy unilaterally would set off unrest among the Palestinians living in Jordan, who make up a large portion of the country’s population.
A strategy aimed at incorporating the Arab world into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not necessarily original. Former president George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state James Baker organized the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. And former president George W. Bush with his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice convened a peace summit in Annapolis, Md. in 2007.
Also on Thursday, it was disclosed that Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj met with security and intelligence officials in Washington this week.
The Palestinian leadership had recently expressed fear it was being shut out of the new administration as Trump appears to be cultivating a close relationship with Netanyahu, who will meet the president for the first time next week at the White House.