- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2018

President Trump vowed Thursday to block any new U.S. financial aid to the Palestinians until they agree to restart peace talks with Israel.

During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Trump said his administration has prepared a “great proposal” for the Palestinians on a comprehensive peace deal. But the harsh reaction to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including a snub of Vice President Mike Pence on his recent tour of the region, had put any U.S.-backed diplomatic initiative on hold, he said.

“We have a proposal for peace,” Mr. Trump said. “It covers a lot of the things that were, over the years, discussed and agreed on.”

But Mr. Trump insisted that the plan won’t go forward if Palestinian leaders insult the U.S., saying Palestinians “disrespected us a week ago” by refusing to meet with Mr. Pence.

“We give them hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “Why should we do that as a country, if they’re doing nothing for us? The money is on the table. That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Earlier this month, the administration said it will withhold indefinitely $65 million of its planned $125 million contribution to UNRWA, the United Nations social welfare agency for Palestinian refugees. The agency says nearly all of the 430,000 Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria are in “critical” need of humanitarian aid.

But the top Palestinian diplomat in the U.S., speaking just hours after Mr. Trump’s comments, predicted the U.S. push to have Jerusalem officially recognized as the capital of Israel is destined to fail and will only exacerbate tensions between the Trump administration and the region.

Jerusalem is not going anywhere. It is not united. It will never be united” solely as the Israeli capital, said Ambassador Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s General Delegation to the U.S., said in remarks at the D.C.-based Middle East Institute.

The diplomat, a former top adviser to Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, said Palestinian leaders had been blindsided by Mr. Trump’s December announcement on Jerusalem, and mocked Mr. Trump’s Davos claim that he had given the peace process a boost by “taking Jerusalem off the table.”

“You didn’t take Jerusalem off the table — you took away the whole table,” Mr. Zomlot said. “No Palestinian will sit at it.” He also denied that the U.S. has ever presented the Palestinians with a realistic peace plan. “There wasn’t anything substantial,” he said.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their independent nation in any two-state deal with Israel, and have complained bitterly that Mr. Trump’s unilateral move last month to recognize the city as Israel’s capital and begin moving the U.S. embassy there has short-circuited the negotiations.

Stepping up the rhetorical clash with the Palestinians, U.S. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the world body in New York that the U.S. will not “chase after a Palestinian leadership that lacks what is needed to achieve peace.” She criticized in particular a speech by Mr. Abbas on Jan. 14 in which he said he would only accept a broad, internationally backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel.

“A speech that indulges in outrageous and discredited conspiracy theories is not the speech of a person with the courage and the will to seek peace,” Ms. Haley said.

U.S. officials say the Jerusalem move does not pre-judge a final deal, or even preclude a future Palestinian capital in at least a part of the contested city. Mr. Trump said Thursday that the U.S. anticipates having a “small version” of the new embassy open sometime next year.

Mr. Netanyahu, in his first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Trump since the embassy shift was announced, said the move “recognizes history.”

“People say that this pushes peace backward; I say it pushes peace forward. Peace can only be built on the basis of truth,” he said.

Carlo Munoz contributed to this report.

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