Trump Team Brushes Off Palestinian Criticism

YERUSHALAYIM -
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath in 2011. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Officials in the Trump administration seem unperturbed by accusations made recently by Palestinian leaders that they are biased in favor of Israel and cannot act as honest brokers in the stalled peace process, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

The White House refusal to accept allegations of sovereignty-grabbing by Israel and quiet support for Israeli security measures on Har HaBayis particularly incensed the Palestinians.

“It was a negative response by the Americans,” said Nabil Shaath, international affairs adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. “The Americans could have really intervened to stop what the Israeli forces were doing and what the Israeli government was doing – and by doing that, it would have really demonstrated its seriousness in following that up with the peace process,” Shaath continued. “Instead the position was really meaningless, almost.”

Fatah leader Hanan Ashrawi said that Jared Kushner had “disqualified himself” from being a Mideast peace negotiator after the White House advisor characterized Israeli actions during the crisis as “reasonable.”

However, senior members of the administration are “dismissive” of the Palestinian criticisms, according to the Post.

“If they are not involved in the closed-door conversations, I’m not sure what ability they would have to speak,” one senior White House official said. “You have to take it with a grain of salt.”

Regarding the assertion that the U.S. should have intervened to force the Israelis to act sooner in accordance with Muslim demands, “we didn’t ask Israel to take down the security apparatus because we feel that Israel needs to make security decisions by itself,” a senior official said in response.

Palestinian complaints may actually be an encouraging sign. White House officials contend that Abbas will come to take the Trump administration more seriously as he sees that Kushner and envoy Jason Greenblatt really are on good terms with the Israelis and as a result have more leverage with them than their predecessors in the Obama administration, who were often at odds with them.

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro turned the Palestinian argument on its head, commenting that the Americans might have been more effective had they taken a more aggressive stance toward the Palestinians.

“The administration has nothing to apologize for when it comes to being sympathetic to the Israeli position on security. They could have used that moment to ask the Palestinians and the Jordanians, ‘What steps do you recommend and what steps are you willing to take to prevent the next attempt to smuggle weapons to the holy site and target police officers and civilians?’”

Shapiro continued, “At the same time, it was probably not tenable for Israel to maintain magnetometers as a unilateral measure, and indeed, they ended up removing them.”

One senior Israeli official suggested that the U.S. representatives may have learned some important lessons from the crisis, in which religious feelings, legitimate or otherwise, played a central role.

“This made them realize that this is not just about real estate,” the Israeli official said. “There may be some other factors at play here.”