Netanyahu told Macron he’d make ‘concessions’ within Trump peace plan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu told Macron he’d make ‘concessions’ within Trump peace plan — report

PM denies Channel 10’s account, says some in Europe evidently want to misrepresent what he’s been saying

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on December 10, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / PHILIPPE WOJAZER)

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on December 10, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / PHILIPPE WOJAZER)

During their talks in Paris on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French President Emmanuel Macron that he would be prepared to make “compromises and concessions” to the Palestinians within the framework of US President Donald Trump’s much-touted Middle East peace plan, Israel’s Channel 10 TV news reported on Tuesday.

The report, which quoted unnamed senior European diplomats familiar with the content of the two men’s discussions, was denied by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Channel 10 quoted brief excerpts from what it said were exchanges between Netanyahu and Macron in Paris on Sunday, and between Netanyahu and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels on the following day.

At their Elysee Palace meeting, according to the report, Macron said to Netanyahu, “Trump told me that, within a few months, he will set out a peace plan that will be different from previous initiatives. It will be a move that will shake up the status quo.”

Netanyahu reportedly responded, “I’m still waiting to see the Trump initiative. I don’t know exactly what he is going to put on the table. But I will be prepared to make compromises and concessions within the framework of the plan he presents.”

To which Macron reportedly replied, “The trouble is that, in the wake of Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, it will be complicated to advance a peace initiative.” Last Wednesday, Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he would ultimately move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for their meeting at the European Council in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Eric Vidal)

Quoting next from Netanyahu’s conversation Monday with Mogherini, the report said the prime minister told the EU foreign policy chief, “Trump is preparing a serious peace plan, and it must be taken seriously. At present, there are a lot of waves [in the wake of the Jerusalem announcement]. But when they die down, his plan will again be taken up.”

Netanyahu reportedly added, “Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem was cautiously worded. Read it carefully. It doesn’t close the door on negotiations for an agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Office denied the key quotation in the TV report. In a statement, it said, “We firmly deny that the prime minister spoke of compromises and concessions. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he expects Trump’s plan will challenge him and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]. Apparently, there is an interest in Europe in presenting things differently.”

The report quoted the European sources as saying that both Macron and Mogherini were “skeptical” about Netanyahu’s professed readiness to compromise.

In a joint press conference after their meeting on Sunday, Macron expressed his disapproval of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and urged Netanyahu to “show courage” in advancing peace talks.

Netanyahu, for his part, insisted that Jerusalem is as much Israel’s capital as Paris is France’s. And he said the sooner the Palestinians “come to grips” with that the fact, “the sooner we move toward peace.”

US President Donald Trump listens while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press prior to their meeting at the Palace Hotel in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017.(AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Later Sunday, the prime minister told reporters that he was not yet fully aware of Trump’s peace proposal, but noted that Jerusalem is one of the “core issues” that will be on the table. “We never ruled out that Jerusalem be discussed. The Palestinians have their positions on it, and they are free to bring them up,” he said.

“We never rule out discussions — we rule out [certain] results,” he added, noting that his government’s opposition to a partition of Israel is well-known.

Standing next to Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, at the headquarters of the European Union after their talks on Monday, Netanyahu predicted that most countries on the continent would eventually recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move their embassies to the city.

“I believe that even though we don’t have an agreement yet, this is what will happen in the future,” he said. “I believe that all, or most, of European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital and engage robustly with us, for security, prosperity and peace.”

Mogherini later issued a flat rejection of that notion. “He can keep his expectations for others, because from the European Union member states’ side this move will not come,” she said, adding that the bloc — the Palestinians’ largest donor — would stick to the “international consensus” on Jerusalem.

She reiterated the EU’s stance that “the only realistic solution” for peace is two states — Israel and Palestine — with Jerusalem as a shared capital and borders based on the pre-1967 lines, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six Day War.

And she pledged to step up efforts with the two sides and regional partners, including Jordan and Egypt, to relaunch the peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks towards Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis Quecedo (L) next to Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders (back-L) during a breakfast meeting with EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Leaving Brussels after a further meeting, with EU foreign ministers, Netanyahu told reporters who were traveling with him Monday that he had been asked whether he accepts the two-state solution, and that he replied by asking the ministers what kind of state the second one would be: “Would it be Costa Rica or Yemen?”

He said he also told them that it was high time for a more realistic discussion about where the region is headed, and said the current turmoil in the Middle East is due to a battle between “modernity and early medievalism.”

READ MORE:

Is President Trump Bluffing Again? Or, Does He Actually Know Something?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”

Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.

The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.

Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.

Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.

“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”

In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.

Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.

The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.

“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”

Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.

Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.

Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.

“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.

There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.

But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Washington Post