President Donald Trump receives Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) at the White House on May 3, more than three weeks ahead of his proposed visit to Israel and a couple of Arab capitals before or after his first European trip to Brussels on May 25 for the NATO summit.
By the time he lands in Jerusalem, the US president ought to be au fait with the Palestinian position on the peace process and see a direction for his plan to make it part of a Middle East reconciliation process. Trump is aiming to convene a round table of the US, at least two Arab rulers and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to be a regional frame for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Round one in the first Palestinian bout with the new US president goes to Abbas.
debkafile’s Washington sources report that Abu Mazen rejected Trump’s demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as the price for his White House invitation. He was received nevertheless. Trump appears to have given way on this issue, in the interests of progress towards his comprehensive regional peace goal, for which he and his team are working hard. The president may find it more realistic to go for lesser, more pragmatic concessions from the Palestinians, such reining in Palestinian terrorists who strike almost daily and end financial remittances to their families, more security cooperation with Israel and a halt on Abbas’ international campaign against the Jewish State. In return, Trump may hold out a serious attempt to obtain from Israel a limited freeze on expanded settlement construction outside current boundaries.
The US embassy move to Jerusalem, promised by Trump, is also becoming a chip in the bargaining for positions of strength.
Florida Republican Rep Ron DeSantis said Thursday he believes he would announce the move when he visits Israel in late May. When asked directly, the president said Friday: “Ask me in a month on that.”
He also said: “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”
Encouraged by winning round one, Abbas will doubt also parlay his attendance alongside Israel at the prospective Middle East summit into more concessions from its Washington promoters.
The Palestinian made a side trip to Cairo Saturday April 29 for a conference with President Abdel Fatteh-Sisi, whence he travels to Amman to see King Abdullah before flying on to Washington. He was intent on drawing important Arab leaders behind his bargaining position vis-a-vis the US president.
Abbas understands he is playing ball in Washington with a seasoned dealer, who, moreover, is sympathetic to Israel. Not everything is going his way so far..
The large delegation from Ramallah preparing his visit to the White House has found it hard to make contact with high-ranking personnel at in the presidential office and the National Security Council – a far cry from the open doors they enjoyed during the days of Barack Obama.
And while they were stewing in Washington, they learned about the president’s prospective trip to Israel and possible visits to Arab capitals. The Trump juggernaut was clearly moving at top speed and if the Palestinians practiced their usual rejectionist delaying tactics, they could be left behind.
On his visit to Israel, Trump will radiate beaming friendship – undoubtedly genuine, but also designed to soften the Netanyahu government’s flat resistance to certain sacrifices that will be demanded for peace and normal relations on the Arab side of the table. Binyamin Netanyahu will face hard decisions that will be harder still to sell to the Israeli public – even if they harvest a peace deal and normal relations with the Arab world.
An important step towards getting the Middle East peace summit off the ground was taken by Egyptian President El-Sisi’s visit to Riyadh on April 23 to bury the hatchet with Saudi King Salman. We can reveal here that this visit was set up by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It covered many burning Middle East issues, but also Trump’s initiative for an Arab-led Palestinian peace deal with Israel.
The US president will therefore combine his first Middle East trip to Jerusalem with a visit to an Arab capital, most likely Riyadh, or even Cairo, if security considerations permit.