US, Israel officials downplay Trump’s warning of ‘price’ over Jerusalem moves

Washington says it will not impose ‘unacceptable conditions’ as sources in Jerusalem point to John Bolton’s reassurance ‘it’s not an issue of quid pro quo’

US President Donald Trump salutes his supporters after speaking at a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia on August 21, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump salutes his supporters after speaking at a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia on August 21, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

US and Israeli officials on Wednesday downplayed a remark made by US President Donald Trump a day earlier in which the American leader said Israel would pay “a higher price” in peace talks with the Palestinians to compensate for Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy to the city.

Seeking to calm Israeli concerns, senior US officials told Channel 10 that “the US will not impose unacceptable conditions on Israel in its peace plan.”

At the same time, an Israeli official said US National Security Adviser John Bolton had clarified the American president’s comments. Bolton, who was on a visit to  Jerusalem, had said earlier on Wednesday the president’s speech did not represent a change in the US administration’s policy on peace negotiations.

“National Security Adviser Bolton clarified his (Trump’s) remarks earlier today, and Israel is very pleased with the excellent visit by the national security adviser, which further strengthens the strong relations between Israel and the United States,” the Israeli official said.

Bolton had stressed that there was no “quid pro quo” involved in the US decisions regarding Jerusalem.

“I don’t think there’s any change in policy. I think the president looked at the recognition of Jerusalem as being Israel’s capital and the inevitable consequence of that is that the US embassy ought to be in the capital city of the country which its accredited as the right and natural thing to do,” the senior Trump aide said. “It’s not an issue of quid pro quo.”

US National Security Adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, attends a press conference in Jerusalem, on August 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tuesday night, Trump told a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that the Palestinians “will get something very good” in any future negotiations in return for the US having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said, of 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.”

A Palestinian Authority official, in response, called on Trump to recognize a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and declare the two-state solution the “sole” solution to the conflict.

Also Wednesday, the dovish J Street lobby said Trump’s words showed that he failed to understand the complexity of the situation.

“The president once again made clear that when it comes to the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has no idea what he’s talking about — and no desire to lead good-faith, productive negotiations towards peace,” the left-wing group said in a statement. “His continued boasting about taking Jerusalem ‘off the table’ shows that he is not interested in seriously addressing the city’s sensitivity and importance as a final status issue.”

The US Jewish group also claimed that Trump’s proposed peace plan — which has not yet been made public — “will be a complete sham.”

“It will not lead to peace or to greater security for Israel, but to further erosion of US credibility, alienation of the Palestinian leadership and empowerment of the Israeli far right,” the group said.

Bolton had suggested that the US president was disappointed with the Palestinian response to the move.

“As a deal maker he would expect that the Palestinians would say, ‘Okay, great, we didn’t get that one, now we want something else.’ We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and US national security adviser John Bolton, visit the US Embassy in Jerusalem, on August 21, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Instead, Palestinian Authority officials have refused to meet with members of Trump’s cabinet, declaring them unfit to act as an honest mediator in negotiations.

Bolton nonetheless said “the president did the right thing in moving the embassy to Israel’s capital, and that in and of itself brings reality to the negotiations.”

“It was a very positive step forward not just for Israel, but for the Palestinians as well,” he insisted.

Bolton remained tight-lipped about what such negotiations may entail or what the US may push for, saying it was “fundamental” that the two sides dictate the terms of talks and not a third party.

“Any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is going to require agreement of the parties, it’s not something the US is prepared to force on anybody,” he said.

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