- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

President Trump claims Arab powers privately support his long-awaited Middle East peace plan and that Palestinians will ultimately embrace it, but Arab leaders have been staying silent and Palestinians leaders say they’re outraged by what’s been leaked so far.

Leading Arab analysts say it’s a fantasy to think that Gulf Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia will accept a deal allowing Israel to annex its settlements in the West Bank, even in exchange for hefty investments in the Palestinian economy.

“Trump is either hearing from the wrong people or he’s hearing the wrong words on this,” argues Khalil E. Jahshan, a Palestinian American and the executive director of Arab Center Washington D.C.

Mr. Jahshan, whose center regularly polls the region, said Monday that leaders across the Arab face serious public backlashes in their own countries if they openly support the U.S. plan.

“The majority of the people living in these countries — nations that according to Mr. Trump, are going to be willing to foot the bill for his adventure here — would actually support a just and lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis,” said Mr. Jahshan. “The problem is that they see the first item of the plan, that Israel is entitled to annex 30% of the West Bank, and they say that is not just.”



Islamic extremists, meanwhile, appear eager to exploit the backlash.

The Islamic State urged its fighters and other Muslims to attack Jewish people in a purported audio recording released Monday in an attempt to thwart the Trump peace plan, according to Reuters. While ISIS has not been a major player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Monday’s recording appeared to be an attempt by the terror group to exploit anger over the emerging accord.

Palestinian leaders have expressed little more than outrage at the Trump administration since the president’s 2017 move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Longtime chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described the Trump deal as “the fraud of the century.”

“It will not fly,” Mr. Erekat told The Washington Times in a text exchange.

Possible traction

Despite the negative public reaction, however, there were reports Monday that some Palestinians privately worry Mr. Trump’s plan really does have traction among Arab powers.

The Jerusalem Post — citing Palestinian officials on condition of anonymity — said Monday that Mr. Abbas will hold “emergency meetings” over the coming days to discuss the repercussions of the Trump plan and strategies for “rallying Arab support” against the plan.

“There’s growing fear in Ramallah that countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt are not opposed to Trump’s plan,” one of the officials reportedly said.

Jason D. Greenblatt, one of the plan’s main architects, urged Palestinians in a Jerusalem Post’s op-ed Monday to keep an open mind about future negotiations, and to focus on the ways the U.S. blueprint could be improved.

“We are hopeful that many Palestinians will see the advantages of counting to 10 before officially reacting to the proposed peace plan and the vision it contains for both Palestinians and Israelis,” Mr. Greenblatt, a former assistant to Mr. Trump, wrote in an op-ed co-authored by Bishara A. Bahbah, a former member of the Palestinian delegation to past peace talks.

“The Palestinian leadership should review the plan, study it and systematically outline its objections to it — and then propose realistic, implementable amendments to the plan for consideration,” the two wrote.

Jared Kushner, White House adviser and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, was the plan’s chief architect, working closely with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman and Mr. Greenblatt. Mr. Greenblatt’s resignation in September to pursue work in the private sector — a departure that came amid delays in the plan’s long-anticipated rollout — prompted critics to suggest internal disagreements over the plan’s direction.

Mr. Jahshan said Palestinians and the wider Arab public have been skeptical of the U.S. team because of their lack of involvement in past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as well as their past support of controversial Israeli settlements in West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians.

“These three are novices, but also hard-liners,” said Mr. Jahshan.

“Is [the Palestinian opposition] because they are Jewish? No, it’s not. Is it because they are Orthodox? No, it’s not,” he said. “It is because they have identified with the most radical perspective on the Israeli side, which is the illegal settlers’ perspective — a perspective that does not believe in a negotiated settlement” of West Bank territorial disputes.

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