Abbas’ response a ‘tragedy’ for Palestinians, says Israeli minister

Following American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Michael Oren says renewed peace talks could have a better chance of success now, with a strong US president in office who “stands by his word.”

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Michael Oren, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of public diplomacy and former ambassador to the US, told the press in a telephone conference from Jerusalem on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s historic Jerusalem announcement could be a gateway to new negotiations with the Palestinians – if they “will see it as opportunity, not a threat.”

Noting that there has been much speculation if the announcement will impair or stop the peace process, Oren questioned whether there even is a peace process today, considering that “the Palestinians have not negotiated with us for eight years now, they have refused.” He added that he had been involved in the last round, which lasted “about six hours, and the Palestinians left the table.”

Oren, who was Israel’s ambassador to the US from 2009-2013, then pointed out that the new American envoys to the negotiation process come from the business world rather than diplomacy, “and in their world, if a party to a negotiation leaves the table, that party pays a price.” Oren believes the price has just now come due with Trump’s announcement, “justifiably so.”

On the other hand, Oren argued that in his experience, “What interlocutors most respect is a mediator who stands by his word,” so by backing his oft-stated pledge to move the American embassy, Trump has gained credibility as well as leverage on both sides. “The president has done something very significant for Israelis; if the Palestinians want him to do something significant for the Palestinians, I suggest that they come back to the table,” he said.

Angry Muslim responses ‘to be expected’

The former ambassador castigated Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ harsh denouncement of Trump’s decision, noting, “He is going to say the same words over and over again. … Abbas’ whole approach is a tragedy for the Palestinian people.”

Oren suggested that instead the Palestinians should take advantage of having a strong president in the White House, adding that nothing had moved forward during former president Obama’s time in office, even though he was “probably the most pro-Palestinian president of all times,” as he put it, because “they didn’t believe he was a man of his word, they didn’t believe he was strong.”

Oren shrugged off other Muslim countries’ reactions, such as Turkey, which threatened to cut off relations with Israel as a result of Trump’s decision. Saying that such responses are to be expected, he added that he was glad that Turkey has yet to act on its threat, stating, “It would be a rather self-inflicted wound. It would hurt Turkey more than it would hurt us.”

Likely referring to the fact that the Sunni Moslem world’s thinking about Israel has changed over the last several years while dealing with the threats of ISIS, the Syrian civil war and Iran, he added that he hoped, “Clearer minds will see this not as an affront, not as a provocation, but as an opportunity.”

Meanwhile, he sounded a note of cautious optimism regarding the Palestinians when he said, “My gut feeling tells me that the reaction will be less and not more…. The fact [is] that even the Palestinian Authority talked only about a Day of Rage in reaction… not third or fourth intifada or war.”

Decision has significance for other issues

Oren emphasized that declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not only significant on an emotional level for all Israelis, but that it was also important on a legal level as well. “In terms of our relationship with the United States,” he said, “a perennial friction point … has been building projects over the so-called 1967 lines in Jerusalem.”

While according to Oren more than half of the Jews living in the city resides over those lines, “Most Jerusalemites have no idea where those lines run today. But in the past, when building new neighborhoods or extensions of their homes … they have been condemned by  successive American administrations for building illegally in ‘the territories.’ I believe this friction point will be removed by President Trump’s announcement.”

He also confidently stated that an issue that went all the way to the Supreme Court would now be revisited: the place of birth stated in American passports of dual citizens born in Jerusalem. He believed that these people will now have inscribed  in their passport Jerusalem, Israel, “and not as previously, just ‘Jerusalem,’ as if it were some free-floating city.”

In addition, Oren lent great potential significance to the president’s decision on a wider geopolitical level. “Strategically, the way he publicly made the announcement, sends a message to Iran [and] North Korea, that Trump means what he says and is willing to carry out what he says, and since he has said many things about those two countries, their rulers will be taking note of this and this will have ramifications as well,” explained Oren.