The Palestinians are reportedly unhappy about losing the preferential treatment they were accustomed to getting from the Obama administration.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has tried unsuccessfully to reach out to US President Donald Trump. He and his aides are alarmed by the possibility of being sidelined at a time when the administration is embracing Israel’s prime minister.
In December, the Trump transition team refused to meet with Palestinian officials visiting Washington, putting them off until after the Jan. 20 inauguration, according to senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat, the main point man for official contacts with the US.
Other advisers say Abbas tried to arrange a phone call with Trump after the November election and again after the inauguration, but received no response to his requests. The White House did not respond to a January letter in which Abbas warned against the possibility of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Erekat, whose contacts are now limited to the US consulate in Jerusalem, has been quoted as saying that “we have sent them letters, written messages; they don’t even bother to respond to us.”
In contrast, Trump spoke twice with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone and will receive him at the White House next week.
The White House earlier this week denied an Israeli newspaper report, based on a secondhand quote from a Trump aide, that the administration does not intend to have a relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA) at this point. However, the statement did not say what kind of relationship the White House envisions with the Palestinians.
A US official said he was given the impression that everything is on hold because Trump hasn’t decided how to deal with the Palestinians.
This apparent downgrade in the Palestinian relationship with Washington can be of immense significance. A strong relationship with the US, as experienced during the Obama administration, has been the centerpiece of the Palestinian strategy for winning statehood.
‘Cutting off their Air Supply’?
While the diplomatic process, brokered by the US, has mostly failed, Abbas has not come up with a strategy that could circumvent Washington.
The Palestinian leadership is in uncharted waters with the Trump administration and “not having a relationship with Washington is cutting off their air supply, essentially,” said Khaled Elgindy, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
Abbas and his advisers have been careful not to antagonize Trump with public statements, other than urging him to rein in Israel’s latest settlement escalation. They hope he’ll eventually get in touch, arguing that Trump needs to involve them if he’s serious about negotiating a Middle East peace deal.
“The foreign policy of the US administration is not clear yet, aside from its clear support of Israel, but the administration knows nothing can be done without the Palestinians,” said Abbas adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh.
It’s not clear if the Trump administration wants to coordinate with Netanyahu next week before approaching Abbas or sideline him for good.
Jordan and Egypt could mediate between the Palestinians and Washington. Jordan’s King Abdullah II rushed to the US capital last week to present his views to administration officials before Netanyahu’s arrival.
Interests don’t always converge, however, and Abbas has clashed with Arab states in the past.
By: AP and World Israel News Staff