Can US and Palestinians rein in firestorm of rhetoric?

As US envoy Jason Greenblatt and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat exchange insults, it appears that the two sides are drifting ever further apart, making cooperation between Washington and Ramallah increasingly less likely.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

Any remaining hopes for an early return to normalcy between the United States and the Palestinian Authority has been buried under the continuing war of words between Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

In his letter dated April 12, Erekat lobbed the most recent salvo writing to diplomats that, “Greenblatt has assumed the role of spokesperson of the Israeli Authorities. It is clear that those who do not consider that the lives of Palestinians and Israelis are of equal value cannot possibly promote any plan that will be remotely close to a just and lasting peace. Rather, the Trump administration continues to adopt Israeli positions that aim to perpetuate the denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Greenblatt fired back saying, “Saeb Erakat’s personal attack on me is a symptom of the difficulties in the path to peace. Saeb knows there’s no truth to his accusation. This outburst, like all his recent outbursts, is merely intended as a distraction from the important work that lies ahead.” A second tweet from Greenblatt read, “This empty, self-indulgent rhetoric won’t stop us from trying. Saeb: It’s time to time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Or, you can continue to run in circles, and get pretty much nowhere!”

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In a statement to reporters last month, Greenblatt said that said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must choose between “hateful rhetoric” and peace after Abbas described US ambassador to Israel David Friedman as a “son of a dog.”

On Sunday, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas heard some additional anti-US rhetoric from jailed Palestinian terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti. On the 16th anniversary of his arrest for his role in murdering five Israelis, the imprisoned terrorist told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stand firm in his rejection of US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced peace plan, implying that Trump would soon be gone. Barghouti voiced his full support for Abbas’s rejection of Trumps’ so-called “deal of the century” by calling the US peace plan, “the conspiracy of the century.” Barghouti is hugely popular among the Palestinians and is seen as a possible successor to Abbas.

Veteran Israeli diplomat Ambassador Yoram Ettinger told World Israel News (WIN), “My hope is that the US will now free itself from the ‘two-state solution’ worldview, and realize that the Palestinian issue is not at the crux of the conflict, not a core problem in the Middle East and not the jewel of policy makers.”

According to Ettinger, the US may be coming to the realization that “any concession to Palestinians will only fuel maximalist expectations and drive us further from stability in the region.”

Dr. Gerald Steinberg, a US-Israel relations expert from Bar Ilan University told WIN, “If there is a will, there is always a way back from the fiery rhetoric. It’s hard to predict with the Trump administration, but they could still issue their still unpublished peace plan. But the current mood is one of doubt and regional chaos so there are no great expectations.”

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Palestinian Affairs expert Pinchas Inbari said the biggest diplomatic problem for the Palestinians is that the Saudis are fully backing the US.

“The Saudis are basically telling Abbas that it will no longer champion the Palestinian cause. They were upset that the Palestinians have largely aligned themselves with the pro-Iranian camp,” said Inbari.

According to Inbari, “Abbas suspects that Hamas is opening direct channels to the West. Its normal allies in Europe are abandoning the PA, and blame them for intentionally inflaming the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. They are alone, without a peace process, without Saudi backing, and with a big split among themselves.”